Aztec Museum receives grant to help fund repair work on 'Pecos West' cyclorama

Denver Foundation awards $1,450 grant to institution

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The main attraction at the Aztec Museum & Pioneer Village soon will be up and running again, thanks to a recent grant the institution has received from a Colorado-based organization.

Museum officials announced earlier this week they had received a $1,450 grant from the Greenwood Fund of the Denver Foundation. The money will be used to hire a mechanical engineer to rebuild the engine that powers the museum’s “Pecos West” clyclorama, a 3,000-pound, rotating Southwestern landscape display featuring more than 100 hand-carved pieces.

Joan Hamblen Monninger, the museum’s executive director, said the cyclorama broke down repeatedly this year despite the work of board member Jack Scott to keep it running. “Pecos West” was built in the 1960s by World War II veteran Vallentry Zaharek and donated to the museum in 2015, when it last was restored.

Monninger said she wasn’t sure what was going to be required to get the piece operating properly again, since it hasn’t been examined by a mechanical engineer yet. She did she believes the casters need to be replaced, since the cyclorama was making a grinding noise when it stopped turning.

Aztec Museum officials have received a grant to help repair this rotating, 3000-pound cyclorama that was not operating properly for much of the last year.

The grant from the Denver Foundation was only half the amount the Aztec Museum requested, but Monninger said her institution also received an operating grant from the City of Aztec earlier this year that it can use to help repair the piece, as well. The Denver Foundation’s Greenwood Fund provides grants to nonprofit museums in New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming for projects designed to preserve and care for artifacts and collections.

She said work on the project likely will begin early in 2023.

"Pecos West," a rotating, 3,000-pound cyclorama depicting Southwestern scenes, was built in the 1960s by World War II veteran Vallentry Zaharek.

“We’ll see who we can have take a look at it and what’s needed to rebuild it,” she said.

The funds also will be used for other projects at the museum. Monninger said the institution’s 1927 Model TT truck needs to be cleaned and repaired. Museum officials would like to return it to operating condition, she said, so they can drive it in local parades.

But parts for the truck, which is nearly 100 years old, are becoming much harder to find and more expensive, she noted.

Museum officials also are conducting preservation work on a train caboose on the museum grounds, and this fall has seen maintenance work take place on many of the institution’s outbuildings, which have been scraped, primed and repainted, she said. A new heating unit also was installed in the museum’s annex building.

This 1927 Model TT truck at the Aztec Museum & Pioneer Village also is in need of some repair work.

“We are absolutely thrilled to know we have these funds coming, and we’re looking forward to getting these things taken care of,” Monninger said.

The "Pecos West" cyclorama was donated to the Aztec Museum & Pioneer Village in 2015.

The museum is closed for the season until spring, but visitors still can see its attractions by appointment by calling 505-334-9829. Monninger said the museum’s new season will open in May with a Chautauqua presentation by Deborah Blanche of the New Mexico Humanities Council on Nina Otero-Warren, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement in New Mexico and the first Hispanic woman to run for Congress in America.

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