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Good Fences Make Good Exhibits

Traveling Smithsonian exhibit, "Between Fences," is on view at Pancho Villa State Park.

 

This summer, there's no need to trek to Washington, DC, to sample a bit of the Smithsonian—just drive to Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus. A traveling Smithsonian exhibition entitled "Between Fences" will be spending five weeks at the park, through July 29.

The exhibition is part of the Smithsonian's Museum on Main Street, a partnership project between the Smithsonian Institution, New Mexico Humanities Council and Pancho Villa State Park Visitor Center/Museum. The project brings rural Americans one-of-a-kind access to prestigious Smithsonian exhibitions and educational programs. After traveling through museums in Illinois, Nevada, Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, Utah and Missouri, this exhibition has recently been touring New Mexico museums.

"We are proud to have Pancho Villa State Park selected to host this exhibition," says Park Manager Armando Martinez. "With our new Exhibit Hall open, visitors will have an even greater opportunity to experience a rich variety of cultural experiences."

Curated by Gregory K. Dreicer of Chicken and Egg Public Projects, Inc., "Between Fences" focuses on every region of the United States. Its subjects include the defining of home, farm and factory; the settling of the United States; the closing of the range in the South and its meaning to former slaves; and the making of fences, including a look at why Abe Lincoln became known as a rail splitter. It examines human relationships such as neighbor versus neighbor, gated communities and, perhaps of greatest interest to New Mexicans living near the border, the nation's borders with Mexico and Canada.

The exhibition tells these American stories through diverse fence types. The worm fence, one of the most widely built types in US history, attracted the attention of many 18th- and 19th-century visitors to the United States; its unique design contributed to international understanding of American society. The picket fence plays a legendary role in the US, exhibit designers note: "It is the very symbol of home." On the other hand, curators say, "battles between farmers and ranchers, fought with barbed-wire fence, were flash points in the nationwide debate over enclosure and access to land and resources." And the chain-link fence has come to surround playgrounds, factories and houses.

The industrialization of the fence—and with it, land and house—is essential for understanding contemporary life, according to Smithsonian experts. "Fences, like barns, are tools that embody a culture and its values. By understanding both historic and contemporary fences, we can better understand ourselves as Americans."

The exhibition will engage children and adults while providing a setting for family communications and interaction between unacquainted visitors. The subject of the exhibition—boundaries, place and space—will be central to the visitors' physical experience, as they walk between fences and through gateways. Each fence will be selected to represent a theme and tell a story that illustrates its theme in provocative ways. In addition to objects and images relating to the exhibition stories, fence materials will include tools, photographs and publications including product literature, journals, postcards and posters.

In addition to the exhibit, which opened on June 24, the park plans a series of related events, including changing weekly art shows: July 1-7, Arizona photographer Tommy Bassett exhibits "Border Fence art" from the Douglas/Agua Prieta area. July 8-14, Columbus Village Library summer reading program participants display photographs taken in conjunction with program. July 15-21, Animas student Russell Taylor displays various types of barbed-wire fencing used in historic times. July 22-21, Columbus Elementary School fourth-grade students display photographs and written reports on local fences.

The park will also host a series of speakers on consecutive Saturdays:

July 1, 10 a.m.—Columbus historian Richard Dean (see the March 2005 Desert Exposure) discusses the 1916 raid by Pancho Villa on the village of Columbus.

July 8, 10 a.m.—Joe Rivera, US Customs and Border Protection, discusses the US/Mexico border and various types of fencing used to separate international borders.

July 15, 10 a.m.—Alex Mares, New Mexico State Parks Mesilla Educational Interpreter, gives an interpretive talk on the prehistoric to modern history of Native Americans of the Columbus area.

July 22, 10 a.m.—El Paso author David Dorado Romo speaks about and signs his recently released book, Ringside Seat to a Revolution—An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez: 1893-1923.

Finally, the exhibit's "Grand Finale" on Saturday, July 29, at 7 p.m. features former Columbus resident Ivan Thompson, who will show the award-winning documentary about his matchmaking work, Cowboy del Amor (see the February 2006 Desert Exposure). Plus there will be a private screening of the recently completed documentary on the US/Mexico border and Columbus by New York City filmmaker Robert Kelly. This "double feature" fundraiser for the Friends of the Pancho Villa State Park will be at the Pancho Villa Salon in Columbus.

Pancho Villa State Park Visitor Center/Museum is open daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park is located 35 miles south of Deming at the intersection of State Highways 9 and 11. For more information, call 531-2711.

 

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