More than the nation's oldest continuously used public building, the 400-year-old Palace of the Governors is the crown jewel of Santa Fe's historical education and research center on the Plaza.
;The opening of the History Museum frees the Palace to be what it has been for centuries: Our state's most important artifact, witness to 400 years of history,; said Frances Levine, director of the Palace of the Governors and the History Museum. ;It can be itself once again, the jewel that it is, no longer just a showcase and repository for thousands of other artifacts and records.;
What began as the home of the Spanish colonial governors became a museum when preservationists saved it from demolition in 1909.
Visitors to the new History Museum will hear and read the term ;immersive environment,; Levine noted, adding that the Palace of the Governors is such an environment.
This doesn't mean that the visitor will find just bare walls, thick though they may be, when they enter the Palace. In fact, various exhibits include Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe, featuring interactive media using innovative technology for self-guided tours of the more than 175 images from the 19th century through 2008.
Drawing upon the photo archive's 800,000 images and contemporary photographs, the exhibit celebrates Santa Fe's upcoming 400th anniversary.
The photo archive, which shares the nearby Fray Angélico Chávez History Library building, is a ;hidden treasure; that encompasses ;a bigger, more complete collection of images dating back to the mid-19th century than any other museum,; according to curator Mary Anne Redding.
Through the Lens portrays Santa Fe's history from the earliest technology (daguerreotypes) to the latest (digital), and everything in between. To include as many images as possible, viewers will find only numbers -- no labels -- next to or under the photos. Interactive iPods with explanations, identifications and interviews with some of the contemporary photographers are provided free of charge, and visitors may use their own iPods or iPhones if they prefer. For those who prefer it, a complete, hand-held written guide is provided, also free. (Both the iPods and guides must be returned when the visitor is finished.) A flat-screen television and computer kiosk also provide label information.
Redding pointed out that the archives collects contemporary as well as historical work focusing on local, state, national and international subjects. The archives are available to the public.
;We are always looking ahead, to the future and what will be considered important down the road,; Redding stressed.
As White House photographer Pete Souza has said, the purpose of photography is to look back in 50 years and see a visual record of a particular time and place. If the past foretells the present, the present will help create the future. Redding and Levine agree this is a guiding philosophy of the historical museum complex.
;Our museums are not mausoleums, our history is not locked behind closed doors,; Redding said.
;We are a public museum, engaged in programming and exhibitions using the latest technologies to tell New Mexico's story, from the past into the future. We are constantly evolving, as is the state's story and the technology to tell it,; Levine said.
A living portion of that story is displayed daily under the portal of the Palace of the Governors, where up to 120 Indians show and sell their arts and crafts in the Portal Native American Artisans Program. Drawn by lottery each morning, the market is self-regulated and requires that the artisans must be members of New Mexico tribes and pueblos and have created the work they display. It's often considered the tourist's first stop when visiting the Plaza, and locals enjoy meeting and talking with the artists, as well.
Behind the Palace of the Governors in rooms adjoining the courtyard between the Palace and History Museum is the Palace Print Shop and Bindery.
The press, a working exhibit of 19th- and 20th-century letterpress printing techniques and equipment, was founded as a living history exhibit in 1972 and became a hub of book arts activity. Closed for renovations last year, the Press re-opens to the public this weekend
While not open to the general public, the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library preserves and provides for research vast historical materials documenting the history of New Mexico, the Spanish-colonial Southwest, the American West and Meso-America from pre-European times to the present.
The library holds approximately 40,000 book and serials titles, 6,000 maps, 2,000 microfilms and 600 linear feet of archival material. Visitors by appointment may see a wall mural by Olive Rush created for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, which may be more appropriate today than one might wish.
For information, contact the Palace of the Governors at 476-5100 or www.palaceofthegovernors.org.