By Letrice A. Armstrong (Wheelwright Museum, 2016)
Even if she had never ventured to the Southwest and established an important museum for Native arts, Mary Cabot Wheelwright could tell a fascinating tale. Descended from ship builders, slave traders, opium dealers, lawyers, doctors, and Boston Brahmins (yes, those Cabots), she might have merely enjoyed a life of privilege, with a house on the Eastern Seaboard and lengthy travels abroad. She certainly did all of that, but Wheelwright also embarked on adventurous explorations into Diné (Navajo) artistry and spiritualism.
Leatrice A. Armstrong opens her limited-edition biography (1,500 copies) with Wheelwright’s ancestral roots before bringing her to New Mexico in 1920. Here, the untrained anthropologist became enthralled with what others considered “the vanishing Indian.” She built an abiding friendship with Hastiin Klah, who feared his people’s ways would be lost and so introduced Wheelwright to certain ceremonies and helped her record on wax cylinders the voices of elders speaking the old stories. She purchased and lived part-time on the historic Los Luceros Ranch in Alcalde and chummed around with the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, Amelia White, and William Penhallow Henderson while plotting a way to preserve her Diné finds for perpetuity.
The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, in Santa Fe, opened in 1938 as the House of Navajo Religion. (The name changed as the mission did, settling on its current tag in the 1970s.) Armstrong began working there as a docent, then took on the biography as her debut writing job. She dutifully covers the bases punctuated by a mother lode of correspondence to, from, and about Wheelwright—some of it deliciously gossipy. There is no gild on this lily; Wheelwright could be rude and self-centered. Her post-colonial ideals induce modern-day cringes. Even so, she crafted a museum that today explores the best of historical and contemporary Native art. How and why she did so takes the reader on a romp through early 20th-century Santa Fe, name-dropping and all. (The book is available only through the museum, 505-982-4636; wheelwright.org.) —Kate Nelson
A Novel of the American West
BY Jeff Guinn (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017)
Tucked away in the back of Guinn’s third western in the saga of reluctant frontiersman Cash McLendon, there is an apology to the residents of Silver City. Throughout the novel, Guinn paints the southwestern New Mexico town in inky blackness, as a post–Civil War hellhole ripe with deceit and danger. It’s a foil to the fictional Mountain View, Arizona, a bucolic outpost where the hero has gone to make amends with the woman he loves. But it’s too late for McLendon, who’s being tracked by a ruthless hit man called Killer Boots (so named thanks to his preferred method of execution). Despite playing Silver City as a kind of pioneer Sodom and Gomorrah, Guinn crafts a sturdy tale of adventure, mixing real-life figures with his well-rounded characters to create a sense of true western romance and six-gun excitement. —Andrew Roush
DETOUR NEW MEXICO
Historic Destinations & Natural Wonders
BY Arthur Pike and David Pike (History Press, 2017)
The brothers Pike were lucky boys. After moving the family to Truth or Consequences, their parents encouraged them to explore nearby ghost towns, mountains, Elephant Butte Lake, and the Jornada del Muerto. The result? A deep love for New Mexico and most especially its rich history. Now thoroughly grown up, Arthur Pike has joined with David Pike, a frequent contributor to New Mexico Magazine (and 2016’s Writer of the Year from the International Regional Magazine Association), for this handy guide replicating their lifelong rambles.
Organized into 17 tours (each of which we would encourage you to spend at least a few days on), the book manages to hit family favorites like Billy the Kid and more than a few UFOs. But you’ll also learn about geology and events like the Battle of Glorieta Pass while meeting indelible characters—Lucien Maxwell, Maria Martinez, Adolph Bandelier, and the baseball-nutty Madrid Miners. Tuck it into the glove compartment. These Pike boys know their history, and you’ll want their wisdom on your next road trip. —Kate Nelson
SHRINES AND WONDERS
The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico
BY Marion Amberg (Amor Deus Publishing, 2016)
For centuries, northern New Mexico has been a stronghold for the Catholic faith, a well-trod landscape of tiny churches and quiet monasteries. Journalist and religious writer Marion Amberg curates a tour of these places, complete with weeping statues, sacred dirt, and purported miracles. It’s illustrated with color photos of pilgrimage sites and the bultos, retablos, and other traditional arts that adorn them. The pages are packed with fascinating legends, useful travel tips, and all the information a modern-day pilgrim requires. The sites are neatly organized by theme and region, and a glossary even offers explanations for terms like araña (a chandelier on a pulley so candles can easily be lit and extinguished) and reredos (saint-emblazoned altarpieces). —Andrew Roush