News Column

Dressing up the Roundhouse: Capitol curator oversees one of state's finest art collections

June 15, 2014

By Steve Terrell, The Santa Fe New Mexican

June 15--Besides being the place where the Legislature meets and the governor governs, the New Mexico state Capitol also is one of the best art museums in a city full of museums and art galleries.

"I hear that a lot," said Cynthia Sanchez in a recent interview. "One visitor told me, 'This isn't a capitol that has a museum, it's a museum where they make the laws.' "

Since the mid-1990s, Sanchez has been the director of the Capitol Art Foundation and curator of the collection that graces the walls and halls of the Roundhouse. "We try to represent all the styles and traditions of New Mexico art here," she said.

Indeed, strolling around the Roundhouse and the Capitol grounds, you'll find contemporary works and folk art in all sorts of media -- paintings, sculptures, metalwork, woodcarvings, photographs, weavings, pottery -- created by artists who have lived and worked in New Mexico, representing all the cultures here, from every corner of the state.

"There are more than 600 pieces," Sanchez said. Some of New Mexico's most famous artists are represented, including R.C. Gorman, Randall Davey, Will Shuster and Allan Houser.

Sanchez is a Santa Fe native who graduated from Santa Fe High School in 1979. She attended elementary school at E.J. Martinez and middle school at the long-closed Harrington Junior High, which was just a few blocks from the Capitol.

But after graduation, Sanchez left Santa Fe for 17 years to further her education. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she also got a Master of Fine Arts in painting and sculpture and a Master of Art History. She earned her doctorate in cultural history at New York University.

She is married to Michael Perraglio, a local real estate agent and owner of a local landscaping business.

Returning to Santa Fe, Sanchez got a job at the information desk in the east lobby of the Capitol, helping tourists and other visitors. "Susan Campbell, who had the job before me, asked if I'd be interested," Sanchez said. She was.

It's a part-time position. But Sanchez loves it.

The Capitol Art Foundation is a nonprofit group whose mission is "to collect, preserve, exhibit, interpret and promote appreciation of works of art that reflect the rich and diverse history, cultures and art forms of the people of New Mexico."

The foundation was created under the Legislative Council Service in 1992. Both the House and the Senate previously had passed memorials to establish a nonprofit foundation to help acquire art to exhibit in the state Capitol, Sanchez said.

The Roundhouse's art collection was established using funds from the state's One Percent for-the Arts program. That money went for 14 works of art and 17 art furniture groupings.

Subsequent acquisitions have been purchased with proceeds from the foundation's fundraising efforts and charitable donations to the foundation. "A majority of the collection was gifted," Sanchez said. "No tax money is used to acquire the art."

The Capitol collection is separate from the Governor's Gallery, which displays art in the lobby of the governor's office on the Fourth Floor.

One of Sanchez's duties is giving tours of the Capitol for visitors, usually school groups or art classes. Asked which pieces on display get the most comment from Roundhouse visitors, Sanchez said one is Buffalo by artist Holly Hughes. Located on the third floor overlooking the Rotunda, it's a big, shaggy buffalo head made completely of recycled materials, including paint brushes for eyebrows and papier-mÂchÉ horns on which there are newspaper headlines about the animal and the city in New York named Buffalo.

Sanchez also cited the large metal sculpture topped with razor wire by Bob Haozous outside of the Capitol facing Old Santa Fe Trail. Called Gate/Negate, it is painted with the names of hundreds of American Indian tribes that now are extinct.

So far, at least, there never has been any controversy over the art in or around the Capitol, but Sanchez said there have been times when she's had to be careful. For instance, in the walkway between the Capitol and the Capitol annex is a colorful, cartoonish mixed-media sculture called Mental Floss by Las Cruces artist Stephen Hansen of a goofy-looking guy with some kind of twine going into one ear and out the other.

"I was careful not to put that in front of any legislator's office," she said. "I didn't want anyone to take offense."

Contact Steve Terrell at Read his political blog at


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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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