Midday sunlight streams into Margaret Moore Booker’s adobe living room, gilding both the table where we sit and objects featured in her latest book: a vivid hand-painted retablo depicting Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, a woven wicker basket glazed black with piñon pitch, a spiny oyster shell and some other traditional materials and objects from this region. On May 3 at Las Vegas’ Montezuma Castle, the Santa Fe local receives her second Ralph Emerson Twitchell Award for her book Southwest Art Defined: An Illustrated Guide.
The large, glossy volume is a comprehensive reference guide to Southwestern art and culture and is filled with extensive research and gorgeous color photos. It covers both Native American and Hispano culture and art in the region, and a wide range of traditional materials, methods, and objects.
Booker shares that when she moved here about a decade ago, she searched for a reference book which included jewelry, textiles, sculpture, pottery and architecture, as well as other mediums of Southwestern expression and the materials, styles and techniques commonly used to craft them. In 2010, after her search proved to be in vain, Booker laughs, saying, "I thought, 'What the heck? I'll do it myself!'"
As she wrote, Booker went to great lengths to be respectful of the cultures she catalogued—especially since she's not a part of them—and did not include any pictures of items made for ceremonial use, but instead chose to show pieces made by modern artists as art objects.
"No one likes their sacred objects appropriated," Booker says of her drive to ensure that no one would be offended by material in the book. "I didn't press the issue."
Booker's careful respect for her subjects stems from her background in art history, which she studied first at Boston College and then later at George Washington University in Washington, DC. A Nantucket, Mass. native, she worked for museums along the East Coast, including the Egan Institute of Maritime Studies; most notably she did catalogue work at the Whitney Museum.
"I first fell in love with Santa Fe on an O'Keeffe pilgrimage," Booker smiles. After years of visits, she and her husband Martin agreed that there was no good reason not to move to here, and they relocated.
Once settled, Booker wrote The Santa Fe House about the traditional adobe architecture of the area, for which she received her first Twitchell Award. The annual award is named after a Santa Fe mayor from the early 1900s who was also a historian and a proud promoter of New Mexico culture and tourism. (He designed New Mexico's very first state flag.) "I've used his publications before in my research," Booker says, "so it's pretty exciting to receive an award named after him."
The Ralph Emerson Twitchell Award is given once each year by the Historical Society of New Mexico to the person responsible for a significant publication or outstanding arts contribution relating to New Mexico history. The society comments that Booker's Defined is "destined to be a major reference book for years to come."
The book took about three years to research and write and required a lot of work. Booker says that the scholarly expertise of Mark Bahti of Bahti Arts and of Jonathan Batkin, director of the Wheelwright Museum, was especially invaluable.
In the book's preface, Booker tells us that she hopes each reader can "discover a work of art or craft that 'speaks to you.'"
If it's out there, this book is the only one you'll need to find it.