The Roswell Museum Federal Art Center

Introduction

Since 1937, the Roswell Museum and Art Center has enriched southeast New Mexico through its multidisciplinary collections and education programs. As a former federal community art center still in operation, moreover, the Roswell Museum holds national significance as a living legacy of the Federal Art Project. This project explores the early history of the Roswell Museum and represents a preliminary effort toward the digitization of its archive. What visitors will encounter here represents only a fraction of the total number of documents within the Roswell Museum archive.

The Roswell Museum's community-minded focus reflects its origins with the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Originally known as the Roswell Museum Federal Art Center, this institution developed out of a collaboration between the Chaves County Archaeological and Historical Society, now known as the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico, and the Federal Art Project. It participated in a national initiative known as the Community Art Center Project, which provided arts access to rural communities and other underserved populations through rotating exhibitions, free art classes, and other programs. Approximately one hundred art centers opened around the country between 1935 and 1942, and while many of them closed during World War II, the Roswell Museum and a few others survived, often evolving into new institutions. As a former community art center still in operation, the Roswell Museum represents an important, living example of WPA history and its ongoing cultural legacy.

Methods

Recent scholarship associated with the archival turn informs this project in both its content and form. Its intent is to present the Roswell Museum's WPA history while also critically examining its archive as a repository. As such, it questions the archive's neutrality by highlighting its distinct biases and perspectives. It explores these questions by assessing which kinds of documents it contains, and which voices are preserved as a result with respect to museum visitors, employees, and volunteers. Additionally, this project attempts to bring attention to some of the museum's underrepresented voices through the recognition of staff labor, particularly those who served more service-oriented roles.

This project also explores the interaction that occurs between the archive and the researcher through its nonlinear organization. Visitors are encouraged to let their personal interests guide them through the project, thereby creating their own unique interpretation of the Roswell archive as historical repository and research experience. As such, there are multiple ways to explore the project. In addition to the chapter listings at the bottom of each page, visitors are encouraged to use links to visit different pages, and to explore the galleries, visualizations, and other features throughout the project. Clicking on an image of a document will also provide additional information. 

About this Project

This project developed out of my experiences with the Roswell Museum and Art Center. I served as its Curator of Collections and Exhibitions from 2013 to 2018, and began researching its archive in 2016. I initially created this project in 2018 as the final assignment for my digital humanities seminar, during my first semester in the American Studies PhD program at William & Mary, and have periodically updated it to reflect my ongoing research. I chose Scalar as my platform because I wanted to recreat the open-ended messiness of my exploration of the archive. I did not peruse the documents in a systemic fashion, but jumped between folders and boxes according to my interests and the amount of time available to me on any particular day. This intermittent exploration, done over a two-year period, profoundly shaped my experience of the archive.

Just as the archive has its own biases, I acknowledge my own perspectives as the project author. As a white, cisgender woman, I recognize that my experiences and interpretations will not reflect everyone's perspectives, and welcome other interpretations of the documents here.

References

Burdan, Antoinette. Archive Stories: Facts, Fiction, and the Writing of History. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Kim, Dorothy. "Building Pleasure and the Digital Archive." In Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and the Digital Humanities. Edited by Jacqueline Wernimont and Elizabeth Losh. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

Shirazi, Roxanne. "Reproducing the Academy: Librarians and the Question of Service in the Digital Humanities." In Making Things and Drawing Boundaries: Experiments in the Digital Humanities. Edited by Jentery Sayers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Steedman, Carolyn. Dust: The Archive and Cultural History. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001.



 

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