Acequia Madre House

A story of three remarkable women and the house in which they lived.

The Acequia Madre House was brought into existence by three remarkable women—mother, daughter, and granddaughter—who made significant contributions intellectually, culturally, and financially in Santa Fe and beyond.

The matriarch, Eva Fényes, first came to Santa Fe in the 1880s. Eva was an astute businesswoman who built upon her inheritance, as her daughter and granddaughter would. Eva was an accomplished artist working primarily in watercolors. She introduced her daughter Leonora to Santa Fe where she met and married Thomas E. Curtin.

Leonora Curtin became a recognized ethno-botanist who extensively researched the herbs and plants in the Santa Fe area and whose seminal books on this topic remain in print. Her daughter, also named Leonora, developed into a linguistic scholar assisting The Smithsonian’s John P. Harrington in the documentation of Native American languages.

The younger Leonora also founded and subsidized the Native Market in Santa Fe during the Depression to foster the perpetuation of Spanish Colonial crafts and provide a venue through which the artisans could market their creations. After owning and renting other homes in Santa Fe, in the 1920s the three women determined that they should have a permanent Santa Fe residence: the Acequia Madre House.

The House on Acequia Madre

Completed in 1926, the Territorial Revival style house was furnished with antiques and significant European, American, Spanish Colonial and Native American art and artifacts. Over the years, several small additions were made to the house and the women—all of whom were preservationists—acquired a historic property in nearby La Cienega as a retreat. This tract would become the living history museum El Rancho de Las Golondrinas through the efforts of the younger Leonora and her husband Y. E. Paloheimo. Both of these properties continue to honor these women of purpose and vision.

Acequia Madre House Programs

The Acequia Madre House serves as the base for two significant programs. Creative Dialogue is an annual music workshop conducted in collaboration with the Sibelius Academy in Finland. Cellist Anssi Karttunen and composers Kaiia Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg conceived the idea of Creative Dialogue with the Sibelius Academy to inspire young performers and composers to engage in a dialogue that benefits not only the two parties but music in general. Beginning in 2008, the first six annual Creative Dialogues were conducted at the Acequia Madre House. Since 2013, Creative Dialogue has been held in alternate years in Finland and Santa Fe. Each Santa Fe workshop concludes with a concert by the participants in St. Francis Auditorium.

The Women’s International Study Center (WISC) was founded in 2013 with the mission of inspiring and enabling women to achieve their goals. WISC has held symposia and workshops with speakers such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but its primary focus is on Fellows-in-Residence. To advance work in the areas of accomplishment of the three women of the Acequia Madre House, fellows work in or study the role of women in the arts, sciences, cultural preservation, business or philanthropy. Each Fellow makes a public presentation while in residence. WISC is enhanced by collaborations with several institutions including the University of New Mexico’s Feminist Research Institute.

Acequia Madre House Archive

The three women of the Acequia Madre House had lives that spanned 150 years from 1849 to 1999, a period of monumental events and historic change. They left behind an extraordinary record of those times in letters, journals, publications, albums and photographs. Sharing their time between their homes in Pasadena, California and Santa Fe, their archive is preserved in those two locations. The record of their California activities can be found at the Pasadena Museum of History, while the story of their Santa Fe and Southwest endeavors is documented in the Acequia Madre House Archives

As world travelers, they were in Egypt in 1869 when the Suez Canal opened and they witnessed Archduke Ferdinand’s funeral on the eve of WWI. The women wrote to each other on virtually every day they were not together and since each was a preservationist, the archive in Santa Fe often has both sides of the correspondence. In addition to the paper items, the archive has a rich collection of photographs documenting their travels, lives, and activities in Santa Fe and the surrounding territory with its diverse cultures. The photographic collection also includes work by other photographers including Ansel Adams, who was a guest at the house. This archive is accessible to scholars by appointment.