Folk art is for all folks.
Santa Fe's museum treasures include not just fine art, but culture, history and folk art. And folk art, in itself, is many things: old and new, art and craft, politics and music. A true something-for-everyone medium, there is no better place in the world to experience it than the Museum of International Folk Art.
Perched atop Museum Hill, the expansive space holds the world's largest collection of international folk art, as well as rotating exhibits that "encourage people of all ages to put on a different pair of glasses," says museum Director Khristaan Villela.
"This is why it's fun to come," Villela continues, "because there's always something interesting to see. People can take folk art in at whatever level they are, whether a child or a PhD."
The museum's colorful permanent collection, Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, showcases just a smidge of designer Alexander Girard's voluminous folk art collection. "It's Meow Wolf circa 1950," says Villela. Displays include everything from intricate dioramas and original Japanese Transformers characters to textiles, masks and dolls from around the world.
"Girard had a great sense of humor, which you can see at every turn in the wing," Villela points out. "If he could have put smell in here, he would have, he was so into the immersive experience."
"Folk art is inspirational to many designers, and he was kind of a pivot point and the source of many objects people collected," Villela adds. So inspirational, in fact, that Mary Blair, the designer of Disneyland's "It's a Small World," used the installation as influence for her own famous immersive experience.
The remainder of the museum spaces are dedicated to two to three rotating exhibits per year, which span the world spectrum of folk art. Current exhibits include the Gallery of Conscience's Community Through Making, which brings together local and Peruvian artists in a "conversation across borders." The collaborative projects include video, artwork and stories created by the artists in residency. This exhibit runs in conjunction with Crafting Memory: The Art of Community in Peru through July 17, 2019— a thoughtful exhibit which explores new directions in Peruvian folk art which emerged over recent decades of economic, political and social upheaval.
"These rooms are conversations with real people living real lives," Villela explains. "Folk art may have blurry edges; it's not just handmade objects of a tradition, but it is art with traditions handed down that addresses real life: the ethical, cultural, socio-economic and environmental issues people face. The messages of folk art are as relevant today as they were when the museum opened in 1953."
In May 2019, the museum welcomes Alexander Girard: A Designer's Universe, a retrospective of Girard's design work, featuring more than 300 pieces from his private collection. In his professional career, Girard worked with mid-century masters Eames, Saarinen and Herman Miller, injecting bright color to their traditional designs.
The museum plans to unveil additional exhibits, including Música Buena: Hispano Folk Music of New Mexico in October 2019 and, in December, Yokai: Ghosts & Demons of Japan. These "ghastly and comical" creatures and supernatural beings in traditional and contemporary Japanese culture will be brought to life within an immersive installation of a "ghost house."
Folk art, and this museum, are accessible to all—no doubt why it's repeatedly voted our Best Museum in the Best of Santa Fe readers' poll. In addition to one of the most diverse and affordable museum gift shops in Santa Fe, museum entry is just $6 for students and $7 for adults who live in New Mexico ($11 and $12, respectively, for out-of-state visitors). Admission is always free for in-state children under 16, and is also free on Wednesdays for New Mexicans 60 and over. As if you needed more persuasion, the first Sunday of each month is free for all New Mexico residents. You can even borrow a free family pass (which includes admission to over 15 area museums) at any Santa Fe Public Library branch.
"This truly is a place that has something for everyone," Villela concludes. "It's a treasure that belongs to you and me."
Museums Around Town
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
217 Johnson St., 946-1000, okeeffemuseum.org
In addition to family activities and workshops on art-making, this temple of modernity focuses not only on O'Keeffe, but on her contemporaries and those inspired by her, or whom she was inspired by.
IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art
108 Cathedral Place, 983-8900, iaia.edu
Dedicated to showcasing progressive, often groundbreaking works by Native artists from across the country, the Institute of American Indian Arts' MoCNA also dedicates significant wall space to current and former fine art students from IAIA. It's also got painted columns out front that are perfect for your Insta.
Museum of Indian Arts & Culture
710 Camino Lejo, 476-1269, indianartsandculture.org
Native pottery and intricate jewelry make up the permanent collection at this Museum Hill venue. On exhibit through March 2020 is the masterful modern work of 2019 Native Treasures designees Mateo and Diego Romero (Cochiti), and then a solo show, Diego Romero vs. the End of Art, is up from October 2019 until April 2020.
Museum of International Folk Art
706 Camino Lejo, 476-1200, internationalfolkart.org
A beloved, family-friendly collection filled with history, handmade textiles and folk art from cultures around the world. Community Through Making From Peru to New Mexico, in the Gallery of Conscience, shows what happens when revolutionary makers from South America meet Santa Fe's artists. Through January 2020.
Museum of Spanish Colonial Art
750 Camino Lejo, 982-2226, spanishcolonial.org
The only museum of its kind in the country, it focuses on the Spanish Colonial era in America. Paul Pletka: Converging Faiths in the New World is a unique departure for the museum, featuring modern interpretations and musings on the meeting of European and Indigenous cultures in New Mexico. Through October 2019.
New Mexico History Museum
113 Lincoln Ave., 476-5200, nmhistorymuseum.org
A time capsule of state history takes visitors on a chronological journey through New Mexico history, from prehistory to modern times. Permanent exhibits include religious artifacts, the Fred Harvey Company and more; also catch an exhibition about World War I through Nov. 11, 2019.
New Mexico Museum of Art
107 W Palace Ave., 476-5072, nmartmuseum.org
See historic works from New Mexico, a rotating exhibit repertoire and an internationally famous roster of artists like Picasso and Cézanne. August 2019 sees the continuation of the popular Alcoves series, in which local modern artists are given the spotlight in short, one-person exhibitions.
Palace of the Governors
105 W Palace Ave., 476-5200, palaceofthegovernors.org
In the 1600s, this low adobe building was the seat of government from which Spain reigned over the entire Southwest. It's been closed since autumn 2018 for renovations, and as of press time a reopening date was still not set. But check out walking tours from docents daily during the warmer months; get info at santafewalkingtour.org.
El Rancho de las Golondrinas
334 Los Pinos Road, 471-2261, golondrinas.org
This living history museum occupies 200 acres of land shaded by giant cottonwoods and dotted with buildings, some of which date to the 1700s, when it was a trading stop along the Camino Real. Open from June through September, today it is the site of re-enactments and fun weekend events. Go visit some donkeys and stroll the picturesque grounds.
SITE Santa Fe
1606 Paseo de Peralta, 989-1199, sitesantafe.org
The ship-prow looking building in the Railyard is our hub for installations about science, politics and modern art that makes you think.
Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
704 Camino Lejo, 986-4636, wheelwright.org
Contemporary and historic Native textiles, artwork and a huge display of traditional jewelry illuminate Indigenous traditions, as well as modern looks at ancestral life. Santa Clara artist Rose B Simpson's work is featured in a one-woman show, LIT, through October 2019; Humor and Satire in Native American Arts is on view from November 2019 through October 2020.