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Visionary of the American West: An exhibition commemorates Fred Harvey

A group of plates and bowls by Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo sits on a 1940-1950 Navajo weaving retailed by the Fred Harvey company.

A group of plates and bowls by Maria and Julian Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo sits on a 1940-1950 Navajo weaving retailed by the Fred Harvey company.

TAOS – Fred Harvey’s promotional savvy did more to popularize the West than Gene Autry or John Wayne combined.

If that sounds audacious, Millicent Rogers Museum executive director Peter Seibert disagrees.

“He created this beautiful image of the Southwest that brought Easterners to New Mexico in droves,” Seibert said in a telephone interview from Taos.

“Fred Harvey and the Making of the American West” will open at the Millicent Rogers Museum Aug. 1. The exhibit showcases more than 300 objects related to the visionary who built hotels along the Santa Fe Railroad routes, including the La Fonda in Santa Fe and Albuquerque’s late Alvarado Hotel (it was demolished in 1970).

Historians credit Harvey with essentially inventing Southwestern tourism through his “Indian Detours” business carrying tourists to what had once been thought of as “flyover country.” He jump-started the commercialization of Native American arts by selling their arts and crafts in his hotels.

Born in England, Harvey came to America in the 1850s as a penniless teenager. He latched onto the railroads as his ticket to wealth and fame.

Before there were four-star hotels, he created a brand that delivered good food to hungry passengers quickly. He ran his railroad restaurant business along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe lines.

The Millicent Rogers exhibition gathers objects and memorabilia from private collections from across the country, Seibert said.

Displays will include the Harvey family’s Maria Martinez blackware dinner set for 12. And yes, the family used them as the San Ildefonso Pueblo potter rocketed to artistic fame.

“She glazed them, so they’re perfectly safe to use,” Seibert said. “You can eat your green chile stew out of a Maria bowl. It’s a very nice modern set of tableware.”

The distinctive Harvey/Native American jewelry will be on display, including pins, bracelets, buckles and rings.

“It’s what you think of as classic New Mexico Indian jewelry of the ’40s,” Seibert said. “It’s punched work. The Harvey family had the trademark for the thunderbird pattern.”

Along the way, Harvey’s artists impacted popular culture. The Lionel Toy Co. lists the Santa Fe Super Chief as its top-seller of all time. Children growing up in the 1950s-’60s expected one beneath the annual Christmas tree.

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