Aztec Museum gets $20,000 to help tackle backlog of maintenance projects

Repair of 'Pecos West' cyclorama heads list of items needing attention

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON − Officials at the Aztec Museum & Pioneer Village say the $20,000 in funding they received recently from the City Commission's Discretionary Fund won't address the institution's entire backlog of maintenance projects, but it will go a long way toward keeping the museum operating.

Museum officials announced they had received the funding in an Aug. 4 news release. They had submitted a funding request earlier this year, and the request was approved at the June 28 City Commission meeting.

"We were just really thrilled," Joan Monninger, the museum's acting director, said. "We're really struggling with a lot of needs right now at the museum."

Monninger said the city of Aztec has always helped support the institution financially. But she said the commission's decision to award the museum $20,000 this year − a significant increase over the approximately $5,000 in funding it has received in the past − will allow her and her staff to tackle several of the maintenance projects that need to be addressed in regard to the museum complex's 12 structures.

The museum features artifacts from the pioneer days dating back to the 1880s, as well as ancestral Puebloan and Native American artifacts. It also features items related to Hispanic communities in San Juan County.

The Aztec Museum & Pioneer Village has received $20,000 in funding from the Aztec City Commission to help it address a backlog of maintenance projects.

One of the leading items on that list is the repair of the "Pecos West" cyclorama by Valenty Zaharek, a rotating display of 100 woodcarvings. Monninger said the cyclorama has been broken for quite some time, keeping it from rotating, thus diminishing the experience for museum visitors.

Another prized museum attraction, a 1927 Ford Model T truck, also requires extensive renovation, she said.

Jack Scott, a member of the museum board, put together the request for the funding from the city. He said the costs of keeping the museum complex operating are going up every year, to the point where they have reached $12,000 annually.

That has forced museum officials to spend more of their funding on monthly costs rather than upkeep, he said, and that has left many of the structures in disrepair. He said one structure on the complex needs new siding, a project that could cost $22,000 or more just by itself, while the railroad caboose also requires extensive work. And the heater in the annex where the cyclorama is located is broken, meaning museum officials struggle to keep it warm in the winter.

The Aztec Museum & Pioneer Village features 12 structures, many of which are in need of repair of maintenance, officials say.

Museum officials hope to have the funding to index and organize their extensive photo collections, he said, thus making them easier to use for visitors. They would like to do the same for the museum's microfilm collection of newspapers, including The Daily Times.

Addressing all those needs would require much more money than the museum received from the city last week, Scott acknowledged. But he said museum officials rely on a group of dedicated volunteers to help them make the most of their funding.

The C.V. Koogler School at the Aztec Museum & Pioneer Village is one of the structures on the institution's grounds that needs the most work, officials say.

"We can stretch a dollar at that museum unbelievably," he said.

Coupled with an increase in donations that has come the museum's way lately, he is optimistic that significant progress will be made in the backlog of maintenance projects.

"We'll at least make a dent in it," he said.

The additional funding from the city will make the biggest difference, he said..

"We really value the commission and thank the commissioners for their support for the museum because this money will really help us continue to operate and get our employees paid and stretch our income," he said.

Monninger is hoping to augment the $20,000 in funding from the city with a Greenwood Fund grant from the Denver Foundation. The fund is designed to provide small grants for the conservation of museum artifacts and collections care for museums in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, according to the Denver Foundation website. Those grants typically range from $1,000 to $3,000, and Monninger said she hopes to hear about the status of the Aztec Museum's grant proposal soon.

The museum's summer concert series continues this weekend with a free performance by Lone Pinon, a string band that performs traditional New Mexican music. The group will take the stage at 7 p.m. in the Pioneer Village. Visitors may enter the complex on the west side via Park Avenue near the splash pad.

The Aztec Museum & Pioneer Village is located at 125 N. Main Ave. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children and free for members. It is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 505-334-9829.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription: