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An aristocrat’s accumulation

Courtesy Millicent Rogers Museum

Millicent Rogers, lover of art and collector extraordinaire, was lucky to be left a fortune. As a Standard Oil heiress, the stylish socialite had the deep pockets to pursue her passions with gusto.

“In just five years in Taos, she collected 5,000 to 6,000 pieces [of art],” said Fred Peralta, executive director of the Millicent Rogers Museum there.

Some of those pieces remained with Rogers’ family but the bulk became “the core of our collection,” said Peralta.

Creating a museum was a logical step for descendants left with several houses full of valuable art and craft amassed by Rogers. She was a world traveler who died at age 51 in 1953 after spending the last seven years of her life in Taos.

“I affectionately call her a pack rat,” said Peralta, “because she collected a lot, no matter where she traveled … mostly indigenous to the area she was in. And she never got rid of anything.”

Today, the museum has one of the premier collections of art and culture of Native American, Hispanic and Southwestern Euro Americans. Four miles from town, the museum is housed in what was once a traditional adobe home.

The setting fits the collection. Although the building was renovated and expanded in the 1980s, it retains much of its original flavor: adobe walls, heavy carved wooden doors, exposed wooden timbers.

“We still have the original wood floors, and when you walk through, they squeak,” said Peralta. “The character of this building adds to the experience. It feels like the collection is in its proper home.”

The combination of colorful art in a traditional Taos setting brings off-site events to the museum. Almost round, the museum has an interior, indoor courtyard at its center for parties of up to 100. Indoors, a gallery suits dinners of up to 60. A patio and lawn on the building’s eastern rim has a view of the mountains; it accommodates up to 250. On certain days, groups can watch painters at work on portraits or hear lectures by art experts.

A must-see is the gift shop, known for the vintage Native American jewelry that it buys and sells. Rogers collected and designed jewelry.

“Our No. 1 draw is the vintage jewelry,” said Peralta. “Our gift shop is what makes us unique.”