Farmington Museum launches Chautauqua series

The series will take place nearly every Saturday in October

Mike Easterling

FARMINGTON — As the director of the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, Bart Wilsey already feels good about the quality and quantity of the programming his institution offers for younger visitors.

It’s an older audience he wants to reach now.

“I think it’s a matter of working in more adult programming,” Wilsey said last week as museum officials anticipated the launch of a new free Chautauqua series sponsored by the New Mexico Humanities Council on Saturday afternoons in October. “We do a lot of stuff for the kids. We’re trying to do more of an adult education aspect of what we do. This is a good fit. It’s a good series with good speakers, and we thought we’d give it a shot.”

The series kicks off Saturday, Oct. 3 with a presentation by Jake Spidle, “Life and Death (Mostly Death) in New Mexico 100 Years Ago.” It continues at the same time on most Saturdays for the remainder of the month with presentations on “1912: A Musical Snapshot of America in the Year New Mexico Became a State” on Oct. 10, “New Mexico’s Living Landscapes” on Oct. 17 and “The Place Names of New Mexico” on Oct. 31.

The series will cover a variety of topics ranging from art and culture to ecology and politics, and each of the presentations feature a topic that applies to New Mexico.

In many ways, the series will mirror the long-running Chautauqua series at San Juan College, but Wilsey said Adrienne Boggs, the museum’s education coordinator who put the series together, went to great lengths not to duplicate any speakers or topics that are being covered in the SJC series.

“We wanted something unique,” Wilsey said. “We want to do our own thing and have our own audience.”

He believes there’s plenty of room for two Chautauqua series in a community of this size, especially since the college series seems to focus more on national characters or issues.

“We just want to get people out to learn a little more about history and New Mexico history,” Wilsey said. “So many of us, myself included, are imports here. It’s nice to get a different perspective on New Mexico’s past.”

Wilsey is excited about Spidle’s presentation to open the series, explaining that he’ll be talking about the health hazards New Mexican faced shortly after statehood. While western films and TV shows have conditioned people to think of gunfights as the big health threats of that era, it was really a time when a simple scratch or a broken arm could kill you, Wilsey said.

“It was more the everyday stuff that took the toll,” he said.

To illustrate that point, Wilsey said he had been leafing through a 1910 issue of the Farmington Enterprise that is part of the museum’s collection recently and recalled reading an item about a local resident who wasn’t feeling well. When he looked through another issue from a week later, he saw an obituary for the same person.

“I guess he really wasn’t feeling good,” Wilsey said drily.

No decision has been made about whether the series will become an annual offering, but Wilsey is hopeful it will be well received.

“We’ll see how it works the first year,” he said. “It’s something we’re really thinking of keeping.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610 and Follow him @measterlingdt on Twitter.


What: “Life and Death (Mostly Death) in New Mexico 100 Years Ago,” a Chautauqua presentation by Jake Spindle

When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3

Where: Farmington Museum at Gateway Park 3041 E. Main St.

Admission: Free

For more information: Call 505-599-1174 or visit