Take a trip through Santa Fe, and you’ll undoubtedly notice that this city wears its design diversity with pride. From centuries-old adobe structures to modern, inventive multipurpose spaces, Santa Fe’s distinctive mix of architectural styles succeeds at paying homage to tradition while embracing the future. It’s an embarrassment of riches, really, and luckily for us, several of the city’s most unique buildings belong to the Santa Fe state museum system. 

Architectural storyteller Rachel Preston Prinz joins Encounter Culture host Charlotte Jusinski to discuss the history of Museum Hill, Santa Fe’s remarkable collection of museums just outside downtown. While there’s plenty of design drama within the famed district, this episode focuses on the Museum of International Folk Art, by engineer-turned-architect John Gaw Meem, and its Girard Wing, which currently displays over 10,000 pieces of folk art. 

Built in 1953, MOIFA is considered a revolutionary testament to Modernism in the city and an anomaly among New Mexico’s museums. Its sleek silhouette contrasts sharply with the mud brick so often (and rightly) associated with Santa Fe architecture. But as Rachel reveals, MOIFA knows precisely where it sits in the world. 

One of the more striking aspects of Museum Hill and MOIFA, particularly, is how the buildings relate to one another and the landscape. “It’s subtle,” Rachel says, “but it also highlights one of the things about modern architecture in the Southwest that’s atypical to modern architecture in most places.” 

MOIFA’s design story is thoroughly rooted in physical and ideological relationships. From its civic legacy as established by museum founder Florence Dibell Bartlett to its reverence for nearby sacred mountains as envisioned by Gaw Meems to the joyful folk art endowed to the museum by famed designer Alexander Girard and his wife, Susan, MOIFA unites many voices under one roof. 

As it approaches its 70th anniversary, MOIFA is preparing for the next wave of design conversations, scouring its archives for treasures that will inspire fresh stories. “Hopefully, MOIFA can start to speak its original language again,” says Rachel, “and be more in alignment with where it wants to go as a center for design.”  

If you like what you hear here and want to know more, keep an eye out for the Winter 2022 edition of El Palacio, or check out Rachel’s work at elpalacio.org.


Rachel Preston Prinz – Architecturally-Trained Designer and Preservationist

“I think a lot of people come to Santa Fe [because] they love the art, but it’s so much more than that.”

“[Gaw Meem] wanted us to know where we were, just like the pueblos know where they are. I thought that was really beautiful.”

“One of the most amazing aspects of it is that from the get-go, Girard was very reticent to have his collection at the folk art museum because he doesn’t see his collection as folk art. He saw his collection as toys and props.”

“From the get-go, [Girard] was always looking at the collection as if it was a way to communicate with young people or without words what our values are. So just that point of view makes it really playful.” 

“It doesn’t matter if it makes sense because it’s there to create delight. Once I understood that it just became a much richer experience for me. I never, in a million years, thought that my favorite place would be a toy museum.”


EC0105: An Underground Love Affair, The Palace Seen and Unseen with Archaeologists Cordelia Snow & Stephen Post

First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque

St. John’s College Santa Fe

La Reina Bar at El Ray Court

Compound Restaurant

Visit http://newmexicoculture.org for info about our museums, historic sites, virtual tours, and more.

Encounter Culture, a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios.

Hosted by Charlotte Jusinski, Editor at El Palacio Magazine
Technical Director: Edwin R. Ruiz
Recording Engineer: Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe
Executive Producer:  Daniel Zillmann
Show Notes: Lisa Widder
Associate Editor: Helen King
Associate Producer: Alex Riegler
Theme Music: D’Santi Nava
Instagram: @newmexicanculture
For more, visit podcast.nmculture.org.

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