'Our Lady' correspondence reveals rift

May 25, 2001

Georgia Carson is an Anglo and a relative newcomer to Santa Fe and belongs to a church that includes the cross but not statues and effigies in worship.

None of these facts should determine whether she is qualified to be a docent at the Museum of New Mexico, Carson believes. And for the five years she has conducted tours of the Museum of International Folk Art her credentials have never been questioned.

But Frank Ortiz, a Santa Fe native who serves on the Board of Regents of the Museum of New Mexico, said in correspondence with Carson and other docents that ethnicity and background are relevant.

"I don't feel this prevented me from presenting a fair view of the history of religious art in this part of the world," Carson said, but "apparently he does."

The resulting flap between Ortiz and volunteer museum guides is one outgrowth of the controversy swirling around a depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe at the folk-art museum.

In a May 3 letter to Joan Fleetwood, volunteer coordinator for the Museum of New Mexico, Ortiz questioned the ethnicity, religious beliefs and background of docents like Carson who had written him to support the Museum of International Folk Art's decision to display Our Lady, the partially clad image of the Virgin of Guadalupe by Alma López. Fleetwood said she considered the letter inflammatory.

Based on the letters he received, Ortiz said he concluded that the majority of folk-art docents are fairly new to New Mexico, very few are Hispanic, a high proportion have no religious human images in their place of worship, few seem to know much about New Mexico history and some say that Catholic religious processions on public streets and exhibits of Catholic religious art are "highly offensive" to them.

"If this interpretation of the majority of the Folk Art docent corps is even half accurate, is there any wonder that they can not fully understand our community?" Ortiz wrote.

The Docent Council responded by calling for Ortiz's resignation from the Board of Regents. In a May 16 letter to Gov. Gary Johnson, who appoints members of that body, the council said that Ortiz's letters to staff and docents indicate he is "extremely biased, both as to race and religion."

The letter is among documents the museum released to parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. In these documents, Ortiz said he believes that the museum is guilty of "curatorial misjudgment" in the decision to include the work in an exhibit titled "CyberArte: Tradition Meets Technology."

But Dorothy Parker, who chairs the Docent Council, said Thursday that a museum regent has an obligation to put aside personal opinion and vote for the well-being of the institution. "It was very difficult to take this position. We know what he's given to the museum," Parker said. "And he's entitled to his opinion. But this is not good for the museum."

The governor has not responded to the letter, but previously he indicated his support for the museum's decision to exhibit Our Lady.

Fleetwood confirmed that there are few Hispanics among the 200 museum docents, although there are more than would be suggested from their surnames. She, for example, grew up with her maternal grandparents, who are Hispanic.

"I've tried to recruit more," Fleetwood said, acknowledging that the Palace of the Governors has been more successful. She would love to have bilingual speakers, especially at the visitor center at the museums, but, she said, many Hispanic candidates are shier about speaking in public and, "They are more involved in family and watching grandkids" at a point in their lives when many others have free time to volunteer.

But, Fleetwood continued, "I think being a docent has nothing to do with background or religion," It's about training.

All docents take a college-level course, which focuses on history and art of the state. Some of them are already experts in this area. Parker, for example, has her doctorate in the history of New Mexico with an emphasis on the Spanish Southwest. She was a professor at Eastern New Mexico University before moving to Santa Fe.

Carson said that while not native, many docents have strong ties to New Mexico. Although she and her husband moved here only nine years ago, she said her husband's great-grandfather was territorial governor of the state.

"In no way do I want to appear unsympathetic to the people who are offended by the exhibit," Carson said, but, "a museum is a museum, and a church is a church."

Carson received a number of letters from Ortiz in which he shared his opinions with her. In one, he agreed that folk art "is the first unit of the Museum of New Mexico to achieve the world-class status we want for the entire system." But he said he was convinced the matter could have been resolved early with "sensitive leadership."

Parker, who has lived in Santa Fe for 20 years, said that she felt that some Catholics used Our Lady to open wounds unnecessarily in Santa Fe. "I feel there are certainly undercurrents of resentment that have not been resolved," she said. "For the most part we have learned to live with them. But certain factions have taken advantage of the situation to inflame public opinion. I'm sorry to see that."


Reader Opinions


HELLO-No one is trying to change the Our Lady in the church with the one in the art museum,which by the way, is a state museum and as such paid for by the non-Catholic taxpayers as well as those of the Catholic persuasion.In a democracy,majority rules and I think those against are the minority. Where is the defamation?I like both renditions of Our Lady of Guadalupe that I know,maybe there are others.Just as people have tried through the ages to recreate christ's image,there are many versions.Those who feel threatened by Alma Lopez's image of Our Lady, don't read things into the issue.This is Our Lady period.The one in the church is Our Lady of Guadalupe,don't confuse the two.No victim,no crime.

Name: anonymous
I’m glad to hear docents at the museum support artistic expression (if they didn’t, what kind of museum would it be?). As a Mexican woman, I thank the museum for not censoring "Our Lady," or Ms. Lopez’s work because to do so would have taken away an educational opportunity. Also, I do NOT want the Catholic church dictating what I should and should not see. That is for ME to decide. Thank you docents and museum staff--I applaud your informed decisions. ( extends on this discussion)

Name: Gustav
Here is an interesting factoid. As word of the "Our Lady" exhibit spread, thouands of people opposed to the display went to this museum. For all but a few, this was their first time in that museum. A statistically significant number of these same people have never set a foot inside a museum. Get educated. Think for yourself, and please do not form your opinions solely from the dogma force fed to you by an organization that has a long and well documented history of social abuse and oppression.

Name: Heather
TO-SHAE TO-SHAE TO YOU AL SIOW... I COULDN'T HAVE PUT IT ANY BETTER. As for the opinion of IIya Morozov....I find that to be appaling. If those scholars were really bigots do you think they would spend all that time and money learning about the SouthWestern History,which is spilling over with Hispanic Culture and Cathloic Religion. Why would they choose to work with the Museum of International Folk Art, which is largly not anglo type folk art anyway. Come on people get over it, if you dont like dont go dont look.

Name: Ilya Morozov
It is amazing to me how racisim hides these days behind academic credentials. Carson and her like are anti-Catholic, anti-Hispanic, bigots no matter how they want to mask it with sniffy references to their academic accomplishments. Joseph Goebbels also had a Ph.D. Objecting to traditonal Hispanic Catholic fiestas which have always had image-carrying faithful marching to the cathedral reminds me of Bolsheviks taking offense to the same thing in Russia. Having Ph.D.s do not exempt them from being Anglo-Elite racists. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, its a duck - even if Lenin insists its an elephant with bells on its ears.

Name: Eire

Name: Patsy
I find the whole situation rather amusing. It is obvious as to who the bigots are. They are the ones making all the fuss. Mary was the mother of God. She was a special womas in His eyes. She holds a special place in Church history. Jesus is the only way, the only mediator between man and God. If people find the art offensive, stay away.

Name: Al Siow
Kinda reminds me of the middle 1500's. You know...repression of Pueblo religion. How does it feel now that the shoe is on the other foot?

Name: Stan Ulrich
Ilya Morozov's screed should never have been posted. It is irrational, hateful, and sick.