Moseying Through History: Santa Fe's Museums

Published Date Author: , March 4th, 2010
by Linda, La Casa Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Ask five different people what’s great about visiting Santa Fe, and you will get way more than five answers. People enthuse about the food, the inclusive community, the unique shopping opportunities, the sunshine 325 days a year, the rich tri-cultural history, the vibrant arts scene, and much more.

They may forget to mention that the heart of the city is very compact. A multi-faceted Santa Fe experience is available on foot, while saving your automobile rental dollars for something more gratifying. This is especially true for museum buffs. Between the art galleries and the historical buildings, half the town looks like a museum, but eleven museum collections reside within five blocks of the central Plaza.

Start at the New Mexico State Capitol Building to see a sample of paintings, sculpture, photographs, lithographs, pottery, weaving, and just about every other New Mexico art form that doesn’t require live performance. There is no charge for admission to the Capitol building, which is interesting in itself as the only round U.S. state capitol. The surrounding grounds have sculptures representing many of New Mexico’s outstanding artists, as well as landscaping with a variety of native plants. You may take a self-guided tour, or arrange for a guided tour by appointment:

When were you last asked to touch the sculptures in an art exhibit? Just north of the state capitol, the Bataan Memorial Building Atrium Gallery features the Touching Beauty exhibit. Sculptor Michael Naranjo lost his sight, the use of one arm, and most of the use his other hand in the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, he pursued his sculpture. Follow the artist’s vision, as you touch and explore the bronzes with your hands as well as with your eyes:

Located in the newly developed Railyard District, SITE Santa Fe does not hold permanent collections, but rather presents exhibitions of contemporary arts. Biennial exhibitions, developed around particular themes, provide a showcase for internationally recognized artists. They open in even-numbered years, usually in midsummer. Additional, shorter exhibitions and lecture series vary throughout the year:

Also in the Railyard District, you find El Museo Cultural. El Museo was developed to showcase and promote Hispanic culture and learning. Although Northern New Mexico traditions are featured, the art, history, and culture of the larger Hispanic community are celebrated as well. The museum also hosts community-oriented events, classes and workshops.

Moving to the north, locate the Santuario de Guadalupe. This large, adobe structure has a somewhat mysterious history – some sources suggest it was built in the late 1600’s, others cite early 1700s or even 1800s. Clearly, there has been rebuilding and remodeling at various periods, and the Santuario now serves as a museum and a popular site for weddings and community oriented activities. You can visit to see a collection of Mexican baroque and Italian Renaissance paintings, and New Mexican santos (carved images of saints.) A large statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe graces the patio to the north, and rose gardens glorify the image.

Onward to the five museums closest to the Plaza, in the heart of the city:

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is the only museum in the United States dedicated entirely to the works of a woman artist, and is the most-visited museum in New Mexico. O’Keeffe’s works rotate through the museum throughout the year, with approximately 50 selections on view at any given time. In addition, the Museum presents special exhibitions either devoted entirely to O’Keeffe’s work or combining examples of her art with works by her American modernist contemporaries:

Founded in 1917, the New Mexico Museum of Art focuses on work produced in or related to New Mexico. Long-term exhibits are augmented by special projects devoted to a particular artist or New Mexico theme. The west wing of the museum houses St. Francis Auditorium, one of Santa Fe’s premier performance spaces.

The Spanish colonial government built the adobe Palace of the Governors in the 1600s to house its representatives. In this, the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States, exhibitions draw on the museum’s collection to highlight New Mexico history. An additional attraction is the Portal Program, where over 900 Native American artists rotate to sell authentic arts and crafts from New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and parts of Arizona:

Step through the Palace of the Governors courtyard, and enter the New Mexico History Museum. Initially opened in 2009, the core exhibit tells New Mexico history from the pre-colonial era to the present. Although tangible artifacts are generously displayed, the emphasis is upon the interweaving of peoples and events which developed present-day New Mexico:

A block from the east side of the Plaza, you’ll find the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum. The Institute is a multi-tribal four-year fine arts college, and the Museum provides exhibit space for work by contemporary Native American artists, including IAIA students. It also serves as a resource for training the students in skills which prepare them to work as museum professionals:

Those who wish to venture a bit farther afield can catch a ride on the city Museum Bus route to Museum Hill, with four more extraordinary offerings:

Museum of Spanish Colonial Art:

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and Laboratory of Anthropology:

Museum of International Folk Art:

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian:

Lastly, the city hosts two additional museums eight blocks from the Plaza, on the Old Santa Fe Trail:

=”font-family: Verdana, sans-serif”>The Santa Fe Children’s Museum
provides hands-on educational exhibits, and a climbing wall helps kids burn off some energy in a safe environment.

The Bataan Memorial Military Museum tells the tale of the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiments, who were captured on Bataan when the Japanese overran the island in 1942. They endured captivity for one and a half years, losing half their members in the ordeal. The collection of artifacts and memorabilia from World War II is steadily growing.

Make your stay in Santa Fe special by staying in the fully-furnished, historic José D Sena House. We have been happy to live in Santa Fe for over thirty years, and would like to help you have a happy stay in our historic dwelling. Here in the Guadalupe district, you will be near the Plaza, the Lensic Performing Arts Center, the Sanbusco Center, the Railyard District, and the Santa Fe River, as well as downtown museums and a bus link to Museum Hill.

You will be staying in rooms with 12 foot ceilings, in which you can still see hand-hewn boards and vigas, along with bits of the adobe that originally served for the roof. But never fear, there are modern touches such as electricity and indoor plumbing! See our home page at for our rates, and for clickable links to information about nearby restaurants, shopping, museums, outdoor activities, and more. You can contact us at 505-231-6670, or

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