Members of the Rockefeller family have been known for their early advocacy for the nation’s parks and open spaces, playing critical roles in the acquisition and protection of ecologically diverse and scenically attractive lands in many parts of the U.S. Their wealth made it possible to help protect lands, and to create collections of artifacts in museums.
In the mid-1920s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby visited Mesa Verde National Park, bringing attention to its history and cultural roots.
Their son David Rockefeller and his wife Peggy have with their deaths provided Mesa Verde with more than 100 objects which had been in Maine in one of their homes. While there will no doubt be interest in what Native art and usable items were collected by two generations of Rockefellers and possible why, many of the pieces have no ties to Mesa Verde, and some only distantly to the Southwest.
Among the 115 pieces are Blackfoot Indian wood sculptures, wood block prints and early San Ildefonso Pueblo black-on-black pottery. And there’s a Navajo pictorial blanket.
About half as many different Rockefeller items went to a museum in Boston.
We suspect that once the administration at Mesa Verde is familiar with what it has received, there will be conversations about whether there are better park and museum locations for some of the items.
Museum displays can be created with almost unlimited themes, sometimes tied to geography or not, and individual Rockefeller pieces will be more significant in some and not other gatherings. There could be some trading, as most museums do not want to diminish their overall collections, and certainly some lending, all for the benefit of park and museum visitors here and elsewhere.
And that brings up another issue: funding. Handling, storage, shipping and insurance are expenses. While some donors provide some funding for those costs, there has been no mention of that here.
What should be avoided is to have pieces go into storage and not be seen again.
Mesa Verde has thousands of artifacts which originated in the park and to include proper storage in the construction of the new visitors center was critical. Prior to that, items were in marginally acceptable buildings which were decades old.
In any case, the Rockefeller items appear to be a worthwhile addition to the park’s historic assets, offering opportunities to imaginatively mix and match. And they will serve to remind visitors of the impact the Rockefellers had in many ways on the protection of lands and cultures of this country.