Take a look at a marvelous collection

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By Kirsten Laskey

The Alexander Girard collection at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe is not filled with glittery gems or shiny gold pieces that once belonged to royalty. No, this is a different type of collection.

The collection includes 52 shadow boxes displaying amulets and ex-votos gathered from 22 countries. These pieces can be made out of anything from silver and other precious metals to tin. Additionally, these religious items did not belong to the fabulously wealthy or powerful, but were used by everyday people, said Doris Francis, a research associate at the Museum of International Folk Art.

These are “things you and I might use,” she said.

According to a Mesa Public Library press release, amulets are objects of supranormal potency that safeguard the wearer during critical periods of life. Additionally, ex-votos are small metal objects often in the shape of human figures or parts of the body and are given to supernatural beings in thanks for favors that have been awarded.

Therefore, the collection is a “document of the lives and religious beliefs that are not always preserved,” Francis said.

Girard’s collection isn’t the only thing that is significant. Francis said Girard himself is important in his own right. He was a pivotal designer, colorist and folk art collector.

He designed everything from textiles to museum exhibits, as well as served as an avid collector.

In fact, Francis said Girard gave more than 106,000 items to the Museum of International Folk Art.

“It’s a very rich collection,” she said, “because there are so many examples.”

She explained Girard “saw strength in multiples” and his collection reflects that belief.

Francis will share Girard’s extensive collection as well as his life to Los Alamos during the upcoming free Authors Speak lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mesa Public Library.

Francis’ talk will cover the research for the book, “Faith and Transformation: Votive Offerings and Amulets from the Alexander Girard Collection,” which she edited.

Slides of the collection will be shown but if people want a first-hand experience with the collection, Francis invites the community to meet her at 2 p.m. Dec. 21 at the museum for a guided tour through the Girard exhibit and the famous Girard Wing.

Francis has worked as a research associate at the museum for six years. An anthropologist, Francis has her Ph.D. and before moving to Santa Fe, she lived in England to study horticulture at the Royal Botanic Garden. Francis combined this training to study London cemeteries and how people from different religious faiths use gardening and grave tending as rituals of memory.

Through her upcoming presentation at the library, Francis said she hopes to “help people discover more about Alexander Girard and his increasing importance as a colorist, designer and folk art collector.”