SANTA FE – The Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts is closing its doors at 5 p.m. today after less than four years featuring exhibits of artworks by Native American women.
The private museum opened on Sept. 19, 2011, and is located at 213 Cathedral Place in downtown Santa Fe.
While the recent death of Margarete Bagshaw, Velarde’s granddaughter who spearheaded the museum, helped lead to the decision to close, talks had been underway since last summer about moving the museum and its artifacts under the aegis of a more established institution, according to Dan McGuinness, Bagshaw’s widower.
“We very quickly realized in the last couple of years that this (museum) was bigger than we could handle,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
“There is no other museum in the country dedicated to Native women …,” he said. “We realized we needed a bigger infrastructure, a larger scale presence, that worked full time. We had a solid core of volunteers and financial supporters, but it got to the point where we said, ‘This isn’t right.’ ”
Since the lease on the museum’s space expires at the end of April, it seemed the right time to close it, McGuinness said.
Talks have been ongoing with another institution, one that is based outside of New Mexico, but a final agreement has not been reached on whether it would take over the museum’s collection, which includes several artworks but also a treasure trove of archive materials from the family, including items from Velarde’s studio, he said.
“It’s phenomenal. That family never threw anything away,” McGuinness said.
Besides Velarde (1918-2006), who broke new ground as a full-time female painter in a field that previously had been dominated by men, the family also includes daughter Helen Hardin (1943-1984) and granddaughter Bagshaw (1964-2015), both of whom stretched the boundaries of Native American art.
McGuinness said the couple ruled out the possibility of transferring the museum to another one in New Mexico because Bagshaw believed any state- or federal-run entity would feel beholden to Native tribes and concede to their wishes.
Such restrictions might include tribal rulings on what percentage of Native blood would quality an artist as Native, or determinations on whether artworks depicted cultural ceremonies that should be kept secret, he said.
Bagshaw also was not happy about some tribal practices that she felt discriminated against women, he said, including rules on land inheritance.
McGuinness declined to name the entity with whom he is in discussions for incorporating the Pablita Velarde museum, saying he hopes an agreement is finalized soon. One condition, he said, is that the acquiring institution agree to retain the Santa Fe museum’s name. Talks also concern whether the museum would be incorporated as a wing or dedicated gallery in a larger museum, or something else, he said.
“It needs to be something ongoing and continuous,” McGuinness said, as opposed to an occasional exhibition. “They should expand on what we started.”
The current exhibit at the museum features Velarde’s works: “Pablita Velarde – Out of the Ordinary.”