Spanish Colonial Arts Society Founded-1925

Between 1919 and 1925, Mary Austin was in and out of Santa Fe, writing, lecturing, and promoting the preservation and revival of Hispano and Indian cultural production. In 1923, the Society for the Preservation of Indian and Spanish Traditions in the Americas was organized at a meeting held around the fireplace in the New Mexico State Museum, reported in the 15 November issue of El Palacio:
The Society has been formed for the protection and encouragement of the Indian and Spanish arts and cultures of the Southwest. . . It is therefore proposed to create in Santa Fe an institution which will stimulate the Southwestern craftsmen of the present day, strengthen their best traditions, and collect for their benefit and that of the public, the fullest possible series of art and handicraft objects, which record the past.

This organization splintered into the Indian Arts Fund and the Spanish Colonial Arts Society (SCAS). In the same year, Austin had become a friend to Frank Applegate and his wife Alta. By 1925 Austin had determined that she wanted to live in Santa Fe full time and had a home built on Camino del Monte Sol, near the Applegate’s. Austin and Applegate were both interested in Hispano as well as Indian arts. Indian arts and culture had been the original interest of both outsiders but they would both drift into Hispano cultural production probably because they were immersed in the culture simply by living in Santa Fe and Indian culture was more difficult for them to penetrate.

In 1925, at the home of Josefita Manderfield-Otero, Austin secured financial backing from her friend Elon Hooker to establish a society for the revival of Spanish colonial arts This meeting was auspicious in that it melded the capital of east-coast industrialist Hooker with the Oteros, leaders in the economic and social affairs of New Mexico. Wealthy financier William Henry Manderfield and partner Thomas Tucker bought the printing plant and The Santa Fe Republican newspaper, changing its name to The New Mexican, and later published The Daily New Mexican. Manderfield’s daughter Josefita married Eduardo M. Otero. Thus, Austin’s society for the revival of Spanish colonial arts was conceived in very elite company (A Spanish Colonial Arts Society pamphlet lists the original members in addition to Austin and Applegate as: Mrs. Ruth Laughlin Alexander, Mr. and Mrs. A. S. Alvord, Mr. George Bloom, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Cassidy, Dr. Kenneth Chapman, Miss Leonora Curtin, Mrs. Thomas Curtin, Senator Bronson M. Cutting, Mr. Andrew Dasburg, Mr. and Mrs. John DeHuff, Mrs. Charles H. Dietrich, Mrs. Lois Field, Mrs. William Field, Mrs. Alice Corbin Henderson, Mr. Wayne Mausy, Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, Mr. George McCrossen, Mr. Preston McCrossen, Mr. John Gaw Meem, Dr. Frank E. Mera, Mrs. Alice Clark Myers, Mr. Sheldon Parsons, Dr. Francis Proctor, Mrs. Marie Robinson, Mr. H. Cady Wells, Miss Mary C. Wheelwright, and “others sensitive to Spanish Culture”). The organization was known as the Society for the Revival of Spanish-Colonial Arts until 1929.

Austin described how the founders had been hung up over the society’s name and how she had been “hard pressed for a phrase by which to describe the descendants of the Spanish Colonists other than the misleading term ‘Mexicans’ and had already begun to write of them as Spanish Colonials.” She goes on to describe how she had insisted to Dana Johnson, editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican, that “the term was in public use, though I was myself the only person who had used it,” suggesting that she did not coin the term “Spanish colonial” but that she brought it to the fore at that point. Austin was relieved that Dana Johnson had taken to the name and had begun to “popularize it,” making Spanish colonial art a “recognized subject of interest and comment in the press.”

In a letter dated 15 November 1933 to Mrs. William Fields, Austin made a pitch to have Mrs. Fields leave her collection to the “Society for the Revival of Spanish Arts in New Mexico.” (It is interesting also that at this late date, shortly before her death, she should use this name instead of the incorporated Spanish Colonial Arts Society.) In the letter she states, “Another item, which we purchased, was the private chapel at Chimayo known as [the] Sanctuario. We rescued it just in time to prevent its being broken up and sold to curio dealers before its treasures of Mexican Art would have been carried out of the state.”

On 29 October 1929, a certificate of incorporation for SCAS was signed by Austin, Applegate, Francis I. Proctor, George M. Bloom, Frank E. Mera, Margretta A. Dietrich, Mrs. A. S. Alvord, John Gaw Meem, John D. De Huff, and notary public Miriam C. Bauer. This document was intended to officially name and codify the ambitions of its signatories, supporters, and backers. According to the certificate of incorporation, the intent of the society was to:

(1) Encourage and promote generally in New Mexico and elsewhere Spanish Colonial Art.

(2) Preserve and revive the Spanish colonial art of every character.

(3) Perpetuate and disseminate Spanish Colonial art in all its phases and manifestations.

(4) Acquire, preserve and protect places, property, both real and personal, things and articles relating to or exemplifying or representing Spanish Colonial art and provide for the custody thereof

(5) Restore places, things, buildings and property, both real and personal, relating to or exemplifying Spanish Colonial art (State Corporation Commission of New Mexico, No. 15923, October 29, 1929).

Rules were spelled out for the competition and exhibitions held at the Fiestas. The competition was open to the descendants of Spanish Colonial families of New Mexico only. The objects to be exhibited and judged were to be “like the old time things made here and must not be like American things . . . The object of the competition is to start again a liking for the things made by the early Spanish people in New Mexico.” The exhibition, according to Austin, had become a recognized feature of the Santa Fe Fiesta by this time.

SCAS added to its collection over the years through the largess of many local collectors, including Mary Wheelwright, and by purchases, including part of Applegate’s collection. Early on it became apparent that SCAS would need to emulate the domain of the collector and museum and acquire a permanent collection “of the best examples of the old work . . . and place them on exhibition.” The venue would be the rooms of the Historical Society in the Palace of the Governors. Austin described how the collection was enhanced by the altar and reredos (altar screen) from the old church at Nuestra Señora del Carmen at Llano Quemado, just southwest of Ranchos de Taos: “Frank [Applegate] was notified that it was for sale, and went up immediately, arriving a little in advance of the curio dealers and secured it for $500.”

Two projects significant to the underpinnings of the organization were the establishment of a retail outlet and the production of a book on “Spanish Arts in New Mexico, copiously illustrated.” The outlet, known as The Spanish Arts, opened in Sena Plaza in May 1930 and closed in 1933.

According to Marta Weigle existing records indicate that SCAS’s activities and membership dwindled after Austin’s death in 1934 and that SCAS was generally inactive from the late 1930s through the 1940s. During this period, many of its functions were taken over by federally funded art projects and state-funded vocational-training programs of the New Deal (1933–1938). A revival of SCAS was put in motion according to the “Club Notes” section of the Santa Fe New Mexican of 11 February 1938: “The Spanish-Colonial Arts Society was definitely revived at an enthusiastic meeting by more than 40 persons last night at the home of Miss Leonora Curtin.” Notes of the 10 February meeting quote Dr. Frank E. Mera, an original member, who related that during the Society’s period of inactivity, it “lost a great many opportunities for the preservation and study the Spanish Colonial arts in our state . . . [and] failed of the means to retain in the State, the best collection of Santos ever made and it went to the Taylor Museum, Colorado Springs.” The collection mentioned here was Applegate’s, who sold a large portion of his collection of both Hispano and Native American art and artifacts to Alice Bemis Taylor, which became the nucleus of the Taylor Museum’s collection of the religious folk art of New Mexico. During 1928–1929, the sale to Taylor included more than 160 retablos, over 130 bultos, a painting on canvas of the Virgin of Guadalupe, two reredos, a painting on buffalo hide purchased from an old church at Pecos, and six tin.

A second and more sustained period of commodification of Hispano heritage began in 1952 when SCAS, under the direction of Elizabeth Boyd White, known as E. Boyd, underwent its own revival—codifying research on Hispano cultural production, increasing its collections, participating in architectural conservation projects, and reviving the legacy of Spanish Market with the caveat that all crafts must be traditional New research in the arena of Hispano cultural production had emerged over the past fifty years. Chicano activism in the 1960s and 1970s led to the re-evaluation of earlier conceptions of Hispano culture and history in the Southwest. Hispano artists have since, written their own countervailing analyses of Hispano cultural production. The regime of escalated tourism and hyper-consumerism in the late 1980s intensified interest in Hispano cultural production, and these developments have been profitable for the Spanish Market, and SCAS and its artists, many of whom have attained star status in the art marketplace.

SCAS has grown from its humble beginnings in 1925 with its short-lived shop, The Spanish Arts and small exhibitions at Santa Fe Fiestas to a major tourist attraction. Spanish Market, the public face of SCAS, mirrors Indian Market in many ways though as in earlier periods, the mirror’s reflection is diminutive. Hispano cultural production is still the lesser draw; it is a smaller market. SCAS has a new museum for the exhibit of Spanish colonial art from around the world. In some ways it has become international yet in others, it remains provincial. Santa Fe has changed as well from a small town in Applegate and Austin’s time, to a bustling city with all of the attendant maladies of a city in the twenty-first century. Of course, it also retains much of the mystique, charm, history, and cultural diversity that have drawn visitors for decades. Overzealous promoters have dubbed Santa Fe the number-one tourist destination in America. In fact, Santa Fe is a tourist destination of some renown and much of its attraction is the same as it was over a hundred years ago. Today, however, cultural tourism has reached new heights and SCAS is riding the crest of the wave. Although present market demand is high for Hispano arts and crafts, issues relating to patron–client relationships remain unsettled, as do issues of tradition, authenticity, and Hispano representation.


Sources Used:

Austin, Mary. “Frank Applegate.” New Mexico Quarterly 2: 213–18, 1932.

Mss 31, Box 1, Folder 6, Austin Papers, Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico.

Batkin, Jonathan. “The Taylor Museum: A Tribute to Folk Culture.” In Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center: A History and Selections from the Permanent Collection, ed. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 43–127. Colorado Springs, Colo.: The Center, 1986 (44).

Labinsky, Daria, and Stan Hieronymus. Frank Applegate of Santa Fe: Artist and Preservationist. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: LPD Press, 2001 (224).

Larcombe, Claudia “E. Boyd: A Biographical Sketch.” In Hispanic Arts and Ethnohistory in the Southwest, ed. Marta Weigle, 3–14. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Ancient City Press, 1983 (3).

Nestor, Sarah. The Native Market of the Spanish New Mexican Craftsmen: Santa Fe, 1933–1940. Santa Fe: The Colonial New Mexico Historical Foundation, 1978 (8).

Spanish Colonial Arts Society Papers, New Mexico State Records Center and Archives.

Twitchell, Ralph Emerson. Old Santa Fe: The Story of New Mexico’s Ancient Capital. Chicago: Rio Grande Pres., [1925] 1963 ( 465–72).

Vedder, Ann. “History of The Spanish Colonial Arts Society, Inc, 1951–1981.” In Hispanic Arts and Ethnohistory in the Southwest, ed. Marta Weigle, 205–17. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Ancient City Press, 1983 (206-208).

Weigle, Marta, ed. Hispanic Arts and Ethnohistory in the Southwest. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Ancient City Press,1983 (181-217).

———. “Historical Introduction.” In Spanish New Mexico: The Collection of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, eds. Donna Pierce and Marta Weigle. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1996 (1–25).

———.“A Brief History of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society.” In Spanish New Mexico: The Collection of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, eds. Donna Pierce and Marta Weigle. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1996 (26-35).

Wroth, William H. Christian Images in Hispanic New Mexico: The Taylor Museum Collection of Santos. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Taylor Museum of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 1982.

Spanish Colonial Arts Society founded 1925

The Spanish Colonial Arts Society was founded in Santa Fe in 1925.

Mary Hunter Austin