As museum staff and board members make final preparations to open on April 2 for the 2013 season, they hope to see new faces both visiting and volunteering.
Founded in 1974 and located in the historic Aztec City Hall and fire station buildings on Main Ave., the museum endures only by the ongoing efforts of its volunteer board and staff members. With donations of time, materials and upkeep by the community and the city, the museum offers a chance to relive Aztec's history.
A familiar face at the museum is Vicky Ramakka, board president and retired educator.
When not writing grants to fund archival documentation of the museum's steady influx of donated artifacts - old photographs, letters, land grant certificates, furniture and tools - Ramakka, with board Vice President Dale Anderson, solicit help and squeeze the most out of every penny they find in the visitor donation box.
"Everything here reflects this community, from the early pioneers in leggings up to present day," Ramakka said. "The board views everyone from the county, not just here in Aztec, as trustees."
During the winter while the museum was closed, Ramakka, with a group of volunteer women, sorted and cataloged the steady stream of donations that come from community members.
A large part of that time was spent digitally scanning and creating a master list of the thousands of prints and slides by prolific Aztec photographer Henry Jackson. Jackson, who ran a studio where present day Rubio's exists, documented decades' worth of the ebb and flow of the community - from weddings and street scenes to portraits and workers on the job.
For Anderson, owner of nearby Aztec Media, part of the challenge of operating a museum is ensuring people visit and invest in it.
"We are always asking ourselves how we can better connect with the community," he said. "When we're not working on more practical matters of who will do what."
Exploring the two-level museum reveals a surprising number of exhibits. It is floor-to-ceiling with cases that display treasures and curiosities from the area's past.
One room recreates an entire barbershop, down to the chairs and décor and two claw foot bathtubs, used by the cowboys and sheepherders in need of a soak after a long day on the trail.
Room after room offers an impressive variety of minerals and fossils, Hummel figurines, eye glasses, guns and rifles, farm and ranch tools, period fashions, manual typewriters, telephones, arrowheads, dolls, baskets, blankets, radio and more that help bring the history of the area alive.
"There's something in here for everybody," Anderson said. "Last year a gentleman came in and wept at the sight of a mid-century saddle. Turns out it used to belong to him when he was a boy."
In the museum's "backyard" is Pioneer Village, a collection of a dozen structures that afford the visitor a chance to truly step into the past.
Populated by buildings either relocated or built on site, visitors can climb aboard a Rio Grande Railroad caboose, get locked up in the Old Aztec Jail, greet the tellers at Citizens Bank or sit at a desk in the one-room schoolhouse.
For oil-and-gas enthusiasts, the village has a sizable collection of equipment, from a 1920s drilling rig to the "rabbit" from Project Gasbuggy, a $5 million project in the 1960s that used a 29 kiloton warhead to try to extract shale gas from a site in what is now Carson National Forest.
Evidence of the community's investment is clear, from the recently restored chuck wagon to the xeriscaping and traditional plantings that a University of New Mexico agriculture student will finish this summer.
Board member and Aztec Ruins Superintendent Larry Turk wants to connect the two cultural sites together, a plan made easier by the city's ongoing trails and bridge projects.
"There are a lot of family histories here that reveal a lot about this community," Ramakka said. Several years ago, she helped organize the Four Corners Museum Network, which links together historical museums in San Juan County, Utah and Colorado.
"Our strength is the great diversity of talent and skills that support this museum," Anderson said. "So we continually work closely with people who want a to invest in our shared history together. We can't live in isolation."
Beginning April 2, the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village will be open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on the museum, call 505-334-9829 or visit aztecmuseum.org.
James Fenton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 564-4621. Follow him on Twitter @fentondt.