Did you ever wonder why one of the murals in the St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art shows a gang of ancient Maya men garbed in jaguar pelts and green quetzal feathers? The auditorium murals, Mayas and all, are intimately tied to the history of the building and to a few of the main players in the story of art and culture in Santa Fe a century ago.
Enter Edgar Lee Hewett, Southwestern archaeologist and founding director of both the School of American Archaeology and the Museum of New Mexico. In the fall of 1911, Hewett was approached by the San Diego businessman David Collier to organize exhibits for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, planned to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. Among the attractions Hewett and his team eventually created were an Indian village staffed with actual Pueblo and Navajo families, a sham Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling, and anthropology exhibits that most famously featured several casts of colossal stone monuments from the Maya ruins of Quiriguá in Guatemala. Hewett also proposed a New Mexico building to highlight the state’s cultural resources. World’s fairs commonly featured exhibits and buildings sponsored by foreign countries, and those held in the U.S., beginning with the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, usually showcased the economic and cultural contributions of each U.S. state.
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