History Herald: Springtime in New Mexico

by Laura Gonzales, Education & Volunteer Manager
The Dye Shed

Wind, allergies, sunshine in some places, snow in others, we all know what that means; it’s officially Spring in New Mexico! It’s the season symbolizing growth, renewal and rebirth. Looking around at the natural beauty of New Mexico we see color springing into vibrancy around us once again. At Las Golondrinas no one loves color more than our talented weavers! They turn plants, minerals, and even insects into natural dyes that transform the wool from our Churro sheep into radiant works of art.

Traditionally, New Mexican weavers have harvested wild growing plants to make dye. One that has always been in high demand for vibrant yellows and golds is “Cota.” This hearty plant is resilient with little water and thrives in the New Mexico wild. Our weavers let spun wool (yarn) sit in a mordant (a substance that binds dye to fiber) of water, alum, and cream of tartar, then soak the yarn in a dye bath made of cota petals. Variations in this process result in an array of golden hues. Cota has been integral to New Mexican life for generations, even used to make a tasty, medicinal tea. (*Please note, this is NOT medical advice. Always consult your health care provider before using home remedies (remedios).)

Herbs and Plants for Dying

New Mexicans in the past, however, didn’t have access to modern healthcare, and so, relied on herbal healers, honorably called Curanderos by their community. This is not a title they would have bestowed upon themselves. To provide the best care they could, curanderos spend years apprenticing and studying, and utilized various types of plants, herbs, and roots to sooth and cure an array of ailments. One of the most important was oshà. It grows in the high sierras and was used in treating colds, lung infections, and sore throats. It was also believed to ward off rattlesnakes and was used by Pueblo and Spanish communities alike to discourage insect infestation along acequia banks (irrigation ditches), which is great because springtime is also when local farmers from rural communities across New Mexico work together to clean the winter debris from their acequias, as they have for generations.

Volunteer Vista: Martha and Jim Meehan in their own words

Marsha Meehan

We, Marsha and Jim Meehan, have been volunteering at Las Golondrinas since 2018.

Retired IT professionals from Wethersfield Connecticut, we first became interested in history through our involvement with the local Historical Society where Marsha was a member of the Collections and Exhibits Committees, and an event volunteer. Jim served on the Governing Board, edited and wrote for the society’s “Articles from the Community” website and helped out at events also. In addition Marsha was active in local knitting and Book Groups and Jim was a longtime member of the Men’s Garden Club of Wethersfield.

We first came to Santa Fe in 1992 for our 25th wedding anniversary and returned at least once a year ever since then. In May of 2017 we were able to retire to the City Different. We had visited Las Golondrinas on several of those trips and El Rancho was at the top of the list for places to volunteer when – after house hunting and settling in – we were finally able to in 2018.

Jim MeehanWith little knowledge of New Mexico history we appreciated the good training and welcoming atmosphere that allowed us to quickly feel comfortable as docents. We also really like the opportunity to try various things at the ranch. In 2018 and 2019 Marsha could normally be found in the Weaving, Spinning and Colcha area, while Jim would usually be working at either the Big Mill or Sierra Village. We especially enjoy being anonymous ghosts at Spirits of New Mexico, helping Julie Anna in the gardens, and (slightly less) spring cleaning the dirt floor buildings.

But mostly it is the people — staff and fellow volunteers — an interesting, intelligent and friendly group who make it so much fun to be a part of such a worthwhile organization.

When not in costume Marsha enjoys knitting increasingly complex projects, and reading. Jim likes to spend his time researching and writing about NM history and culture — and sharing that info via bimonthly “email blasts” with a group of longtime CT friends.

Curator’s Corner: Spindle Whorls

by Amanda Mather, Curator of Collections

Here is a little insight on an overlooked object, but one that helped keep us clothed for a very long time.

Spindles are long sticks used to spin yarn, and the Spindle Whorl is the weighted piece at the end that helps maintain the spindles speed and spin.

Spindle Whorls were made of a myriad of material — coral, amber, stone, antler, and as shown in the photo to your left, pottery. For the past 9,000 years, the spindle and its ever-trusty helper the whorl has been spinning fabrics all around the world.

When weaving artifacts are found, often the spindle is gone, having been made of an organic material (often wood) that is no longer with us. Since the whorl was often made of tougher stuff, it is usually the thing that is found for the archaeological record.

Spindle Whorls have been found everywhere — Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas – where there is fabric to be woven, there are spindle whorls.

The example that is in our exhibition hall at the Ranch is made of a recycled piece of Puebloan pottery that has been repurposed as a whorl. It comes from a 17th century Spanish Colonial archaeological site named LA 20,000, a site for which El Rancho de las Golondrinas is the custodian.

LA 20,000 is a site that has been researched by archaeologists, including Dr. Heather Trigg of the Fiske Center for Archaeology and her graduate students, who come to toil away in the hot summer sun to learn more about Spanish Colonial lives.

Come by El Rancho de las Golondrinas during our season (June through October 1) to watch our talented weavers use spindles and whorls with expert hands — it’s an impressive thing to see to say the least.

Meet Annette Gutierrez Turk

Annette Guttierez Turk

“I volunteer with the Weaving Group,” says Annette Gutierrez Turk. “I came to El Rancho de las Golondrinas in 2009 as a visitor and was enticed into volunteering by then-coordinator, Beatrice Maestas Sandoval. Under her tutelage, I learned to spin with the malacate and spinning wheel, learned how to dye wool with native plant materials and honed my weaving skills. Bea pushed me to grow and learn and finally to jury into Spanish Market. I endeavor to continue volunteering and helping new volunteers to become comfortable with skills we promote at the Ranch.

As a fiber artist with a primary interest in colcha embroidery, I’ve been able to enrich my interests by participating in all wool processing techniques, including sheep shearing at the Ranch! Further, museum “crawling” has given me an appreciation of the life of the Colonial settlers and their churro sheep. Relating the importance of the churro is always part of my interaction with visitors.

Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I missed out on some of the Northern New Mexico traditions, so I am eager to catch up and enjoy all that Northern New Mexico has to offer. The festivals promoted by El Rancho de las Golondrinas all feed into those traditions, for which I am most grateful.

I’ve benefited from the Ranch in so many ways. I have an active interest in my ancestors and truly appreciate all they had to master in this new and sometimes inhospitable land. Recently I learned of my familial ties to Don Juan Perez Oñate.

I remain amazed at the structure of El Rancho de Las Golondrinas and its mission to teach our visitors about the gifts given to us by our ancestors. I take great joy in demonstrating for our visitors the practical arts practiced by the men and women of Colonial New Mexico.”

2017 International Folk Culture and Tourism Products Expo

Julia R. Gomez, right, and Annette Gutierrez Turk, left, are members of Sandia Mountains Chapter – EGA. As fiber artists, they were pleased to accept an invitation to represent the United States in a cultural exchange at the 2017 Cultural Expo in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China on November 10–12, 2017. This fair invited 287 enterprises to represent their products for exhibit, competition and sale. The festival attracted delegations from 39 countries such as America, Australia, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Singapore and the Netherlands.

Julia and Annette were pleased to share their Spanish colonial colcha embroidery, weaving, spinning and natural dye techniques with the thousands of visitors to the Expo. They were fascinated by the history involving these arts. The Chinese people were very receptive to this art and the only regret that Julia and Annette had was that they could not spend more time sharing. A master artist workshop program is planned for next year in Beijing, and they look forward to hearing more about that!

Volunteering is Fun!

This month’s “Volunteering is Fun” article comes from Dee Anaya.

Dee Anaya at Las Golondrinas

“My name is Dee Anaya.  I am mother to Pierce (6) and Stellabelle (1).  My family and I have been going to Las Golondrinas for 8 years.  It is one of our sacred spots, where we walk, talk and spend quality time together.

We began volunteering in June of 2016.  We enjoy having access to knowledgeable staff and the history of New Mexico at our fingertips.  The experiences my children are able to have while at the Ranch are priceless.  Whether it is learning about animal tracks and archery from Steve Dixon, or carding and spinning wool from Patricia Tucker, the children are always very engaged and talk about their experiences at home or to anyone who will listen.

We are a homeschooling family as well.  I cannot express the gratitude I have in my heart for the built-in lessons we receive from each volunteer or staff member we encounter.  There is no other place in town that my children feel more safe to roam and learn.

Pierce has made a special Golondrinas song that he sings every time we approach and see the Ranch from the road. ‘Golondrinas is my favorite place EVER!’ he says.

Our lives are more enlivened because of El Rancho de las Golondrinas and we couldn’t be prouder to be a part of something so special.  Our favorite place(s) to volunteer is with the weavers and archery.  We look forward to our next year of volunteering! “