The Center of Southwest Studies is like an iceberg whatever is on display at any given moment is just a small fraction of the items the center owns.
But Treasures Unveiled, an exhibit selected to celebrate the centers 10th anniversary of being in its own building at Fort Lewis College, is intended to give visitors a glimpse into that vast trove.
We wanted to highlight our iconic pieces in this exhibit, Curator Jeanne Brako said. We picked some because theyre very important pieces or interesting pieces that dont get exhibited because theyre not in context with a show.
The exhibit, which will run until July, provides an interesting combination of items from the vaults, including miniatures, train ephemera, textiles even a saber discovered in a wall when a building was torn down at the Old Hesperus Campus. The saber will move into the Frontier Blues exhibit about FLCs centennial when it opens March 18.
Story after story unfolds as Brako points out item after item.
D.Y. Begay, a really well-known Navajo weaver we worked together at the Smithsonian told me he had woven one Ganado (a style of weaving), Brako said, picking up a miniature rug from the OMeara Collection. It turns out this is it.
Over the years, Brako has given tours to countless groups, from foreign visitors to school groups.
This intact white cotton manta is our most precious textile, she said, wearing white gloves as she handled it. Its been carbon dated to 1250.
The piece came from Wallace Tank Ruin in Arizona. Textiles usually are stored on rods to avoid damage from folding, but in the mantas case, the folds themselves are considered to be historical.
On row after row in the basement vaults are baskets, textiles, ceramics and even some oddities such as carved ivories from Asia and a sailfish bill. Both were accepted as donations before the center established a strict policy for its collections.
We do have lithic, or funerary ceramics in the building, and I always inform people of that, Brako said. Some people, particularly Native Americans, arent comfortable coming in when they know, and we respect that.
The center also houses large collections of documents, photographs, ledgers, maps and other archival ephemera, such as menus and brochures. Nik Kendziorski is the general archives manager.
We dont try to scan it all, but we do try to give a sampling on our website, he said. We have scanned the albums from Ansel Halls 1933-4 expedition to Monument Valley. Visitors really like going through them.
The centers archives also hold a number of contemporary files, including those from former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbells and former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis time in office. The papers are so voluminous theyre not organized according to archival standards because it would cost thousands of dollars in materials and staff time.
McInnis papers were of special interest during the last election, when his run for governor was derailed by a plagiarism scandal.
Sometimes the centers own records become historical documents and not just functional documentation. A case in point are Homer Roots five ledgers of the centers acquisitions beginning in 1958, before the center even existed. Root was the first curator, and kept precise, almost calligraphic records while painting each object acquired. His ledgers, works of art themselves, are available on the centers website.
The Delaney Library at the center holds more than 15,000 books and more than 200 periodicals on its shelves, many of which would be considered too rare to keep in the stacks at most libraries, librarian Elayne Silversmith said. The most fragile and valuable are kept in the librarys vault. No books are available for checkout.
I spend a lot of time teaching students about using primary sources, she said. A lot of them dont know what a scholarly journal is.
Among the treasures in the library: the Bureau of Indian Affairs series Indians at Work and the annual reports of the Bureau of Ethnology, with archaeological site reports across the Southwest going back to 1879.
Its how early anthropologists and archaeologists got tribal information, Silversmith said. They had some interesting interpretations.
The library has gotten reference information requests from as far away as France.
One summer, we had five scholars all working on books in our library, she said. We do ask that when people are done with their book or article or thesis, they send us a copy.
Our treasures are as much our donors and friends as stuff, Brako said.
Donations have come from longtime area families and people who have no connection to Southwest Colorado. One of Kendziorskis favorite donors is Nina Heald Webber, who first came to the center because her daughter and son-in-law, Debbie and Bob Allen, live here.
During her visits to Durango, she amassed a collection of postcards that spans more than a century. She now has donated more than 4,000 postcards of Southwest Colorado to the center, and they will be featured in a book coming out in May.
Collecting is my best friend, and its brought many friends into my life, she said.
Webber also has helped find items on the centers wish lists.
Nina asks for assignments, Kendziorski said. Shes very generous, gets to know her collection. She always asks, What else do we need?