New Mexico History Museum

A Mary Jane Colter Weekend: The Shaping of Southwest Style

January 07, 2011


Spend a weekend exploring the life of Mary Jane Colter, the brilliant architect and designer whose work for the Fred Harvey Co. left a lasting legacy of what became known worldwide as Southwest style. Begin with a reception April 1 at La Fonda on the Plaza, where Colter’s designs still define an authentic Santa Fe experience.

Update: Add on a special, sponsor-level dinner in La Fonda's Santa Fe Room, an old-world setting that most distinctively captures Colter's design aesthetic. Large terracotta tiles surround the entry door. A fireplace Colter commissioned by Arnold Ronnebeck promises to keep us warm. Elsewhere, you’ll see a beautiful latilla ceiling and paintings by Gerald Cassidy. You’ll have a chance to meet our weekend’s presenters—Arnold Berke, Stephen Fried and Barbara Felix—and will enjoy a classic La Fonda dinner. Felix will talk about Colter's legacy and what she uncovered during her own renovation of La Fonda. We'll also have a special bag of goodies for each of our sponsors, including a pair of New Mexico CulturePasses and a book of Harvey House recipes compiled by Stephen Fried.

On April 2, all participants will take in a series of lectures, a La Fonda dinner and an engaging discussion of Colter’s legacy.

Tickets start at $100 ($50 tax-deductible); $200 for the events plus the April 1 sponsor dinner ($100 tax-deductible). The Museum of New Mexico Foundation is co-hosting the event with La Fonda on the Plaza. Proceeds benefit the New Mexico History Museum. Call 505-988-1234 or log onto for tickets. Space is limited.

Download a high-resolution image of Colter and of La Fonda's South Portal by clicking on "go to related media" above, left.

Eleven of Colter’s buildings, including ones she created at the Grand Canyon, are on the National Registry of Historic Places; five are designated National Historic Landmarks. A maverick and a visionary, she broke with European architectural tradition, blending Mission Revival, Spanish Colonial and Native American elements. She embraced the Arts & Crafts Movement’s simple but sophisticated designs and exquisite craftsmanship. She methodically researched indigenous art, architecture and building techniques. As one writer observed: “She could teach masons how to lay adobe bricks, plasterers how to mix washes, and carpenters how to fix viga joints.” 

In 1910, Colter was hired by the Fred Harvey Co. and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. When Harvey took over the management of the recently built La Fonda in 1926, Colter began her magical transformation of the hotel’s interior.

“Mary Colter’s vision of the Southwest created a style that was simple and yet grand,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum. “She left a magnificent legacy in regional architecture and interior design that we cherish today as much as in the past.” 

Speakers at the event:

Arnold Berke, award-winning author of Mary Colter: Architect of the Southwest (Princeton Architectural Press), will bring his meticulously researched book to life, revealing Colter in the social and historical context of her time.  "By steeping her buildings in the culture, history, and landscape of the Southwest," Berke said, "Colter both charmed American travelers and taught them about the region she loved. Her pioneering works delighted the eye and engaged the mind."

Stephen Fried, author of Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire that Civilized the Wild West, will  present the colorful Harvey House history of La Fonda on the Plaza. “The opportunity to spend a weekend exploring Mary Colter's contributions to life in the Southwest - as design guru for the Fred Harvey Company - will be a rare treat,” Fried said. “I'm also looking forward to discussing the Harvey family women of that era who were vital supporters of Colter's pioneering work.”

Santa Fe architect Barbara Felix, who was instrumental in the 2009 renovation of La Plazuela, La Fonda’s dining room, on “Preserving the Architectural Fabric of a Santa Fe Icon.” “Colter’s work has inspired me to be passionate about craftsmanship, the use of natural light, regional materials and the transformation of the ordinary into the magical,” Felix said.

On Saturday, April 2, La Fonda on the Plaza’s Executive Chef Lane Warner will prepare a special Harvey House-inspired dinner.  During dinner, guests will be treated to an Actor’s Studio-style “Conversation about Mary” presented by Berke and Fried, moderated by Levine.

“This will be a wonderful weekend for anyone who has visited any of Mary Jane Colter’s extraordinary buildings or been fascinated by this profoundly talented woman who was so ahead of her time,” says Jennifer Kimball, chairman of the board of La Fonda on the Plaza. “We are so proud to be part of the Mary Jane Colter legacy and to share in the sponsorship of this vibrant weekend with the New Mexico History Museum.”

A limited number of special room rate of $109 a night is available for out-of-town guests. Call (800) 523-5002, ext. 1, or (505) 954-3500.

The full weekend schedule:

Friday, April 1             

6 pm: La Fonda, Welcome reception with hosted wine and light hors d’oeuvres. 

7 pm: Santa Fe Room, La Fonda, Sponsor dinner

Saturday, April 2        

Breakfast on own

10:30 am: NM History Museum, lecture by author Arnold Berke

Lunch on your own

2 pm: La Fonda, lecture by architect Barbara Felix

4 pm: La Fonda, lecture by Stephen Fried, author

7 pm: La Fonda, dinner and Colter discussion with Frances Levine, Arnold Berke and Stephen Fried

Related Photos

South Portal, La Fonda
Portrait of Mary Jane Colter

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