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Mela Sedillo Pictorial Collection

Identifier: PICT-2000-021

Scope and Content

The collection was given by Mela Sedillo Koeber’s family to the Center for Southwest Research. The main items likely come from her studies or teaching in the arts. There are 261 black and white snapshots, two large format photographs, three black and white fine prints, ten miscellaneous colored art pieces and two posters.

One print is an early European building with spires, by Marie Alder, undated but signed. There are two commercial prints of Roman buildings by A. Moschetti, Inc. The Adler and Moschettis are somewhat water damaged. There is an unsigned, undated black and white photograph of an unknown, large dining room, likely in New Mexico. It has modern wall vents, the tables are finely set, with two plain wooden doors in the background and a deep window sill with a flower pot. There are dark wooden chairs, with covered buttoned chair seats, tin craft chandeliers, sawed straight ceiling vigas, and an exit sign, as if it was a commercial place. Another photo is of an unidentified capitol dome, unsigned and undated.

The colored drawings, sketches and posters range from 1942-1989 and are probably student's or children's art. One has colored geometric designs while another is a colorful Halloween scene. Included is a pine tree detail signed to Mela from Lloyd, 1942. One of a tree and trail in the forest in the winter is signed Ainy?, 1945. A scene of swans, a bridge, benches and flowers is signed J. Kendell. One undated poster is from the Santa Fe Summer Theater, St. Michael’s Playhouse for the Broadway play “The Third Best Sport.” The other is a sign for the Art Auction at La Fonda by the Santa Fe Association of the Arts, also undated.

The 3x5 black and white photographs feature New Mexico Hispanic wooden hand carved furniture, doors, windows and porches, weaving, colcha pieces, religious art and ornamental metal or tin craft works from inside houses she visited. Sedillo probably took them between 1920-1940 to use in teaching.

The pieces and their backgrounds provide important glimpses of daily life. Some of the folk art work likely dates to the 1800s and others to the early 1900s. The photographs were pasted on display boards and were removed for preservation. They are not dated and the locations of the homes and names of the families are not noted, which was typical in that era. The names of the artists are also not noted.

In each category of art there are many different designs and patterns. Represented are home-made carved wooden beds, benches (tarimas), chairs, a stool, and chests and trunks (petacas), some with details of their decorations and metal locks. A few show the chests sitting up on tables or chairs to get them off the ground. There are also carved wooden hanging wall shelves and a staircase rail. There are upright floor cupboards (trasteros) and also wall cupboards, as well as various wooden side, end and corner tables, but apparently no dining tables. Other photos show fire places, wooden window covers, doors and porches (portales, corbels, vigas). There are also home weavings such as rugs (jerga) and blankets or coverlets (mantas), and colcha embroidery pieces. Included also are tin craft frames, mirrors, candle holders and a chandelier. In addition, there are photographs of religious art (santos) - carved bultos, statues, crucifixes, and carved and painted retablos.

Some of the images are notable. For example, there is a matching Sedillo photograph of the wooden panel (or door) called El Cibolero by E. Boyd in her book “Popular Arts of New Mexico,” 1975, p. 183, which Boyd dated to 1820-1850. One shows a grouping of a wooden chest on a woven rug, beside a large pottery jar. Along the sides of the chest are pillars like candles and on top the chest are candles and an enshrined bulto. Several of the broken trunks were re-used as boxes to store wood for the fire place or stove. There is one image of a wooden wall cupboard and beneath it is a silver or pewter serving set, with coffee or teapot, sugar bowl, creamer, covered dishes and small goblets. Another shows a corner ceiling corbel, with vigas and a black metal lantern or chandelier. Another tin craft chandelier shows a sign of re-use and has an electric light bulb coming out of it. There are two photographs of tin craft glass frames in which the image of the photographer is reflected. The collection is useful for learning about Sedillo’s work and for the study of New Mexico crafts and designs.


  • ca. 1926-1989

Access Restrictions

Collection is available for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of print and photographic material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. For more information see the Photographs and Images Research Guide and contact the Pictorial Archivist.

Biographical information

Mela Sedillo Brewster Koeber was a teacher in the University of New Mexico Art Department from 1932 to 1951. She taught design, Spanish and Mexican folk arts and dance, Spanish language classes and worked with theater groups. She was the first dance teacher at the college. She was born in 1907 and received her BA in 1926 from UNM, continuing her studies in the 1930s. She received her Masters from Columbia University, having been granted a Rockefeller Fellowship to study there in 1935-1936. Sedillo came from an established colonial Hispanic family that was involved in politics and local affairs. She was active in the revival of Hispanic arts and crafts and defense of Hispanic rights during the 1930s-1940s.

Sedillo had performed Spanish dances in the First American Pageant (1928-1930). She was one of two Hispanic instructors at UNM in 1933. That year she was involved in the protests of prejudice by Anglo Americans in fraternities and sororities against Hispanic students on campus. She taught in the San Jose Training School and worked for the New Mexico Extension Service in 1937. In the 1940s she contributed stories for the Federal Writers Project and worked on the New Mexico State Guide. She organized festivals for the Federal Music Program and helped with the WPA song books. She also published on Spanish and Mexican folk dances and arts. In 1942 Sedillo and her husband, Robert Koeber, bought the Refugio Gomez House (1875), a registered historic property in the North Valley of Albuquerque, and preserved its traditional New Mexico Territorial features. Later she and her husband were active in the Democratic grass roots movement. She served on the New Mexico State Parks and Recreation Commission and the Albuquerque Open Space Advisory Committee. Sedillo died in 1989.


278 items (2 boxes) : 263 photographs, 13 works on paper, 2 posters

Language of Materials



The collection contains black and white photographs taken by Sedillo of New Mexico Hispanic wooden hand carved furniture, doors, windows and portales, textiles, tin craft, bultos and retablos. Included are other miscellaneous photographs, prints and art works.

Physical Location

B2. Shelved by Pictorial Number; Box 2 shelved in Big Box location.
Finding Aid of the Mela Sedillo Pictorial Collection, ca. 1926-1989
Edited Full Draft
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Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131