View From the Plaza

Inter “View” from the Plaza – Dr. Frances Levine, Director, NM History Museum

Readers of Vanity Fair will recognize that I have shamelessly borrowed their question-and-answer format in my conversation with Dr. Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum. The magazine’s monthly “Proust Questionnaire” is so called because French novelist Marcel Proust was the most famous person to respond to the party game we sometimes call “Twenty Questions.” I find these kinds of questions go right to the heart of someone’s knowledge and personality, so I decided to use them to interview some of the people I know in Santa Fe—the kind of brilliant, creative minds who make this city such a vibrant place to live, visit, and work. La Fonda is proud to be part of this community, and we thought this would be a nice way to honor some of our cultural treasures.

  1. What gave you your love of history and led you down this career path?  I was raised in Connecticut – surrounded by history.  My parents were antique collectors.  I grew up in museums and I have always loved history.  There were Colonial rock walls in our neighborhood that “spoke” to me.  Many people had marked their land – I wanted to know all about it.  Many people have told me I’m “too curious.”
  2. What one thing indentifies Santa Fe as the “City Different” in your opinion?  The size of it – there are so many museums and cultural activities yet Santa Fe still retains that small town feel.
  3. What was your best day in Santa Fe?  Hiking in Bear Canyon at Audubon with my kids when they were small.  All times on the hiking trails with my kids or my husband is a great day.
  4. If you could experience someone else’s life for one day, whose would it be and why?  In the Palace of the Governors in May in 1786 – with Governor Anza when he was entertaining Comanche Chiefs and celebrating peace with the Comanches.
  5. One thing you WOULDN’T change about Santa Fe? I wouldn’t change the blend of culture.  One thing you WOULD change?   I would change it by adding more employment opportunities for our young people.
  6. Rumor has it you saved Judy Chicago’s life? True? How?  Judy was hit by a car while running on Upper Canyon Road – I drove by and saw her flying over a car, she was going into shock and I taught her Lamaze breathing until the ambulance came.
  7. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned while studying history?  How much one person can change the course of events.  Every person has a duty/responsibility to make the world a better place and reading history, you see individual after individual that become part of something bigger than themselves – they turn the tides, they start a movement.
  8. If you could fly over anyplace in the world and get a birds-eye view, where would it be?  The Silk Road – Central Asian Desert – I would also be grateful to anyone who wants to donate air miles for me to be able to do this.
  9. If someone was visiting Santa Fe for the first time, what are some of the not-to-miss places?  New Mexico History Museum, Palace of the Governors, the Portal as it is important to meet portal artists to understand the tradition they maintain.
  10.  What is your first memory of Santa Fe?  Getting lost.  I was staying at a motel on Cerrillos Road and was on the Paseo de Peralta trying to find the Plaza – then I realized I need to stop thinking in English since Paseo means circle.  Then I was able to find the Plaza.
  11. If you had a time machine, where would you take it?  To the 17th Century.  I would travel to many parts of the Spanish Empire.
  12.  Why are museums important to a community?  They are part of our collective memory – everyone has a piece of the story to tell.  The opportunity to look at collective experiences that make up a region, state, etc.
  13. How did SMU prepare you for your current career?  I went to the University of Colorado for my undergrad degree.  At SMU, I had great mentors – some allowed me a specialty in ethno-history.  I had great professors, great training and tons of support for my unconventional approach to academics.  I didn’t have to be just a dirt archeologist.  SMU gave me exposure to history, and cross disciplines.
  14. What do you think is the best thing about SMU?  The best are the resources for students and support for faculty.  The worst thing?  The worst are the same as everywhere now – intolerance of differing viewpoints.  I like nonconformity but at SMU they can be stifling of creativity.  Students need creative intellectual pursuits.
  15. How did you end up in Santa Fe?  I came to New Mexico to be an archeologist.  I worked on the Pecos River and studied land grant communities.  I kept coming to Santa Fe for research.  I met my husband here so I stayed in Santa Fe.

2 Responses to “Inter “View” from the Plaza – Dr. Frances Levine, Director, NM History Museum”

  1. Tom McIntosh

    Dr. Levine is a great leader and menor. Thank you Jenny and Fran, for this well articulated interview.

  2. Jason Shapiro

    In 1999, when Fran was the head of the Arts and Sciences Department at SFCC, she gave me my first teaching job in Santa Fe. She was always very supportive and I’ll always be grateful for her help. She is a true Treasure of Santa Fe.


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