Museum plans Membership Appreciation Day

Mike Easterling

FARMINGTON — As is the case with most museums, the permanent collection at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park is much too large for all the items to be displayed on a regular basis.

Cassie Stiles

But visitors will have the chance this weekend during the museum’s annual Membership Appreciation Day to get a rare look at some of that material — including some items that are of particular interest to Museum Director Bart Wilsey.

“I’m going to be putting out some of my favorite pieces in the collection and talking to folks about what they are and what they mean,” Wilsey said.

That list includes several pieces of World War I “trench art” — shell casings into which soldiers carved elaborate designs during lulls in the fighting.

“These are intricately carved masterpieces of art,” he said. “It’s incredible what they did during a miserable existence in a trench. It’s kind of a fascinating juxtaposition of the death and destruction all around them.”

Wilsey said the shell casings were donated to the museum years ago by a local woman, and though they have no connection to Farmington or any of the other items in the permanent collection, they remain an object of fascination.

Engraved World War I shell casings from the permanent collection at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park will be displayed during Membership Appreciation Day at the museum this weekend.

“It’s how we get most of the things we get,” Wilsey said.

This weekend’s activities will yield other surprises, as well, he said. Wilsey said there are thousands of items that have been cataloged, numbered and put on a shelf in the museum’s permanent collection, and several of the most interesting items will be brought out as part of Membership Appreciation Day.

“It’s the Holy Grail of collections,” he said.

The day’s activities also include the dedication of the newly renamed Cassie Stiles Dallas Exhibit Gallery, a presentation by Diana Molina on the culture of the Raramuri, a Native tribe from the Sierra Madre Occidental in northern Mexico whose members have emerged as the world’s greatest distance runners, at 2 p.m., and a presentation by film historian Jeff Berg at 4 p.m. Live entertainment, book signings, historical videos, door prizes and light refreshments will be offered.

The gallery dedication will turn the spotlight to one of the museum’s more dedicated supporters, Wilsey said.

“It’s in honor of Cassie, who was a volunteer here for most of her life,” he said. “She was probably the biggest museum booster of all. She lived and breathed with the museum.”

Wilsey said when he came to Farmington 18 years ago to interview for his position, Stiles was one of the first people he met.

“She wasn’t in on my first interview, but when I talked to her later, I quickly realized I was on my second interview,” he said, laughing. “She was trying to figure out if this young pup was up to the job.”

Over the years, the two enjoyed a wonderful relationship until Stiles’ death last year, he said, adding that the gallery dedication will serve as a nice way to memorialize her contributions over the years.

“You couldn’t talk about the museum without talking about Cassie or talk about Cassie without talking about the museum,” Wilsey said.

Another highlight of the day’s activities will be Berg’s presentation, which will mark the third time he has discussed that subject at the museum. The Santa Fe resident said he constantly updates the presentation to reflect new things he has learned, and this one is called “Movies Made by New Mexicans.”

It features people from the motion picture industry who live in the state, have lived here or were born here. Some names will be more familiar than others to those who attend the presentation, but Berg prides himself on the accuracy of the information he presents, refusing to include anyone on that list unless he has personally documented it.

Silent film star Mae Marsh, born in Madrid, N.M., south of Santa Fe, will be one of the figures discussed in film historian Jeff Berg's "New Mexico Filmmaking" presentation this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

Those figures include silent film star Mae Marsh, who was born in Madrid, south of Santa Fe, and who once commanded a salary of $2,500 a week in the early days of Hollywood, as well as Oscar-winning actress Greer Garson, one of Hollywood’s leading ladies who reached the height of her popularity during World War II. She and her husband, a Texas oilman and horse breeder, retired to a ranch outside Santa Fe, becoming among the first in a long line of film stars to settle in New Mexico, Berg said.

“You know, I’ve never really figured that out, except it was to get away from the hubbub elsewhere,” Berg said of the reasons why the state has been such a popular landing spot for Hollywood stars.

The presentation also includes singer and actor John Denver, who was born in Roswell, and animator William Hanna, who was born in Melrose. Hanna created “The Flintstones” and partnered with Joseph Barbera to produce many of America’s best-known TV cartoon series, including “The Jetsons,” “Scooby-Doo” and “Yogi Bear.”

Actor Gene Hackman, a former resident of Santa Fe, will be one of the well-known film industry figures with strong ties to the state cited in film historian Jeff Berg's presentation this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

Berg said a number of film stars who once called New Mexico home have left in recent years — Gene Hackman, Val Kilmer, Jane Fonda and Alan Arkin, among them — but a spate of recent film and TV productions in the state has made this one of the more active such periods in the history of the state.

“This is definitely the best time,” he said, noting the success of the “Breaking Bad” TV series that was shot largely in and around Albuquerque as the chief example of New Mexico’s thriving film- and TV-based economy.

“This year alone, we’ve had 48 productions shot here, that are shooting here or that are planning on shooting here before the end of the year,” he said.

That number is up sharply from the 30 TV or film productions that were shot here last year or the 34 that were shot here in 2014, he said. All those numbers compare favorably to 1988, for example, when New Mexico was home to only a dozen such productions, he said.

When you take into account every TV series, feature film or documentary that’s been shot in New Mexico since 1897, Berg said he has documented 823 productions.

Berg’s presentation lasts roughly 90 minutes and features numerous video clips featuring the stars he plans on highlighting. He laughingly described the format as “clip, pause and blab,” and he leaves plenty of room for questions.

“I strongly encourage audience participation,” he said.

Membership Appreciation Day also includes the annual “One Great Day of Shopping” at the museum, during which visitors can enjoy discounts on purchases at the museum store.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Membership Appreciation Day

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12

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

Admission: Free

For more information: Call 505-599-1174