A typical building in downtown Santa Fe with the New Mexico flag.
New Mexico is one of my favorite states. We have been there only once before when we visited Albuquerque on a prior road trip but I distinctly remember how beautiful the landscape was and the distinctive southwest artistic style. I was looking forward to Santa Fe, best known as the city that inspired Georgia O’Keefe.
We had a great chance to practice our Spanish in Santa Fe. The street signs in this photo are “Calle del Cielo” = “Street of Heaven” or “Street of the Sky.” intersecting with “Cerrillos Road” = “wild/uneven/rough/mountainous road”
We awoke in the morning and after breakfast, drove a short distance to the Museum of International Folk Art. I had chosen this museum primarily because they had an exhibit on the history of chocolate–a key food group in this family.
The museum complex housing the Museum of International Folk Art.
Loved this artful bus shelter. It was a great reminder that opportunities to add more art in our lives are all around us.
The museum is located in a complex with 3 other museums. When you enter any one museum, you are offered the chance to buy a pass for all 3 museums. We had limited time so we just opted for the folk art museum. The other interesting aspect of their admissions policy is that they only charge for adults. Children under 16 are free.
The first exhibit we saw was on Japanese kite making. There were gorgeous Japanese painted kites hanging from the ceiling and artfully displayed on the walls.
The kite exhibit entrance.
When we first entered the exhibit, there was a special surprise for children. Before I show it to you, here is my imagined conversation between the person who came up with this idea and the museum’s director:
Idealist: “I have a great idea for how to engage children in our museum exhibitions!”
Director: “Great! What is it?”
Idealist: “Well, when children view art, they want to become part of it and create some for themselves. We can have the children make art right there in the gallery next to the art on display!”
Director: “Are you crazy?! That will make such a mess! We can’t have bits of craft supplies strewn all over the gallery. What if it gets on the art and damages it? Plus, a messy art station will detract from the enjoyment of the exhibition. Let’s just have the children use the classrooms down the hall.”
Idealist: “Of course we will be careful. I will choose a minimal mess craft and organize it in a way that won’t make a mess. You’ll see. It will be great!”
Director: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
And it was a great idea! The craft station itself was beautifully made. There was a small custom-made table. Instructions for how to do the craft were printed on a large poster-size paper and mounted under a sheet of glass that served as the tabletop. There was a custom-made wooden box to contain all the art supplies necessary, each one organized in a size-appropriate space. The craft itself didn’t involve any tiny, messy pieces and mostly involved a small amount of cutting, some tying of string and taping. It was truly genius! No one needed to be there to man the art station. It was obvious to children and adults how to do the craft and clean up afterward. And the kites they made were wonderful!
The organizational perfection of the kite craft-making table.
Making kites right there in the exhibit was amazing!
Admiring the finished kite craft.
After our crafts were completed, we toured the exhibit and saw kites of all sizes and shapes. There were enormous kites and tiny kites, square kites and people-shaped kites. It really made you think about kites in a whole new way. An interesting organizational lesson here. . . one of the most vexing organizational problems when it comes to kites is how to keep all the kite strings from becoming tangled in a horrible mess. One complex kite showed that the answer seems to be to braid all the strings together.
An incredible exercise in patience — braiding kite string!
The next gallery we saw was an amazing exhibit on cooking, particularly how the blend of ingredients from Europe and the Americas changed the way both places cooked. The Americas introduced foods like potato, tomato, avocado, corn, chile, squash, chocolate and vanilla. Europeans introduced cabbage, lettuce, onions, garlic, peaches, figs and quince. I loved the recreations of the Spanish Colonial kitchens with their blue tile accents.
Detail from one of the recreated Spanish Colonial kitchens.
The exhibit on chocolate was a relatively small part of the whole exhibit but left us with the fascinating fact that the chocolate we enjoy today is the result of the blending of cultures. Spanish colonists found the chocolate drink enjoyed by their American counterparts interesting but not to their taste. However, once blended with sugar, vanilla and cream, it became a delectable passion.
We learned about mate, a South American drink made from a sort of holly berry that seems to have a passionate following, much like coffee. We also learned that chile is the most famous export from New Mexico. New Mexico retains the Spanish spelling of “chile,” rather than the Naahautl spelling, “chilli” or the modern “chili pepper.”
The Museum of International Folk Art excelled in helping people to use what they had seen at the museum to transform their own lives. At the end of the exhibit, there was a recipe exchange station, where you could either take copies of some of the museum’s recipes or write down a recipe of your own to share with others. It was fun to flip through the book and see in people’s own handwriting their favorite recipes.
The recipe exchange station.
Another interactive element in the museum was this scent station. Many museums are incorporating scent in their exhibits these days. Usually the scent has long since worn off and there is no scent to perceive. I am pleased to report that this scent station was fully functional and wonderful.
We wandered through exhibits on carnival costumes, puppets, and “literatura de cordel,” an exhibit on books and printmaking. I was fascinated by all of these exhibits. It was interesting to realize that we tend to think of “art” through such a narrow lens and we relegate to “craft” anything that has a useful connotation. This museum caused me to reexamine that designation. There was so much “art” in these “crafts”– so many beautifully made pieces. It is hard to find this type of art exhibited anywhere else in such a beautiful way.
Another kid-friendly crafting station in the puppet gallery.
Another craft table where you could make your own story using stamps and paper.
Not only were we learning about art but we were also learning about cultural histories. We learned that there are two classical themes in Brazilian folk art.
One example of one of the classical themes in Brazilian folk art — the country bride and groom on horseback.
Another classical theme in Brazilian folk art is the “retirantes,” or people escaping the drought. One recurring theme in “retirantes” art is a pipe-smoking grandmother on a donkey.
In all of this art, there was so much emotion. Each piece demonstrated passion but also a sense of humor. It was also amazing how small some of the pieces were and yet how much could be conveyed in miniature.
The last exhibit hall was dedicated to the museum’s permanent collection. It was packed with mostly miniature art forms. There was so much to see. You could easily spend several hours in here. There is so much detail to appreciate.
View of a small portion of the museum’s permanent collection.
As an example of the beauty to be found in miniature. This is a small detail of a Nativity scene from a large icon display.
At the end of the exhibit space, there is a wonderful bit of space planning. There is a brilliant children’s play area stocked with toys that seem to have been custom-made for the space. Next door is the gift shop. I parked my husband with the children and was able to shop in peace!
Enjoying the play area.
The unbelievable selection of holiday ornaments in the gift shop.
There were so many wonderful ornament choices in the gift shop. I restrained myself to three that I decided I just couldn’t live without. Here they are on my Christmas tree:
Knitted polar bear with chullo hat.
Wooden armadillo with bobble head.
Since I didn’t have a purse, I had to go ask my husband for some money to pay for my ornament finds. For some couples, this could be the potential minefield of losing a purse, having to discuss and agree on every purchase decision. Fortunately, my husband did not object and handed over the credit card.
We left the museum where outside a strong wind was blowing and grey storm clouds were overhead. We knew a winter storm was blowing west to east and it would be our job for the remainder of the trip to outrun it. The children loved the wind as it helped them fly their kites. We took some photos and headed into town for a brief lunch.
View from the museum plaza.
The museum had some of the most amazing winter landscaping. It would seem almost impossible to have plants that would look good in wintertime but the museum managed to achieve it.
We drove a short distance into downtown Santa Fe.
All over Santa Fe are these distinctive Christmas decorations on the rooflines of buildings. At first, they look like paper bags with candles in them but on closer inspection, they are wired with regular Christmas lights and plastic coverings to endure the weather.
We had a special stop to make first. In conjunction with our museum exhibit on chocolate, we had to stop here.
Chocolate Santa Fe style at the Kakawa Chocolate House.
The Kakawa Chocolate House offers unique Santa Fe style chocolate. There are traditional chocolate confections to enjoy (with exotic flavors like pine nuts, basil and Earl Grey tea) but the shop is most famous for its “chocolate elixirs.”
The enticing chocolate case at Kakawa Chocolate House.
A “chocolate elixir” served in beautiful china.
The chocolate elixirs are brewed in pots on the counter and you can choose from numerous flavors. For the children, we opted for a sweet version with chocolate, vanilla and sugar. (From the museum experience, you might say “Spanish-style.”) For myself, I wanted to try one of the chocolate-chile mixtures. “You should taste it first,” the man behind the counter warned. I had a small sample and it was rich and chocolaty but it also burned with fire! It gave a new meaning to “hot” chocolate. “Whoah! That is too much for me,” I said. “How about a half and half mixture?” he suggested. He mixed mine with half chile chocolate and half sweet. It was the most exotic cup of hot chocolate I have ever tasted!
The shop owners then generously offered to let me and the children go back into the kitchen to see how the chocolates were made. There were several chefs dipping truffles and making caramels as well as preparing the mixtures for the chocolate elixirs. It was an incredible treat to see this in action!
We exited the kitchen and sat down to enjoy our chocolate elixirs and caramels. The restaurant just happened to have one table and chairs set sized for children. My children were thrilled to have a real life “tea party.” The caramels we tried were amazing. One was flavored with rose petals and another with lavender. They were all amazing. I have never tasted chocolate anything like this before. One of my favorite movies is “Chocolat” with Juliette Binoche, which is basically the story of a woman who brings a unique chocolate shop to a sleepy French town and awakens everyone to life. Visiting the Kakawa Chocolate House was about as close as you can come to bringing this movie to life.
We didn’t order a chocolate elixir for my son, figuring he would share with the rest of us. His sister was displeased when he took over her mug. (I also love my daughter’s chocolate nose in this picture.)
Since the rest of the family cannot sustain itself on chocolate alone, we drove on to downtown Santa Fe for some lunch.
A flock of birds circling the rooftops in downtown Santa Fe.
We ate at a Subway but in a wonderful boutique shopping mall. I did some quick window shopping on my way to the car.
Christmas ball decorations in the shopping mall.
A wonderful mohawk-style ski hat from a store called “Mayan Art.”
Lots of Southwest style turquoise and silver jewelry to admire.
Santa Fe was everything that I hoped it would be and more. There is something quite magical about this place and it is truly an artistic mecca.
With the storm deadline approaching, we drove out of Santa Fe.
We drove past the Santa Fe state Capitol, the only round Capitol building in the United States and a unique architectural change.
As we approached the Texas border, the landscape became more flat and distinctively Texan.
One oversight of my trip planning was forgetting to figure in time changes. It didn’t matter much on the trip west because we kept gaining an hour here and there. It was a bigger problem on the trip back where we were losing an hour here and there and driving more frequently in darkness.
What a sunset!
It’s not often that I was able to take any usable pictures after the sun went down but there were so many lights in parts of Texas that I got a few visible shots.
Nighttime in Texas.
We drove on into the night, stopping briefly for dinner at a truck stop along the way until we reached our hotel near Oklahoma City.
P.S. Thanks for the great comments on the last post! Please be sure to check out Ben’s comment on use of the word “Anasazi.”