Curator of Photography at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts
I used to play “museum” when I was a kid.
Like many children with access to nature, my brother and I had accumulated our share of seashells, pinecones, and interesting rocks. These were all part of the museum, always arranged in the neighbor’s carport instead of ours, though I’m not sure why. Whenever the mood struck, we would spend much of the day judiciously placing all our wondrous belongings on long tables. Then we’d put a sign in the driveway to alert passing motorists of the opportunity to glimpse the collection for a nominal sum, which we could later exchange for candy.
In addition to the more common manifestations of the natural world, we had a special attraction, the Floating Rock, which never ceased to amaze me. If people had known about the Floating Rock, we probably would have been trampled by eager onlookers and I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. We kept a bucket of water handy to demonstrate how a rock as big as a human hand could float right to the surface instead of clunking to the bottom. It was eternally buoyant. We also had some excellent fossil ferns – one was about ten inches long – and a bunch of local brachiopods and crinoids. Of course a trilobite would have been the ultimate prize, and I was always on the lookout for one to add to our holdings.
The carport provided excellent refuge from the summer heat, so maybe that was part of the attraction. After all the displays were assembled and labeled, we’d sit down and enjoy the chill of the concrete slab on our legs while awaiting the arrival of the public.
Nobody ever came to the museum, not even kids from the neighborhood or some patronizing adult, and later in the afternoon it all had to be laboriously put away again before Mr. Maffei came home in his car. I was only a little disappointed, though. Mostly I felt a sense of satisfaction. The specimens, in all their glory, were at the heart of the enterprise, and I had given them a chance to shine. They justified their own presence, their importance was incontrovertible, and therefore my work was not in vain.