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Artesia’s king of the Masai tribe

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Ray Bartlett is seen here (center, in the chair) in 1960 being celebrated as honorary king of the Masai Tribe after killing a lion. The photo is part of the exhibit currently on display at the Artesia Historical Museum and Art Center. (Submitted Photo)

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The Artesia Historical Museum and Art Center presents, Out of Africa and into Artesia — the Ray and Helen Bartlett African animal trophy and Masai tribe Kenyan art collection.
How did Artesia native Ray Bartlett become the king of the fierce Masai tribe in Kenya in 1960?

According to the AHMAC director, Nancy Dunn, Bartlett and his father had moved to the small community in 1924.
“They are the family that built all our movie theaters here in town,” Dunn said. “The Land-Sun movie theater here in Artesia was actually one of theirs.”
The theater was opened in 1949 and the building is still a cinematic treasure.
Hollywood in the 50s was fascinated with the Dark Continent Africa and especially with Kenya. It is most likely that Bartlett became fascinated with the country as well while showing movies such as “The African Queen,” “King Solomon’s Mines” and especially “Mogambo,” a movie about a white hunter (played by Clark Gable) in Kenya.
“Ray Bartlett was a hunter,” Dunn said. “He loved to hunt. When he and his friends went on that big safari in 1960, the aim of it was to go hunt something new and different and see Africa as well.”
Bartlett returned to Artesia as a king, an honorary one that is. According to Dunn, Bartlett and his fellow hunters had joined Masai tribesmen while on safari. When he killed a lion, the Masai honored him with this title.
Bartlett brought back the hide and other trophies, including a Masai tribal shield and spear, jewelry and carvings of animals, which are part of the art collection given to the museum.
“It is a really nice rounded exhibit,” Dunn said.
It seems though that Bartlett’s wife was not very happy. “We have a copy of the newspaper article when the Bartletts first returned home,” Dunn said.
“It’s Ray and his wife Helen in front of this leopard skin and she is looking very unhappy. You can tell she wanted that skin to make a leopard coat out of it, but he wouldn’t let her have it. She’s mad.”
Many Artesians who are in their 50s or older remember the collection. The Bartletts opened their home to the schoolchildren. During the tours, Bartlett would talk about his adventures and show slides, reliving his safari that made him king of the Masai tribe.
Dunn and the museum are looking for local historic collections and items of historic value.

“It is sad, so many times now, you see people selling on eBay and make that $10 or $20,” Dunn said. “I don’t blame them, times are tough. But I wish they would think of us and the big picture to save it for future generations.
“Not everything is suitable for our collection, but we let people know. If they want it back, we can do that, or we can find a museum home for it,” Dunn said.
The staff of New Mexico’s museums are very close and communicate with each other.
“We had stuff turned over to us, like the Las Vegas Rough Riders Museum has done,” Dunn said. “They found stuff from Artesia in a file and turned that over to us.”
Dunn has also started a Facebook page with unique content. Every week, a photo is uploaded as part of “Faces of Artesia.”
“When we first started our museum’s Facebook page, I wanted to do something historical, obviously,” Dunn said. “There had already been so many Facebook pages and websites that have historic photos of the town. People have seen those. We did those for Artesia MainStreet for a long time.
“I wanted to do something a little different than more pictures of Main Street and buildings,” she said. “That’s when I thought, let’s do people and tell their story. That’s why we’re doing that.”
This idea has been well received in the community. Occasionally, a person’s photo is posted with no information. “We had photos identified for us by people in the community or people from really far away that just saw it or it was shared. We had some good luck,” Dunn said.
The next exhibit of the AHMAC will be in September, the annual Artesia Quilters Guild Show. Dates will be posted on its Facebook page.
AHMAC, located at 505 W. Richardson Ave., is open Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. On Saturdays, they are open from 1-5 p.m.
For more information, visit artesianm.gov/154/Museum-Art-Center, like its Facebook page or call 575-748-2390.
Vision Editor Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at vision@rdrnews.com.

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