Leonora Scott Muse Curtin (1879-1972) maintained a lifelong interest in the art, archaeology, and cultures of Spanish and Native American New Mexico. Leonora first came to Santa Fe with her mother, Eva Scott Fenyes, as a small child in 1889, and was taken to England for her education at the age of 12. She met her husband Thomas Curtin in Santa Fe where he was a lawyer in the District Attorney’s office. After their marriage in 1903, the couple lived in Colorado Springs where Mr. Curtin worked with railroads. When he passed away in 1911, their daughter, Leonora Frances Curtin, was eight years old. The two Leonoras went to live in Pasadena with Mrs. Curtin’s mother, artist and preservationist, Eva Scott Fenyes. World travelers, after 1916 they spent part of each year in Santa Fe. The Curtins were founding members of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society. Named by Dr. Edgar L. Hewett to the Board of Regents and the Women’s Board of the Museum of New Mexico, Mrs. Curtin served on the Executive Board of the School of American Research and the Board of Directors of the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, California.
Through her interviews with local friends, curanderas and native healers, Leonora Curtin collected information about the varieties and uses of local herbs and plants by Spanish American and Native American cultures. She went to Morocco to study the origins of the use of herbs in Moorish Spain. Encouraged in these pursuits by Smithsonian scholar J.P. Harrington, her years of research resulted in two books: By The Prophet of the Earth, which documents plant uses by the Pima Indians, and Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, for which Mary Austin wrote the introduction. Mrs. Curtin was honored by the Mexican Government for her studies of the ethnobotany of the Tarascan Indians.
In 1932, Mrs. Curtin and her daughter Leonora purchased historic El Rancho de las Golondrinas in La Cienega. They leased part of the property to a dairy, but kept the other portion as a country retreat. Following World War II when Miss Curtin married Finnish diplomat Y.A. Paloheimo, the couple and their children came from their home in California to spend summers at the ranch. The family began to restore and reconstruct buildings on the site; they were aided in this restoration work by historians, architects such as John Gaw Meem, and artisans using traditional methods. El Rancho de las Golondrinas opened as a living history museum of New Mexico’s Spanish colonial heritage in 1972. While the museum is now owned by an independent charitable trust, family members continue to participate in its direction, operation, and educational mission. The Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve is located on this historic property.
By: Bunny Huffman
Archivist, Curtin-Paloheimo Collection