Frances Zeller has been the museum coordinator for the Belen Harvey House Museum for five years. She lives in Los Chavez and enjoys dog showing, a sport of competition.
Q What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
A “I think about what I should have said, should have done and what could I do to change it. Or I think about my projects for the day. I rarely listen to music but instead NPR and mostly talk stations.
“If I am traveling, I listen to audio books. My philosophy is that I can learn something and hear what someone else has to say then it gives me a different perspective. I enjoy Terry Gross’ ‘Fresh Air’ on my way to work.”
Q What’s a myth about your profession you’d like to bust?
A “Most people think we just sit around and wait for people to show up. It’s not that simple, but if you felt like that when arriving at the museum then we did our job correctly. We actually work hard to make the museum visitor feel like we only had one thing to do and it was to enhance their visit.
“Before a guest arrives, there is so much paper work, promotional, planning and behind-the-scenes computer work to do before they enter the front door. If they found the museum, it was because of the work that was done before.”
Q What were you like in high school?
A “A mess! I had a difficult time in high school as I never fit in, didn’t feel comfortable in most situations and always seemed to be searching. I desperately wanted to be like everyone else but it never seemed to work out.
“One summer, my grandmother sent me to a private art school and suddenly the days became busy and I immersed myself in everything they were teaching. I was less worried about other people and what they thought and realized I was finally good at something.”
Q What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
A “I have a long list of things like, ‘Does it need to be said and does it need to be said now?’ ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?’
“But for today, I’ll say ‘Pick and choose your battles.’ I’ve heard this from more than one person and sadly I can’t remember who actually said it first. But if that many people said it to me then I must have really needed to hear it.
“I think we are all guilty of wanting things a certain way or we just want things our own way, but the world doesn’t work like that. Everything in life is a compromise and if you want any relationship to work, you need to meet people half way.”
Q What did you want to be when you grew up?
A “Funny you should ask. When I was a young child, I was fascinated with the circus. I really wanted to run away and thought that would be a perfect place for me. They had all the exotic animals, beautiful clothes, glamour, cotton candy, music and those tiny house trailers. As a child, the circus acts seemed like a fantasy and a great escape from reality.”
A “I can’t think of anyone famous who has inspired me, but there are many people in my everyday life who have inspired me. Those are the people who set a good example, who are honest, who give genuinely, who make time to be of service, who donate to good causes and give to their community.
“I am privileged to work with the Harvey House volunteers and over the years have learned so much from each one of them. The level of commitment and dedication from these individuals teaches me something new every day. And while I’m not in a position to volunteer just yet, I will one day.”
Q If you could work any other job for one day, what would it be and why?
A “Window designer for Bergdorf Goodman in New York City. I’d certainly would want more than a day though. I simply love design. I love beautiful things. I love color! All of it makes the world a more tolerable place. Most people like looking at something beautiful, especially if you didn’t have to create it. All you have to do is show up and enjoy it.”
Q What do you do in your free time?
A “I have no free time! When I am not working, I am usually at home taking care of and enjoying my collection of dogs. Anyone who knows me knows I show and raise purebred dogs (Salukis hounds.) My entire life pretty much revolves around the dogs.
“In addition to the dogs, I have managed to make a successful sewing and textile business. I have three giant factory sewing machines and fabric from around the world. In my spare time, I am mostly making handbags, clothing and designer dog coats. What started as a hobby has really grown into a neat little business.”
Q What’s something about you most people don’t know?
A “I love opera! At least the costumes and stage sets. I would like to live in France when, and if, I retire. I want to go to school to learn how to make shoes.”
Q What three books would you to take to a deserted island?
A “I only listen to recorded books on CD or audio for several reasons, and the first being that I fall asleep as soon as I try reading anything. Maybe getting up naturally at 5 a.m. has something to do with it? I do enjoy listening to audio books while I am sewing, and if narrated by the author, that’s even better!
“The first book is ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This book helped me to understand someone’s life other than my own. I believe we form most of our opinions of people by our own life experiences. It’s not a fair way to make opinions and there are more and better ways to understand people.
“‘Nickeled and Dimed’ by Barbara Ehenreich. This book really helps you understand what it is like to work hard at a job and not be able to get by in this country. The author actually went undercover, wore the uniform and worked those waitress jobs and then wrote about what life is like and how difficult it can be.
“‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ by Mya Angelou. I simply loved this book.”
All three of these books I have listened to or read, and I also have the hard copies in my book collection.”
Q You find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
A “If the ticket rightfully belonged to someone else, then I would indeed be honest. Hopefully, they would share some of it, but if the winnings were all mine, then I am sad to say (and I hope Kathy isn’t reading this) but I would give my notice. Then I would buy a huge piece of property in Jarales, have it fenced, build a kennel, art studio and live there with my doggos.”
Q Who is your best friend and why?
A “I honestly have several best friends, but I have one friend who lives close by and I can trust her with any secret. I can trust her to watch my dogs and we can talk for hours. If I need advice, she’s always honest and objective. She does reads the News-Bulletin and she will know I am referring to her. Love you, GURL!”
Q What’s your favorite song to sing when you’re alone?
A “I never sing when I am alone but I am always talking to the dogs.”
Q Where is your happy place, and why?
A “Home, with my dogs and in my sewing studio. I am fortunate to have traveled to Europe and it was beautiful. I have lived in many different states in the U.S. and I feel like being home and with my saluki hounds is my happiest place. I’ve seen enough and I’m not interested in any travel. The pandemic and all this staying home isn’t a problem for me — not at all.”
Q Have you had a life-changing experience that led you to where you are today?
A “Yes. I’ve had many but what comes to mind today is when I moved to Los Chavez. I was married for 10 years and when I realized I had to make a change, I moved to this area and started working at Lowe’s grocery store. The pay wasn’t great but I was determined I would make it on my own and be OK.
“What I learned was sometimes you have to give up everything to have everything, and that material possessions don’t bring genuine happiness but being self-sufficient, creative, to be of service and working a job that you enjoy are the things that bring true happiness.
“Since then, I have created a very happy and yet a simple life for myself. That was one of the most meaningful life changing experiences for me.”
Q What teacher had the greatest impact on you?
A “In junior high school, I had an art teacher who opened my mind to all different types of art. He said to study all types of art and not just the things I was interested in. He was always hard on me and held me to a different standard.
“At the time, I wasn’t sure that I even liked him. A few years after, I saw him downtown at a sort of grungy art festival with hipsters and we talked for a bit. I realized that the person who was teaching high school was not the person I thought I knew.”
Q What is your favorite movie scene and why?
A “‘Out of Africa’ when Karen Blixen (played by Meryl Streep) flies over Africa in an open-air plane with her lover, Denys Finch Hatton (played by Robert Redford). In the scene, you see thousands of flamingo, water buffalo and beautiful scenery. It was so inspiring that I did read the book written by Isak Dinesen.”
Q If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be and why?
A “Dr. Temple Grandin. She’s someone I really admire and someone I have a lot in common with. We are both visual thinkers. She is an advocate for the humane treatment of animals, specializing in the humane treatment of livestock slaughter. She has written around a dozen books and teaches at Colorado State University.”
Q What are you most proud of?
A “These days, I am pretty proud of the work I have done for the museum. In spite of so many changes, not always being everyone’s favorite person and in the hard times of diversity and change, I feel like I have stuck it out. I have worked through problems and kept the focus and mission of what we are all trying to accomplish. That comes with personal maturity and learning the art of slow breathing, listening to friends and the process of patience and good thought.
“In the past five years, the museum has grown and become more accessible in spite of the pandemic. With the website, online exhibits and the process of how we are doing things makes the museum so much better.
“We have a good director with Kathy Pickering, and I have learned a lot from her leadership. Change isn’t always easy but it’s easier if we embrace it.
“What an amazing thing it is to have a job where you get to have fun and make a difference with something that really matters. I am pretty proud of the accomplishments at the Belen Harvey House Museum — maybe proud and passionate!”
Q How would you like to be remembered?
A “I think we’d all like to be remembered as some sort of saint but I don’t think I’ve done anything that great so far. Guess I’m going to need more time.
“I remember back in the ’80s when the quote, ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’ It was popular and how people were justifying greed and over-consumption to make it feel OK. While I enjoy nice things and like to be comfortable, it is important to be remembered for what you shared and what you gave — what you taught others and for genuine kindness.
“To be the kind of person my dogs think I am is always a good goal to aim for. I would also like to be remembered for my art work and what I put into it, and how others have enjoyed the things I have made and how special I wanted it to be for each recipient.”