New Mexico History Museum

Come Out and Play: The History Museum’s 5th Birthday Bash

April 29, 2014


Outside of cowboy boots and a pony, what does pretty much every five year old want on their birthday? A party! And that’s just what the New Mexico History Museum is throwing on May 25. With the help of volunteers, visitors and community partners, we’ve accomplished great things since opening in 2009. How better to say “thanks” than to invite everyone over for old-time games, a tea party, hands-on activities and more.

The first treat: Through the generosity of La Fonda on the Plaza, the day is free to everyone.

Join us from 1–4 pm on Sunday, May 25, for “Come Out and Play,” a free birthday party and the debut of a new front-window installation, Toys and Games: A New Mexico Childhood, featuring dolls, toys, skates, sleds and more from the museum’s collections.

Activities at the party include games like hoop races, hopscotch and horse shoes in the Palace Courtyard; marbles and tops in the lobby. That’s just the start. Children can take part in a tea party hosted by Santa Fe Girl Scouts (featuring a very popular brand of cookies). Everyone can make a miniature adobe brick with the help of Cornerstones Community Partnership. In honor of all the hands it took to build the museum, visit the craft station to create a keepsake handprint. Enjoy refreshments courtesy of Los Compadres del Palacio, a key support group of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.

“As the interim director, I would like to invite you to come to the museum, share the pride in what we have done, and help us party like we are five years old—because we are,” said Jon Hunner. “Former Director Fran Levine, along with many friends, partners, legislators, and Department of Cultural Affairs’ staff, have grown the new wing of the History Museum into a healthy institution that has welcomed over 500,000 visitors to our permanent and numerous temporary exhibits. That took a lot of planning, fundraising, and dreaming.”

Toys and Games, the front-window installation, took form when museum staff dreamed about their fifth birthdays and wondered what might lie in the collection vault’s toybox. Meredith Davidson, curator of 19th- and 20th-century Southwest collections, found wind-up metal toys, marbles, tops, stuffed animals and dolls that ranged from 19th-century gems to Josefina, an American Girl doll created in 1997 with a New Mexico backstory.

But it was a little one-eyed elephant with a red stitched saddle that captured her heart. “He seemed to be smiling up at us,” she said.

An 1883 carte de visite taken in Europe showed a young Amelia Hollenback clutching just such an elephant, and the connection was sealed.

“The elephant, like the Hollenback family, journeyed to the United States a few years later and remained a part of the family until it was donated to our collection,” Davidson said. “The photograph and the elephant, to me, point to the way we document our own history through photographs, through keepsakes, and through memories. So often exhibits look at the world from an adult’s perspective. This gave us the chance to see the collection from a child’s viewpoint.”

Background on the New Mexico History Museum:

The Palace of the Governors, the seat of government for Spain’s northern colony and later home to Mexican and U.S. Territorial governors, became the state’s first history museum in 1909. By the 1950s, supporters saw the need for an expansion—both to ease the strain on a National Historic Landmark first built in 1609 and to create larger exhibition and storage space with state-of-the-art environmental controls. After a two-year archaeological examination, construction began in 2004 just north of the Palace. When the museum opened in 2009 on Memorial Day Weekend, May 24 and 25, it was so highly anticipated that a line of soon-to-be fans stretched down Lincoln Avenue.

Advocates of the museum had long said that if it was built, wonderful things would happen. Boy, have they.

Among its accomplishments, the museum notched its 500,000th visitor on Dec. 4, setting a pace of more than 100,000 visitors a year. Loyal visitors saw 37 exhibitions, with topics as diverse as fashion, Ernest Thompson Seton, rare Spanish documents, cowboys, and the Bible. Education curricula accompanied each exhibit and a lively schedule of lectures, movies and music have made the museum’s auditorium a popular gathering place. Museum staffers wrote or contributed to a total of seven books, and the Palace Press has won national awards for the books it published, including a luscious recreation of Jack Thorp’s Songs of the Cowboys.

The museum’s influence stretches beyond New Mexico. Its exhibits have traveled to the Museum of Texas Tech University and Palm Beach’s Society for the Four Arts. The Palace Press exhibit, Album Amicorum, went to museums in Spain, Turkey and Germany.

With the extra storage space and expanded exhibition capabilities, the museum has attracted a stream of donations, including a book by Padre Martinez believed to be the first book published in New Mexico; the world’s largest collection of pinhole photography; Spanish colonial paintings; materials from the Fred Harvey Co.; Jack Loeffler’s oral history archives; a rare 18th-century retablo by Bernardo Miera y Pacheco; the bell from the USS New Mexico battleship; and original items from artist Gustave Baumann’s Santa Fe studio.

The museum, its staff and volunteers have been honored by the New Mexico Community Foundation, the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, the New Mexico Association of Museums; and the American Alliance of Museums.

The Palace of the Governors remains our most treasured artifact and now, as then, one ticket buys admission to both buildings—except on May 25, when you won’t have to shell out a buck to enjoy them both, along with fifth-birthday celebration. Mark your calendar and pick out your party clothes. See you on May 25.

Related Photos

Stuffed elephant
Mechanical toys
Metal toys
Metal toys
Tops and marbles

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