Museum People Are Exhibitionists
Meet four of the faces who help make the Silver City Museum much more than a collection of dusty artifacts.
By Jim Kelly
Not all the interesting artifacts and curiosities at the Silver City Museum are in display cases. Many of them actually work or volunteer there, and it should be said at the outset that they are each as happily unique and treasured as the objects and displays they offer the visitor.
You see, before the building was a museum, before it was a firehouse, before it was the town's offices, it was a family home, and today that feeling of "family" still permeates the place in the spirits of the staff, both professional and volunteer.
Meet the Museum Minstrel
That family feeling starts as soon as a visitor walks in the door. Poised at the reception desk several days a week, Jesse Seaberry always has a ready smile and an interesting a story to tell. Often that story involves music.
Jesse Seaberry adds music to a museum event.
Originally out of Klamath, Ore., son to Oklahoma homesteaders, Jesse called Phoenix home for most of his early years. Music came into his life early, as his father and uncle played in a Texas swing band with the legendary Bob Wills.
The country music scene back then was not quite the glitz-and-glamour world we see at concerts and on television today, and his family had as many bad times as they did good.
"They played 12- and 16-string guitars, kind of unusual for the time," Jesse recalls. "The band was called the Oklahoma Blue Boys, and when they weren't picking cotton in the fields of Texas, they were playing in all the clubs."
While mainstream country music of the 1950s was a part of Jesse's everyday life, it was the folk-music revolution of the early 1960s that captured his spirit.
"I had heard the music of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, of course, and I really felt a connection there," Jesse says. "My Aunt Ruby had told me all the family stories about the old days in Oklahoma and the move west, and it all just sounded like folk-song lyrics to me, so I started writing my own tunes."
Not confident of his early compositions in the beginning, Jesse favored the music of the more popular folk-music stars of the day. "Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan were my favorites. I played a lot of their music, and worked some of my own in here and there."
But the music scene was hard, and while his music took him as far from the Southwest as Alaska and Hawaii, he never completely earned a living at it.
"I wound up in Prescott, Ariz., in a campground there, not really having any direction in life. I'd been playing mostly for just tips and beer, and the road was taking its toll. Then things turned around," Jesse says with a smile.
"There was this fellow in Prescott who needed help loading a big truck with furniture and goods he wanted to take to Silver City, NM, to sell, so I helped him out and wound up coming here to help him unload, too. It was here I found my home. That was 12 years ago."
Now Jesse works half-time at the museum, teaches guitar here and there and brightens the day of all the museum's visitors.
Museum Store Maven
With generations of family ties to the legendary New Mexico village of Mora, museum store volunteer Pauline Gomez presides over the inventory and the visitors at least one day a week, and brings a special spirit of the northern part of the state to Silver City.
Pauline Gomez staffs the museum store.
"I have six siblings and I used to stay with my great-grandmother quite a bit in the early days. Often we would walk along the irrigation ditch next to the road, all the way into town," Pauline remembers. "We always walked everywhere back then, and it seemed like such a long way to wherever we were going.
"My great grandmother carried a big bag with an actual altar in it. She was very religious, as were most of the people of Mora, in that old-world Catholic way. In her bag she also had statues of every saint you could think of, and we would stop often along the way to pray."
Pauline's family moved into the town of Springer, where she could attend high school, and both of her parents could find teaching jobs. It was there that she met her husband-to-be. He was from San Lorenzo, out in the Mimbres, and that was Pauline's first connection to Grant County.
"My dad was offered a faculty position at Western New Mexico University, so we all moved down here in 1960," she says. "Things were different in Silver City then, and I worked at a variety of jobs in town.
"All six of my brothers and sisters went to Western, but I didn't want to go to school."
It wasn't until 2005 that Pauline became a part of the museum family. Now, in addition to working in the store, she serves as vice president of the Silver City Museum Society.
"I really see a lot of value in the work the museum society does in support of the museum operations," Pauline says. "We've just begun sales of our 2010 history calendar, and the old photos on it of the big flood that created the Big Ditch are proving as popular as they were in 2005, the year they were first released. At the rate the 2010 calendars are selling, we could run through the entire printing by the end of 2009."
Pauline is involved with a number of other activities around town, and is a vital part of museum-sponsored events. "I especially enjoy the Fourth of July Ice Cream Social, and the Luis Urrea presentation during the Big Read last year was wonderful."
Since the museum's expressed purpose is to preserve the community heritage of Grant County, Pauline is working to increase the community's awareness of the research and education possibilities the museum has available.
"From the research materials in the museum's library to the fine books available in the store, there's just so much here," she says, "and I would really like to see the Hispanic community take more advantage of our resources."