Editor‘s note: In Spin Off Spring 2023 artist Julia R. Gomez shares the history of colcha embroidery, which is traditionally created with a palette of vibrantly dyed Churro. Her passion for colcha embroidery began in 2000 when embroidery artist Beatrice Maestas Sandoval invited her to El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she learned to spin wool from their flock of Churro and to dye yarn from plants grown on the ranch. Here, learn about the history of the ranch as well as the activities that take place there today.
El Rancho de las Golondrinas (The Ranch of the Swallows) is a two-hundred-acre historic ranch, now a living history museum, just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The ranch was strategically located on the Camino Real, the Royal Road, that stretched from Mexico City to Santa Fe. The ranch provided goods for trade and was a place where the convoys would stop on their journey coming from or going to Santa Fe. It was an official rest stop for travelers on the Camino Real.
In 1932, Leonora Curtin and her mother purchased the ranch property. Leonora is known for having founded Santa Fe’s Native Market in hopes of saving and reestablishing traditional craft forms and techniques and to provide local artisans with a source of income during the Great Depression. She married Yrjö Alfred Paloheimo in 1946, and the couple envisioned the ranch as a site for an outdoor living history museum.
They restored existing historic buildings—original buildings on the site date from the early 1700s—and they built period structures and brought in historic buildings from other sites in New Mexico. The museum opened in 1972, celebrating New Mexico’s history, heritage, and culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
On the ranch today, villagers dressed in the styles of centuries past demonstrate activities of life on the frontier. This includes caring for a flock of Churro sheep, whose wool is used for spinning and weaving classes and demonstrations, and tending to a natural dye garden that features a variety of traditional dye plants. In an outdoor dye shed, volunteers demonstrate how to dye wool shorn from the ranch’s sheep.
Special festivals and weekend events celebrate territorial life of the Southwest. Each year, the Santa Fe Spring and Fiber Festival features traditional New Mexican ranch activities like sheep shearing, spinning, and weaving. This year, El Rancho de las Golondrinas is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Visit golondrinas.org for more information.
Learn more about churro sheep and the art and tradition of colcha embroidery, plus find a pattern for creating your own colcha peahen in Julia Gomez‘s article in the upcoming Spring 2023 issue of Spin Off.
Karen Brock is a contributing editor of Spin Off and PieceWork magazines.