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An evening with the Harvey Girls in Santa Fe

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Fred Harvey all but invented cultural tourism, inspiring travel on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway that brought new life to the American West. 

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From 4–7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17, the New Mexico History Museum joins with KNME-TV and La Fonda on the Plaza to celebrate that legacy with a fundraising event for the museum’s exhibitions and public programming funds.

“An Evening with the Harvey Girls,” begins with the premiere of Producer Katrina Parks’ new documentary, “The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound,” in the History Museum auditorium. 

Following the film, participants will enjoy an exclusive reception at La Fonda with Harvey House-inspired hors d’oeuvres and tours of newly renovated suites featuring the architectural and design legacies of Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. Special guests include Parks; former Harvey Girls; and Stephen Fried, author of a 2010 book about the Harvey empire, “Appetite for America.”

Tickets are $80; $100 for reserved seating, and are available at the museum’s shops or by calling 982-9543. Ticket holders will also receive a complimentary set of note cards featuring historical Harvey images.

“The Mezzanine Gallery outside our auditorium already focuses on Fred Harvey’s legacy, and we are preparing to expand and deepen that exhibition by adding new acquisitions and loans, including some of Mary Colter’s original furniture for La Fonda,” said Frances Levine, director of the History Museum. “Our goal is to engage visitors in the important roles played by Harvey and the railroads in how New Mexico became the destination it is today.”

Meredith Davidson, curator of 19th- and 20th-century Southwest collections, said some of the new acquisitions include original 1870s and 1880s datebooks documenting Fred Harvey’s trips to New Mexico; bracelets belonging to one of the first Indian Detour couriers, Amelia McFie; and one of the few remaining original Harvey Girl aprons. Among the iconic Colter-era items donated to the museum by La Fonda was a tin bedside lamp fashioned with flower petals as its shade and a base that evokes a heart.

“Of the items, it’s one of the smallest and perhaps the most precious,” Davidson said. “What is so sweet about it is the balance of functionality and Southwest charm. It’s one that the design staff at La Fonda recreated for the renovated rooms.”

Under the oversight of La Fonda’s General Manager, Jennifer Kimball, and architect Barbara Felix, La Fonda recently underwent a top-to-bottom renovation that included the hand-wrought work of New Mexico craftspeople from carpenters to ironworkers to glass blowers and more.

“Even our longtime guests are gushing over our thoughtful blend of Mary Colter charm with 21st-century amenities,” said Jennifer Kimball, chairman of the board of La Fonda on the Plaza. “Come see the premiere and then tour a few rooms and see for yourself.”

KNME has worked with the museum since its 2009 opening on a variety of projects, most notably the development of 15 history documentaries. The PBS-affiliated station will air Parks’ documentary later in November.

“We’re proud to continue a strong partnership with Fran Levine and the incredible staff at the New Mexico History Museum, to be part of her vision to have a `museum without walls’ and reach out to New Mexicans around the state,” said Franz Joachim, general manager and CEO of New Mexico PBS. “With the museum, we’ve built a history of collaborating on projects that educate and inspire. We are excited to help bring this story of the Harvey Girls to light.”

Starting in the 1880s, more than 100,000 young women decided to leave home and travel west to work as waitresses in Harvey Houses springing up along the rail line. Besides opening doors for working women of various cultures and races, the Harvey Company played key roles in nurturing the arts and crafts of Native Americans and helped develop regional design aesthetics in buildings like La Fonda, as well as those at the Grand Canyon. Opportunity Bound examines this important part of America’s history and tells the story of the Harvey Girls using the voices of those closest to them, including rare interviews with the few remaining Harvey Girls and Stephen Fried.

“The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound,” is Katrina Parks’ first full-length directorial debut. It premiered at the National Archives in June 2013 and will be broadcast by more than a dozen PBS stations. Her short film, “Wrappins,” which she also wrote and directed, won a SASA Award from the United Nations. She works as a television producer in Los Angeles and has produced and written programs for networks including Fox, A&E, Discovery Channel, History, and Lifetime. A University of New Mexico graduate, she is a member of the Producers Guild of America and Women in Film.

Her husband, Michael Parks, served as an executive producer of the film.