“Building and claiming homes across the Southwest, Eva Fényes, her daughter, and granddaughter created intertwined but distinct identities that fit neither the stereotype of woman as wife nor the figure of the individualist ‘new woman’ of the era who stepped out and away from family. Instead, their story shows how these women relied on one another to invent a family model in which friends and acquaintances–and even husbands–came and went, but the connections to one another and to Western places endured.”
Left Image: Eva Scott Fényes (1849-1930), her daughter Leonora Scott Muse Curtin (1879-1972), and her granddaughter Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo (1903-1999). Full Image (Painting): Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo. Oil painting by George Cale, 1939.
The 19th Century
Our story begins with the birth of Eva Scott Fényes in 1849.
The 19th Century didn’t offer very many opportunities to most women. Fortunate to be born into a privileged family, Eva used the opportunities she was given to shape an enduring and formative path in the arts and humanities by way of her and her daughters’ adventures in the American Southwest.
Goats threshing wheat. Photo by Charles Lummis, 1889. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Eva Scott Fényes
As a privileged child, Eva was educated at a formal all-girls school and then received an arts education in New York, Europe, and Egypt. Equipped with an education, business sense, and a strong passion for the arts, Eva Scott Fényes created her own path in life.
In 1878, Eva married Lieutenant William Muse. She gave birth to Leonora Scott Muse in 1879.
Leonora Scott Muse with tamed bird, Santa Fe, NM 1890
On a trip to Florida, she met Kiowa artist Zo-Tom and Cheyenne artist Howling Wolf who were imprisoned by the United States government. This inspired her to commission notebooks of their work and purchase them art supplies. This was just the beginning of her foray into arts philanthropy.
The earliest highlights in the Collections are three drawings on paper by Native American prisoners of war dating 1876 and 1877.
Ultimately, Eva found her married life unsatisfying. In 1890, she obtained a divorce from her husband and moved to Santa Fe where she continued to support artists and thinkers. Railroad and government efforts to increase tourism to New Mexico contributed to Santa Fe’s growth including artists, writers, thinkers, and other creatives from across the Southwest and the world.
Eva Scott Fényes on horseback in Santa Fe, NM 1890s
Always in her own way, Eva carved out an independent and adventurous life. Her travels made her curious about dialogues between cultures. Eva’s time at her Hillside Avenue home in New Mexico was fruitful. Always seeking to learn about other cultures, Eva visited the pueblos of Northern New Mexico and started collecting local crafts. Supporting Native artists since the 1870s, Eva was part of a generation of nineteenth-century White women who were championing Native arts. This was “fashionable” at the time, but also a sign of their progressive ideals.
Santa Fe, Territorial Capitol, 1891 (New Mexico became a US State in 1912)
House of Eva Scott Muse, Hillside Avenue, Santa Fe, 1891
Corpus Christi Day. Downtown Santa Fe, 1891
It was in Santa Fe where Eva met Adalbert Fényes, a Hungarian physician and entomologist. The married in 1896 and together they moved from Santa Fe to Pasadena.
Eva and Adalbert Fényes, circa 1890s
In 1898, Charles Lummis suggested to Eva that she preserve in watercolor paintings the remaining missions and other historic buildings of California. She made over 300 watercolors of missions and adobe buildings and more than 3,000 sketches during her lifetime. These works are held at the Pasadena Museum of History.
“Thirty-Two Adobe Houses of Old California” – Reproduced from watercolor paintings by Eva Scott Fényes
of the 19th Century
The Team at Acequia Madre House has curated some music to accompany this exhibit for your enjoyment. While we can’t say for sure exactly which of the songs of their day were favorites of the women of the house, we can say that these songs we have selected were the top hits of their day.
Each era in our story has its own unique qualities and popular artists when it comes to music. In the late 19th Century for example, most music was played in the home via sheet music.
The Early 1900s
The early 1900s was a time of invention, discovery and forward movement in the United States. Eva and Adalbert were no exceptions to this trend.
“The Long Walk – Mrs. Fényes’ place 1907” – Photo by Eva Scott Fényes, 1907.
While Eva was occupied with her numerous artistic, business and civic engagements, her husband Adalbert was expanding his career as a physician. He even owned an x-ray machine!
When Adalbert needed his own office space outside of the Fényes residence in Pasadena, Eva drafted a contract to rent him office space. She expected him to earn a steady income on his own. Eva wanted to ensure that her daughter and granddaughter had the same financial independence and security that she had.
Group on loggia at 231 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, NM, September 1st, 1919, after tea. 1. Mrs. Rolshoven; 2. Mrs. Curtin; 2[sic]. Leonora F. Curtin; 4. Mr. Rolshoven;
5. Mr. Parsons; 6. Mr. Rollins; 7. Mrs. Rollins; 8. Mr. Bauman; 9. Mr. Grum;, 10. Mrs. Fényes; 11. Mr. Hartley
In the early 1900s, the Santa Fe Art colony was established. Railroad and government efforts to increase tourism to New Mexico contributed to Santa Fe’s growth during this time. A vibrant community of artists from all over the United States (and the world!) soon settled along Camino Del Monte Sol. Whether they were seeking freedom, healthier climate, cheaper living, or adventure, it became a refuge for artists and thinkers to create. Some artists wanted new landscapes and subject matters and were fascinated with the local Native and Hispanic peoples. Salons, poetry nights, performances of plays, and themed costume parties with diverse guests lists were the norm. Though many artists maintained ties to their east coast markets, by the early 1920s Santa Fe was a nationally known art colony.
The Birth of Jazz
During this time, music would have been listened to on a gramophone or similar record player. This era also sees the birth of the Jazz age, which helped shape the landscape of cultural revolution and was later to be the source of many new types of music including Rock and Roll.
Player pianos were also very popular.
The Native Market Era
This era marked a particularly creative and philanthropic period for the women of the Fényes family. Their support of local Native and Hispanic artisans during this time in particular would prove very valuable to the local arts community, through to the present day.
“Spinning wool. Santa Fe, New Mexico.” Circa 1920’s
The three women loved Santa Fe and set about building a new house there in the early 1920s. According to historians Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken, “The women regularly exchanged sketches and floor plans for a home that would incorporate not only gracious social areas and comfortable sleeping quarters, but also individual workspaces, or in Virginia Woolf’s memorable phrase, rooms of their own.”
“In one letter to her husband, Eva detailed the progress of young Leonora who’… last evening drew up a fine plan for our garage & her ‘studio.’ The child longs for a little room of her own where she can study and write, for in any other room of the house, she is continually disturbed and interrupted,” (Scharff, Virginia, and Carolyn Brucken. “The House of the Three Wise Women: A Family Legacy in the American Southwest.” California History, vol. 86, no. 4, 2009, pp. 44–87).
Painting of Acequia Madre House by Eva Scott Fényes, 1927
Acequia Madre House was different from the family’s other homes and commercial enterprises. From 1925-1927, all three women were closely involved in the design and construction of the house, as well as the abutting rental properties. No detail escaped their notice.
“Both gracious and quirky, the house was engineered to suit the family’s identity as female centered and women driven. Here they hosted influential artists and writers, dickered over property, and planned projects that used a remembered past to shape a material future. Claiming both California and New Mexico as home places, they also joined the long train of inhabitants of the West who have determined to ‘save’ precious places from the incursions, expropriations, and transformations of interlopers–people, ironically, sometimes like themselves.”
“For Eva, Leonora Curtin, and Leonora Frances, home was not a single building or even a particular city…Returning often to New Mexico, where they nurtured friendships with a building colony of artists, writers, and archaeologists, they soon determined to build a house of their own in Santa Fe,” (Scharff, Virginia, and Carolyn Brucken. “The House of the Three Wise Women: A Family Legacy in the American Southwest.” California History, vol. 86, no. 4, 2009, pp. 44–87).
Acequia Madre House, 1920s
The gardens at Acequia Madre House, 1920s.
Eva set an example for her daughter and granddaughter in supporting artists and intellectuals throughout her life. She hosted regular salons and parties with interesting guest lists of painters, poets, and intellectuals. She brought in actors to perform plays at her home. She offered painters studio space, stays in her home, and purchased them supplies. Unlike Eva who spent more of her time in Pasadena, the two Leonora’s would come to see Santa Fe as their primary home. Leonora Curtin’s own studies in ethnobotany and engagement with other scientists and scholars of the Southwest link her story to a bigger, more complicated story of the creation and exchange of culture.
The Spanish Colonial Arts Society, formed in 1925, was just one of several philanthropic activities of the women of the house during this era. The Society itself was formed with the much needed patronage of supporters including the women of the Acequia Madre House. The Spanish Colonial Arts Society included Frank Applegate, and influential Santa Fe artists Gerald Cassidy, Sheldon Parsons, and Cady Wells among others.
Native Market booths on Palace Avenue (present day Patina Gallery). Circa late 1920s
The Spanish Colonial Arts Society could not operate without the interest and funding from significant backers who believed in the preservation of Indigenous arts and crafts. One family who made a significant impact on the support of culture involved three generations of philanthropic women: Eva Scott Fényes (1849-1930), her daughter Leonora Scott Muse Curtin (1879-1972), and her granddaughter Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo (1903-1999),” (P.44, Southwest Rising: Contemporary Art and the Legacy of Elaine Horwitch, Cattle Track Arts & Preservation and Tucson Museum of Art).
Bench sketch with measurements for production. By Valentin Riviera
Leonora Frances grew up in her mother’s and grandmother’s circle of artists, archaeologists, and ethnographers. In the 1920s, she began publishing her own poems in the Museum of New Mexico’s magazine El Palacio, and the Southwest Museum’s publication Masterkey, and participated in Santa Fe’s Poet Round-Ups, which combined poetry with fund-raising for Indian causes.
By 1931, she was listed as a regular at the artistic and literary gatherings at George Park’s New Mexican Cafe. She also became a talented linguist, working with John Harrington to study and record the Navajo and Zuni languages. She would continue the family tradition of combining business savvy with patronage to promote the folk arts of New Mexico.
Leonora Frances holding puppies Silo and Cocomino, 1932. Acequia Madre House. Santa Fe, New Mexico
I had returned to Santa Fe from the gloom enveloped East and I saw everywhere in the rural or village life of New Mexico, opportunities for the Spanish New Mexican people to help out their shrunken and meager economy by revival of their old traditional crafts. A convincing demonstration testifying to the worth of these resources had already been given by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society of Santa Fe in its small shop in Sena Plaza. Hard times and lack of adequate support forced the shop to close in 1933. But in a situation where no jobs could be found, a skillful people, I knew, could surely help themselves and work at home on tasks that would yield the cash of which they stood in dire need. My enthusiasm rose quickly as the numerous possibilities unfolded, and ever mindful of the advantages in self-respect that earning power offers over charitable or government aid, I made bold to speak out: I talked craft revival, teaching, marketing and every aspect to all who would listen.” – Leonora Frances
Jazz, The Blues & Dance Bands
The late 20s and early 30s were filled with Jazz and Blues music. With roots in New Orleans, Jazz soon became popular in mainstream culture.
Music of this era would have been listened to at dance halls and on phonographs. Musical films were introduced in the 1930s and also became very popular.
Life During WWII
The women were all committed to cultural preservation. They debated preservation and tourism while participating in conversations with anthropologists, scholars, artists, and other visionaries. Their work in ethnobotany, linguistics, and philanthropy continued throughout the WWII years.
Leonora Frances (center), Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, Arizona. 1940
Leonora Frances riding horseback, 1940s
Known as the “Boom Years” New Mexico experienced dramatic change during WWII with huge population growth and industry expansion. The development of nuclear weapons at Los Alamos for the Manhattan Project created a new scientific community. Several large internment and prisoners-of-war camps were created. In WWII, New Mexico had the highest volunteer rate and the highest casualty rate of all of the states. The women’s efforts were concentrated on cultural preservation, philanthropy, and arts while staying engaged in international affairs.
Victory Garden era publication form the collection of Acequia Madre House ephemera, 1940s.
“Together, mother, daughter, and granddaughter created identities rooted in specific places and maintained family bonds through writing, collecting and preserving local histories and languages, designing and building houses, speculating in and profiting from real estate, and creating a legacy of local institutions out of their own homes. To emphasize one home over any of the others as primary or secondary disguises the women’s mobility among multiple, contested sites.”
“Their very mobility both embodied and challenged regional cliches: as civic leaders in Pasadena and transient outsiders in Santa Fe, as adventuresses in Cairo and society women in the American West; as nurturers of regionalist artists in California and romantic patrons of Nuevo Mexicano craftspeople in New Mexico; and as astute businesswomen and devoted family members,” (Scharff, Virginia, and Carolyn Brucken. “The House of the Three Wise Women: A Family Legacy in the American Southwest.” California History, vol. 86, no. 4, 2009, pp. 44–87.)
Pasadena House, 1940s.
After WWII, Leonora Frances met and married Y.A. Paloheimo. He had first come to the United States in 1929, and by 1933 was hired to be in charge of travel promotion by the consulate general of Finland in New York. He met Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1939, Paloheimo worked on the construction of the Finnish pavilion as a commissioner for the World Fair. He worked with the American Finnish community as a Field Secretary for Help Finland after the Soviet Union attacked Finland. Leonora and Y.A. shared a love for culture and passion for preservation.
Big Bands & Swing
The music of the World War II era was often light-hearted in stark contrast to the hardships many people faces in their daily lives due to wartime conditions.
This was the heyday of the Big Bands such as Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman. The Big Band style came from the traditions of both Jazz and Swing, with Swing itself being an offshoot of Jazz. Latin music from the Caribbean region became popular at the same time the world’s first true Country stars were rising.
The Post-War Years
The legacy of the women of the Acequia Madre House continued to develop during the post WWII years thanks to Leonora and her husband Y.A.’s international efforts and historical preservation activities.
Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo, 1970s
After their marriage in 1946, Leonora and Y.A. Paloheimo, saw potential for the ranch outside of town to become an outdoor living history museum. Inspired by living history museums in Finland, they worked to make the property a place where visitors could engage with the history and cultures of New Mexico.
In 1948, Leonora and Y.A. adopted four children from Finland. They stayed engaged with all of their activities while raising their family.
This same year, Leonora Curtin’s book Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande was published. Y.A. and Leonora engaged architect John Gaw Meem to help rehabilitate and rebuild Mexican structures on the ranch. The museum officially opened its doors in 1972 and today El Rancho de Las Golondrinas still preserves the legacy of the land and Hispano traditions as the Southwest’s Premiere Living History Museum. As a talented linguist, Mrs. Paloheimo researched Native American languages for the Smithsonian and communicated regularly with John P. Harrington.
Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo, Leonora Scott Muse Curtin and friends enjoy lunch in the Aspens, Santa Fe, NM, 1970s
Working with one another and with like-minded friends and colleagues through the vehicles of real estate, tourism, art, and commerce, the women of the Acequia Madre House were co-architects of the cultural landscape of the American Southwest and emblems of the creative destructiveness of American capitalism, embracing tradition even as they embodied modernity.
Yrjo and Leonora Frances Paloheimo, circa 1960s
Rock ‘n Roll & Beyond
In the post WWII years, we find the mood becomes both more introspective and expansive in the music of the day. New ways of thinking are beginning to take shape as people struggle with traditional concepts and ideals while faced with often conflicting modern challenges. Rock n’ Roll began to dominate the airwaves just as the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) was swinging into effect. World music also grows in popularity during this time, a trend which continues today.
Today there are two former homes of the Acequia Madre women still in operation: the Historic Fényes Mansion in Pasadena, California, and the Acequia Madre House in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Acequia Madre House, Fall 2019
In 1970, the Paloheimo family gifted the beautiful Fényes Estate to the Pasadena Museum of History. The historic Fényes Mansion still features much of the original art and furniture today. The Museum’s historic structures also include the Curtin House, a gracious French-style residence designed in 1915 by Sylvanus Marston, and the Finnish Folk Art Museum, a building designed by Frederick Roehrig and adapted by Consul Y.A. Paloheimo for use as a sauna/guest house.
Despite four generations living at the Pasadena estate, many rooms in the mansion remain as they were more than 100 years ago. One exception is the Consul’s Office. In 1948 Y.A. Paloheimo, the husband of Eva’s granddaughter Babsie, was appointed the first Finnish Consul for Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico. He held this position for about sixteen years, and the Fényes Mansion remained a Consulate until 1964. This is why both the American flag and the Finnish flag fly from the front of the mansion.
Fényes Estate, Pasadena Mansion. Pasadena, California
After Ms. Paloheimo’s death in 1999, the Paloheimo Foundation was created to continue the women’s legacy of supporting arts and cultural preservation around the world.
In 2013, the Women’s International Study Center was founded to celebrate the achievements of women. Inspired by the three women who followed their passions to make an impact and gave back through philanthropy and engagement, WISC wanted to create programming to facilitate women achieving their goals. The Fellows-in-Residence program has hosted over 70 fellows from around the world working on projects in the arts, sciences, cultural preservation, business and philanthropy. The house and collections are the seed that grew into a thriving program to support women in achieving their goals.
Acequia Madre House, Fall 2019
Entrance to the Fellow’s Residence, Spring 2020
Continuing the tradition of painting at Acequia Madre House
Acequia Madre House, Spring 2020
The Fellows’ Residence
A Message from the Director of
Acequia Madre House
After many months of restoring our structures, diving into our collections and archives, adding wonderful staff to our team, and re-evaluating our priorities, 2020 marks a new beginning for the Acequia Madre House. The objects and papers held here are both ordinary and extraordinary, and we are excited to share the stories of three women whose lives and international adventures spanned 100 years.
The Exhibit Gallery
We hope you have enjoyed this digital exhibit!
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All images courtesy of Acequia Madre House® Digital Collections. All rights reserved.