Crown Jewels

Taos museums survive and thrive in 2021

By Dena Miller

Notable exhibitions and big dreams are in the works for Taos museums: Couse-Sharp Historic Site; Harwood Museum of Art; Millicent Rogers Museum; Taos Art Museum at Fechin House; and Taos Historic Museums.

Surprisingly, after a year of shutdowns and interrupted plans, due to staff dedication, innovative thinking, maximized resources, collaborative efforts and a soupçon of making-it-up as they went along, the museums of Taos not only survived, but thrived.

Pueblo-style adobe and wood gate with spring lilacs, opening to the interior garden of the Couse-Sharp HIstoric Site. Courtesy photo

Perhaps the most striking progress during 2020 was ongoing reconstruction of the Mission Gallery into the Lunder Research Center, an adjunct to the Couse-Sharp Historic Site and a world-class repository of tricultural art history archives.

Combined with the homes and studios of E. Irving Couse and J. H. Sharp – original members of the Taos Society of Artists – the complex is both a fascinating step back in time and a peek into the future.

“The premise of LRC is to engender interest in and preserve the shared history of Taos,” said executive director Davison Koenig, which further cements Taos as a destination for both serious art aficionados and students.

Post 2020 revamps

New museum offerings emerged from COVID lockdowns. Exhibitions were still installed, but the difference was, and is now, their availability online. Juniper Leherissey Manley, executive director of the Harwood Museum of Art, noted that virtual programming expanded their audience far wider than could have been anticipated. It was such a successful model, in fact, the Harwood is continuing the practice going forward.

“We’ll be hosting virtual tours of the exhibit halls and a series of artists’ talks on Facebook Live, which we’ll then make available on our website and through YouTube,’’ Manley said. Many Zoom events’ pre-recorded introductions and live discussions, generate lots of spontaneity.

Millicent Rogers Museum executive director Greta Brunschwyler, said they, too, will continue virtual programming which, last year, included a successful online auction and artists’ market in addition to artists’ talks. “The only certainty for 2021 is continuing those components as stand-alone and hybrid events, due to how well-received they were.”

Museum collaborations

Manley and Brunschwyler are planning a collaborative event featuring famed Native American potter Maria Martinez. “The joint programming will include Maria’s pottery collection, one of the highlights at Millicent Rogers, with our ‘Santo Lowrider’ exhibition,” said Manley, which is featuring a black refurbished El Camino inspired by Martinez’s work.

Taos Art Museum executive director Christy Schoedinger Coleman said, “We’re pleased to continue our free series of online guided meditations – inspired by the museum and its surroundings – in partnership with Taos Yoga Retreat and recorded by longtime meditation and yoga instructor Ceily Levy.”

Taos Art Museum at Fechin House. File photo

Executive director Daniel Barela of Taos Historical Museums pointed out one more silver lining, to which all the others agreed: Quiet museums meant plenty of time to repair, rebuild and revisit.

It was, he said, “a time to look at where we had been, and to decide how we would operate going forward.” Barela is focused on developing events using the sprawling outdoor space at La Hacienda de los Martínez.

La Hacienda de los Martínez. File photo

With the uptick in online activity, all reported an increase in inquiries and donations, guaranteeing 2021 will be an exceptional year for the crown jewels of Taos.

Visit each organization’s websites for updated hours of operation and information on upcoming events. Museums are like storybooks, but ones into which you may set foot. As keepers of our history, they hold safe the chapters of who we were, where we are and what possibilities the future may hold. Now, more than ever, is the right time to support these cultural institutions as they have supported us.