“Art is only art when it is synonymous with living.”
Last year at this time, Johanna was a new student at UNM. I was trying to figure out what to do with my evenings – the days of waiting for her to get home from volleyball practice or cokes at the Super Stop before I could plan dinner, the “what school project is due tomorrow?” question sessions, the piles of never-ending laundry in the utility room (which, I have to say, she always did herself) were over – and I was missing her horribly. She was navigating the newness of her college course schedule, homework, dorm life. We were both miserable at times.
So I suggested a September Sunday in Santa Fe – I would drive up from Logan and meet her for breakfast at the Guadalupe Cafe before we embarked on a day doing whatever she chose. When we talked on Saturday, she said, “Museums, mom. I want to go to all the museums.”
So our first stop, after hugs and tears, was the Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA), where we very quietly but hurriedly walked hand in hand to the hall housing the Girard Collection. She may have been in college, but it felt like the first time I took her there when she was four. The dioramas of folk art figurines were still there, as whimsical and fun and interesting as they were when she was six and nine and twelve. If she couldn’t come home for the weekend, this was certainly pretty close for both of us.
If you’ve never been, put it on your “New Mexico to-do” list right now. Alexander Girard was a graphic artist who, in the 60’s, entirely redesigned and rebranded Braniff Airlines with bold, bright graphics on everything – from airplane upholstery to ticket covers to the outside of the planes themselves. “The end of the plain plane,” it was called. And he was an avid collector of folk art. By avid, I mean nuts. Crazy. Off the charts. Thus the collection, designed to take your breath away at the MOIFA.
The MOIFA’s official statement about the collection says:
“Over the years, beginning on their honeymoon trip to Mexico in 1939, Mr. Girard and his wife Susan amassed a vast—in fact the largest – cross-cultural folk art collection in the world totaling more than 100,000 works. 10,000+ of those items are on view permanently at the museum. The massive exhibit in the museum’s Girard Wing, Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, was designed by Mr. Girard himself. It opened in 1982 and includes toys, costumes, masks, textiles, nativities and other religious icons, paintings and more.
Objects were selected for their beauty, humor, whimsy, enthusiasm, spontaneity and directness and they illustrate humankind’s universal need to give form to a sense of ornament, play, delight, and wonder. The Girard collection of more than 100,000 objects is unique in part because of its size: intentional multiples in the collection resulted in a great depth to the holdings in many village traditions that are represented only superficially in other collections that contain similar material. The breadth is also staggering: more than 100 countries on six continents are represented.”
Johanna and I are better this year. She’s beginning her second year with a new roommate, two jobs, a tight schedule, and such a busy social life that we sometimes don’t talk for days. I’m used to my newly quiet home – my garden is bigger, the kitchen is cleaner, and things are very nicely calm, most of the time, at least in comparison. But I still think a September Sunday in Santa Fe may be in order. I’m thinking another visit to the Girard Collection would be a treat. I’m thinking this is a tradition worth continuing.