The low, long adobe building directly to the north is the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States and part of the Museum of New Mexico.
During the 17th century this was the front of a very large complex which covered a quarter of Santa Fe’s occupied area. It included a residence for the Governor, large vegetable gardens, an arsenal, a chapel, and government offices complete with a jail. This building remained the seat of the government through the Spanish period until 1821, the Mexican period until 1846, and the Territorial period until New Mexico became a state in 1912.
Under the shade of its portal (porch), American Indians spread jewelry and other crafts on blankets, care for their children, and explain their arts to passersby as others have done before them for untold years. They speak English to tourists, but converse among themselves in their own ancient language.
The Palace of the Governors was laid out at the same time as the plaza. A fortified building, it served as residence, offices, workshops, and storerooms for the representative of the Spanish king; thus, they were called “royal houses.”
General Stephen Kearney stayed within these walls when he arrived with troops to claim the territory of New Mexico for the United States. The 54-inch-thick adobe walls, at that time still covered by a sod roof, furnished the quiet needed by Territorial Governor Lew Wallace to finish his novel Ben Hur.
As a museum, the Palace of the Governors houses a permanent collection of artifacts from New Mexico’s history. Pre-Columbian artifacts dating from 1500 B.C. to A.D. 1500 help explain the unwritten history of the area.
At the northwest corner of the Plaza is the New Mexico Museum of Arts. Built in 1917 by the architect of La Fonda, it is in the form of six of the mission churches found on the pueblos of Acoma, San Felipe, Cochiti, Santa Ana, Laguna, and Pecos.
The Spanish colonial-style architecture has beautiful details, such as ceilings of split cedar latillas and hand-carved vigas. The museum houses works by artists who visited or lived in Santa Fe before 1940, and also exhibits contemporary art from all over the United States as well as the St. Francis Auditorium which is used for concerts.
Just two blocks from the plaza is one of New Mexico’s most popular museums: the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which houses a collection of over 3,000 works comprising 1,149 O’Keeffe paintings, drawings, and sculptures that date from 1901 to 1984, the year failing eye sight forced O’Keeffe into retirement. It is the world’s largest permanent collection of her artwork.
Georgia O’Keeffe made northern New Mexico her home for nearly four decades.
The Museum opened on July 17, 1997 and welcomed more than 600,000 visitors in its first three years.
Welcoming more than 2,225,000 visitors from all over the world and being the most visited art museum in the state of New Mexico, it is the only museum in the world dedicated to an internationally known American woman artist.
Upon entering the stucco building that blends perfectly into downtown Santa Fe, we see a quote from O’Keeffe, who first visited New Mexico in 1917 and moved here in 1949. Part of the quote says, “Colors and shapes make a more definite statement than words.”
The rest of the tour of the museum is a journey through the statements.
An audio tour guide of the Museum is available to visitors.
A room off the galleries offers visitors a video biography of O’Keeffe, who died in Santa Fe in 1986 at age 98. She painted more than 2,000 pieces during her life
We left the museum just wowed!
The current exhibition, “Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph”, runs until September 11, 2011.
Note: This is the second of a four-part series on Santa Fe, New Mexico
Part 1: The City Different: Santa Fe, NM
Part 3: The City of Holy Faith: Santa Fe
Part 4: Historic Walks of Santa Fe
If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.