End Era The of an at the P&M Farm Museum

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Eventually, there comes a time when things must be let go. No matter how wonderful, precious or cherished — they must go.

That is the place the members of the Chavez family of Jarales found themselves last year.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: A small, red and black beaded purse was the beginning of it all. Manuela Chavez was given the purse in the 1940s with the promise that one day it would be in a museum. She and her husband, Pablo, kept that promise by opening the P&M Farm Museum in Jarales on Memorial Day, May 24, 1986.

“It was just time,” Roman Chavez said.

It was time to let go of the decades of collectibles, antiques and bric-a-brac his parents had scoured the country for to bring back to the P&M Farm Museum in southern Valencia County.

But last fall, two years after the death of his father, Pablo — the “P” in P&M — Roman and his brother, Bernie, and sister, Nora Chavez-Copeland, decided it was time to bring the museum to an end.

They contacted Bentley’s Auction and began making arrangements for an auction. Roman, his wife, Vee, and their three children spent the next eight months packing up the small items in the museum — housewares, kitchen implements, toys and other decorative pieces.

Those were shipped to Bentley’s 80,000 square-foot warehouse in Texas, to be auctioned via the Internet. What remained at the farm was still a mind-boggling collection of antique furniture, enameled wood cook stoves, vintage clothes and mannequins, lamps, farm equipment, antique cars, buggies and stagecoaches.

More than 2,000 lots were offered to the highest bidder this past Saturday.

The museum last had visitors in 2000, Roman said. At that time, groups of school children were the most common customers but, because of insurance requirements, the museum simply became too expensive to keep open.

“When Dad was still alive, they would clean and re-arrange the displays together, and he took care of the farm equipment,” Roman said.

Pablo died three years ago and Manuela — the “M” in P&M — is now 93. The farm equipment and cars were stored in massive barns on the property, but temperature changes still took their toll.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Roman Chavez stands next to an antique cotton gin, one of hundreds of farm implements sold at auction last weekend. The sale marked the end of his parents’ legacy ― the P&M Farm Museum.

“It was time to do something while everything still was usable, had some value,” Roman said.

Established in 1986, the farm museum was the passion of his parents, Pablo and Manuela. They lived in Los Angeles in the 1940s. A neighbor, an elderly woman only remembered as Ms. Rydall, heard of Manuela’s dream of one day opening a museum. So she gave Manuela a vintage red and black beaded purse, telling her, “Here is your first museum piece.”

As beautiful as the purse was, Manuela knew that one item was not enough for a museum. So she began holding on to what she already had — her great-great- and great-grandmother’s stove, butter churn, kitchen accessories, vintage dresses, shoes and purses.

After they settled in the farming community of Jarales, Manuela decided it was time to begin her museum. So on May 24, 1986, Memorial Day, the P&M Farm Museum opened for business.

The opening coincided with the dedication of the War Heroes Memorial in Jarales, just down the road. The museum had free admission that day, to honor Pablo, a World War II veteran, and all other veterans. After that, admission was $3 or whatever donation the visitor could make.

While many of the items on display were old family pieces, to truly capture the essence of days gone by, Manuela needed more.

When they went on vacation, Manuela convinced Pablo to take the back roads.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Posed throughout the P&M Farm Museum are mannequins showing off vintage clothes. Many of the clothes were worn by generations of the Chavez family.

“She could spot an antique store a mile away,” said her daughter-in-law, Vee.

The couple traveled from Canada to Nashville in an RV, searching for treasures. Every year a grandchild went with them. The adventure of sniffing out antiques was a highlight, but waiting at home to see what would emerge from the packed RV was also a source of excitement, said granddaughter Contessa.

Manuela would then take her time cleaning, disassembling, restoring and re-assembling her finds.

The items the family collected didn’t just sit around quietly behind glass. When the grandchildren played dress-up, it was usually taken as an opportunity to take pictures for promotional brochures.

And most years the authentic red-velvet upholstered sleigh, complete with a real stuffed deer pulling it, was part of the Belen Christmas parade. The grandchildren dressed up as elves and, as they got older, they were conscripted to play the roles of Santa and Mrs. Claus.

“We all really enjoyed it while we had it,” said Vee.

Carmela Carpio, Manuela’s granddaughter, remembers he and his sister, Contessa, and brother, Paul, along with their five cousins — all boys — were allowed to play in the museum.

They played dress-up in vintage clothes, beat on antique African drums and made playmates out of life-sized kachinas. Carmela said their grandmother wasn’t phased by eight small children rampaging through the antiques.

“If we broke something, she just told us she could fix it. Or she had two more,” Carmela remembered. “The only time she got mad was when we’d get into her makeup and use it as war paint.”

Now the final gavel has fallen and the bidding is done. It was a bitter-sweet experience, Roman said. With close to 400 people, a “remarkable crowd,” he said, most everything is now gone.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: One of 15 ever made, this 1979 Baron Roadster was one of 11 antique cars auctioned off last weekend as family members of the P&M Farm Museum let go of decades of collectibles and memories.

“It’s a sweet-sour thing that we don’t have to maintain things,” he said. “But we still got choked up seeing stuff loaded up. I think we made a lot of people happy. Things are going to good homes.”

And some of those homes are local, Roman said. Many of the antique cars were bought by locals and the 1959 Edsel is returning to the son of the man who sold it to the museum.

“Mom wanted everything go to one person, but … there was just so much,” Roman said.

The auction started at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 2. It didn’t end until 2 a.m. Sunday.

“There were parents here with their kids, talking about how they used to ride the mechanical horse or the train,” Roman said. “It was neat to see.”

Although most of the items from the museum were sold, there were a few things the family held onto, including the thing that started it all.

Contessa created a shadowbox featuring the very first museum item, the black and red beaded purse. Next to it is a picture of Manuela and Pablo, a bunch of keys and an old pocket watch.

The keys serve a dual purpose. They symbolize the history of the family name Chavez, derived from the Spanish “jueves” meaning keys.

And Contessa said, because the museum had so many rooms and doors, her grandmother always carried a hefty bunch of keys.

“The watch symbolizes the reason she started the museum,” Contessa said. “She thought people should see things from the past and see how they had changed over time. She didn’t want them to forget the past.”


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.