Northern New Mexico Virtual Archive
Artifacts & Documents

New Mexican Furniture

from New Mexicon Furniture
The Origins, Survival, and Revival of Furniture Making in the Hispanic Southwest
by Lonn Taylor & Dessa Bokides
published aby The Museum of New Mexcio Press: Santa Fe.

Finely carved, this nineteenth century chair has many interesting characteristics. It is constructed using open mortise-and-tenon joinery with pegs securing the tenons. The round stretchers continue through the legs making round mortises. . . Exactly one vara high and one-half vara at the seat rail, this chair was laid out by a carpentero using 1/6 vara proportions.

You may select the picture for a detail view of the chair.

Gift of the Historical Society of New Mexico, Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico. 83/84 (NMF #84). O.D. 84 X 48 X42 cm.

The Hispanic Tradition

New Mexico under Spanish and Mexican Rule, 1540-1846

The region known to the Spanish as New Mexico was one of the first areas of the present United States to be settled by Europeans, and therefore, by furniture makers. Spanish penetration into the region began on a large scale in 1540, when the thousand-man expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado entered the area from farther south in New Spain, searching for the seven cities of Cibola. Vásquez de Coronado spent nearly two years in the Southwest, exploring the area between the Grand Canyon and the plains of Kansas. He and his men found large groups of Indians living in multi-storied adobe towns, growing corn, beans, and squash and living within complex political and religious systems. These communities, which the Spanish called pueblos, meaning "towns," reached from the Hopi villages near the Grand Canyon in the west to Pecos Pueblo on the edge of the Eastern plains, and included densely populated villages strung along the Rio Grande Valley, from Taos in the north to the Piro pueblos in the South.1

Permanent European settlement of this river valley began in 1598, when Juan de Oñate, heir to a silver-mining fortune, led 129 men-at-arms, 7 Franciscan friars, and 2 lay brothers from Zacatecas into the "other Mexico" that his father's friend Coronado had explored fifty years earlier. The expedition included Indian, black, and mulatto slaves and colonists' wives and children in addition to the officially enumerated soldier-colonists. Many of the settlers, like Oñate himself, were Spaniards born in the New World and recruited from the camps of the Zacatecan mining frontier; others were Peninsular Spaniards, and there were even a Greek and a Fleming. They were accompanied by vast herds of animals and by sixty-one wagonloads of Spanish goods and domestic gear.

Oñate's colonists advanced the frontier of New Spain a thousand miles northward by settling first at the pueblo of Ohke, which they renamed San Juan de los Caballeros, and later, when San Juan proved to be too small, across the Rio Grande at the pueblo of Yunque, which they renamed San Gabriel. San Gabriel remained the headquarters of New Mexico until 1610, when Santa Fe was established as the capital some thirty miles to the south.2

For the next eighty years, an uneasy alliance was maintained between the handful of Spaniards in the new province and the tens of thousands of Pueblo Indians whose undisputed home it had been before the Spaniards came. The Spaniards brought to the Pueblos a new concept of political organization, in which the Indians were to agree to accept the Christian faith and render services to the Crown in return for military protection. They also brought into the Pueblo world horses and material goods, such as metal implements, that attracted raiding parties from nomadic Apaches and Navajos and made such protection necessary. In addition, they brought diseases to which the Pueblo people had no resistance; and thus, a series of plagues decimated much of the population in the early seventeenth century.

For the Pueblo Indians, it was an uneasy trade. They had highly developed religious and political structures of their own, which they strove to keep intact under the demands of the Spanish. The military protection offered by the Spaniards often proved ineffective. A system of trade between the new settlements and the Spanish towns in the interior of New Spain developed, in which enforced Indian labor produced blankets, tanned hides, and gathered piñon nuts, all of which were shipped south and sold for the profit of the royal governor and his encomenderos (Spanish

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