The First Art Newspaper on the Net Established in 1996 United States Monday, September 1, 2014


El Morro: History Written on Stone
This photo taken Sept. 2, 2009 shows the deeply incised inscription of P. Gilmore Breckinridge, which is one of hundreds of inscriptions ranging from Spanish explorers to later U.S. Army troops that are cut into Inscription Rock at El Morro National Monument, N.M.(AP Photo/Sue Major)
EL MORRO NATIONAL MONUMENT, NM (AP).- For centuries, Spanish explorers, U.S. Army troops, wagon train emigrants and railroad surveyors carved their names on a huge sandstone outcrop in what's now a national monument famed for those inscriptions.

But the softness of the rock that allowed names to be chipped into the cliff at El Morro National Monument also is letting those signatures erode — jeopardizing the history the park is meant to protect.

Over the years, officials have reattached fallen inscriptions, developed grout to keep moisture out of cracks and experimented with coatings to prevent signatures from wearing away.

El Morro — Spanish for headlands — became a stopping point because of its reliable water, a pool fed by runoff from the cliff.

Hundreds of travelers left their names — some famous; others with stories behind them.

"All those things together make them historic," said Steve Baumann, archaeologist at the northwest New Mexico monument.

"Pasa por aqui," wrote provincial governor Don Juan de Onate in 1605, "passed by here."

Onate's inscription, one of the earliest, partially covers one of the prehistoric American Indian petroglyphs also carved on the rock.

Don Diego de Vargas, who led the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico in 1692 after a Pueblo Indian revolt, signed his name that year, saying his conquest was "for the Holy Faith and for the Royal Crown ... at his own expense."

Twelve-year-old Sallie Fox — who came through in a wagon train — wrote her proper name, Sarah, in 1858.

The deeply incised, printer-like inscription of "P. Gilmer Breckinridge, 1859 VA," is marred by a chip biting into the C in his last name and edging up to the 9 in the date.

Breckinridge came through El Morro with 25 camels from a short-lived Army experiment. He would later resign, join the Confederacy and die in the Civil War.

The same expedition included "E. Pen Long, Baltimore," who left a large signature in flowing, perfect old-fashioned script.

The group, doing reconnaissance, "had all kind of tools with them for marking features on the landscape for mapping purposes," Baumann said. "They would have been well-equipped to make some nice inscriptions."

Although the expedition was in 1857, Breckinridge didn't carve his name until another trip in 1859.

He wasn't the only person to visit El Morro more than once.

"That's the case with Onate," Baumann said. "He was here three times before he left his name."

Artist R.H. Kern carved his name in 1849 and 1850.

Kern and Army Lt. J.H. Simpson, the first English signatures, recorded that they "visited and copied these inscriptions, September 17-18, 1849." They misspelled inscriptions, leaving out the "r."

The largest concentration of signatures comes at the rock's north point, where a ledge — now mostly eroded — made it easy to write up high. Inscriptions range from Spanish explorers to employees of the Union Pacific railroad in the 1860s.

Park officials removed some inscriptions in the 1920s, deciding anything carved after the monument's establishment in 1906 was graffiti.

The effort didn't get everything. A cove closed to visitors has Army inscriptions dated around 1907.

El Morro has been working with the University of Pennsylvania on preservation since the early 1990s. The latest phase will produce a conservation plan next spring.

The park is "not a museum artifact you can put under glass and keep from changing," said associate professor Randall Mason, who teaches in the school's graduate historic preservation graduate program.

The rock's condition, the soil, the affect of water and the landscape have been studied but "what's missing is what connects all those aspects and the dynamics between them," he said.

Preservation efforts aren't new. In 1926, El Morro's manager experimented with different coatings over the word "colorless" he'd carved on a boulder.

Nothing works completely, Baumann said.

"It's hard to calculate what's going to happen in 50, 100 years," he said. "You try and do something that you think will last, will help at the time and will continue to last and will do as little harm as possible. Ideally, something reversable."

In places, sandstone has split, allowing water in. Insect burrowing is a threat, as is sandstone disintegration and clay washing out, draping over inscriptions.

Even the famed pool could be damaging inscriptions around it. The pool was 11 feet deep this month, but its depth was closer to 3 feet in previous centuries, probably with a sandy beach that let people get close to carve, Baumann said.

"One of the unfortunate consequences of raising the pool is that it appears to have affected these inscriptions, that it seems to have accelerated their deterioration," he said.

When a ranger who worked at El Morro around the '40s returned, he "looked around the pool and said, 'My God, what happened to the inscriptions?' So that fast, we saw some change," Baumann said.

Since 2006, the Center for Desert Archaeology in Tucson, Ariz., has used a laser to scan inscriptions, offering much more detail than photographs. Recent scans can be superimposed on earlier ones, highlighting changes.

It's allowing park officials to assess the rate of erosion for the first time.

"That's a question we want to get at ... how fast are they eroding at different places," Baumann said.

Then there's graffiti — up to 40 incidents a year. This year was particularly bad, with 11 in June alone. Graffiti is a violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and carries stiff fines.

A sign by Inscription Rock warns: "It is unlawful to mark or deface El Morro."

"What we're trying to do is preserve this as it was, historically," Baumann said. "And a lot of other inscriptions that occur now — graffiti — it sort of detracts from that historic feel."


El Morro National Monument | U.S. Army troops | New Mexico | Steve Baumann |


Today's News

September 23, 2009

Grand Palais Showcases Artwork from the Second Half of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Career

Tate Gallery Presents a Selection of Paintings by JMW Turner Along with Old Masters

Mexican Federal Prosecutors Probe Possible Frida Kahlo Fakes

Exhibit at Scuderie del Quirinale Showcases Painting in Ancient Rome

Oakland Museum of California Awarded $2.5 Million Grant from National Science Foundation

SFMOMA Celebrates 75th Anniversary with Free Weekend Celebration

Newseum Deputy Director and Vice President Max Page Dies at 60

The Hyde Collection Receives Gift of Major Douglass Crockwell Painting

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum Receives Its Largest Donation from PIMCO's Founder Bill Gross

Major Cultural Art Exhibition from Colombia Opens at New York City's Grand Central Terminal

First Museum Survey Devoted to Artist James Castle to Open at the Art Institute of Chicago

King Tut Arrives at Denver Art Museum for Summer

Award-Winning Illustrations from the Mazza Collection to Go on View at the Toledo Museum of Art

Smithsonian Reveals New Plan to Boost Research

Cartier and America Exhibition to Make a Stop at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco

Winners of the 4th Great Rivers Biennial Announced

Clues to Identity: An Exhibition by the Students of ICP's Independent Projects Seminars 2007-2009

El Morro: History Written on Stone

Metropolitan Opens First Exhibition of Jean-Antoine Watteau's Paintings in the United States in 25 Years

France A. Córdova Appointed to the Smithsonian's Board of Regents

Most Popular Last Seven Days



1.- Neanderthals and humans were both living in Europe for between 2,600 and 5,400 years

2.- First major exhibition to explore the historical legacy of African cultural astronomy opens at LACMA

3.- Carlo Mollino's idealized vision of the female form in new book published by Damiani/Crump

4.- Tate Britain displays works by Frank Auerbach from the collection of Lucian Freud

5.- In grave robber territory, locals abuzz over Alexander-era tomb; Largest of its kind ever discovered in Greece

6.- Lambert Collection opens an ambitious project housed at the Sainte-Anne Prison

7.- Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore announces the first 18 artists in the CCA Residencies progamme

8.- Historic Kings Theatre is transformed into major New York Performing Arts venue

9.- Thirteen's American Masters Series co-produces new documentary about photographer Dorothea Lange

10.- Sotheby's New York to offer 548 Edward Weston photographs as a single lot this September



Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 

Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez - Marketing: Carla Gutiérrez
Special Contributor: Liz Gangemi - Special Advisor: Carlos Amador
Contributing Editor: Carolina Farias

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org theavemaria.org juncodelavega.org facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site