BELEN — Perky penguins, a charismatic chorus, a fabulous Ferris wheel and much more have called the Hub City home for the past five years, and have now found their way to a permanent display.
The city of Belen has been the caretaker of the Bugg Lights since May 2014 when Norman and Joyce Bugg, who for more than 40 years had the display at their Albuquerque home, donated it to the city. Since then, the display has been a Christmas tradition at the Belen Harvey House Museum.
The display has now been moved and will be on permanent display year round at a city-owned building, now called the Bugg Lights Museum, at 513 Becker Avenue. A grand-opening celebration will be held from 5-8 p.m., Friday, June 21.
“Because the display had to be put up and taken down every year (at the Belen Harvey House Museum), everything started to break,” said Belen City Councilor Ronnie Torres of the display. “Everything is hand-made and the display had been outside for the last couple of years, and both weather and vandals has gotten to it.”
Torres, who was the museum tech when the Bugg Lights first came to Belen, said he didn’t want Belen to be known as the city who destroyed the Bugg Lights. The councilor spoke with Mayor Jerah Cordova and received permission to renovate the space where the old Belen Area Food Pantry and the HUD offices once called home for the new museum.
He also said the city is working on developing an agreement for Belen Art League members to volunteer their time to manage the new museum.
Since January, Torres and fellow BAL members have been on a mission to save and restore the display. They’ve already spent more than 800 hours working at the site, painting and making sure the display is up and running.
“We did some modifications to the building so we would have our own handprints in here,” Torres said. “We made it work. We opened some walls, we painted, we did some minor electrical work and we put a fence in the back. We’re still not through, we still need an air conditioner.”
Torres and the members of BAL, which is next door to the new Bugg Lights Museum, were able to use nearly $9,000 of city funds made from selling a property on Aragon Road to pay for most of the costs of the renovation.
Along with renovating the building, Torres, and other BAL members, including CeCe Aragon, Patti Bucklew and Kelly Cross spent hours refurbishing the display, repainting the penguins, putting on new eyes, feet and hats and they sewed new clothes for some of the Peanuts characters.
“When we first got the display five years ago, we worked on it for months before we could put it up,” Torres said. “This time was the same thing, and we had to make new stuff for the display.”
When the museum opens on Friday, visitors will be able to walk through and see phase one of the display — everything that is on the inside. Phase two, Torres said, will be outside behind the building, where they’ve put up a fence.
The outside display will be available during the holiday season where the Alien display will be on exhibit, a snow village, luminarias, numerous blow-up decorations and Christmas trees.
“We’re also planning to have a big tree in the middle, much like in Old Town,” Aragon said. “That might be phase three …”
Over the years, many of the mechanical displays stopped working, but with a little bit of elbow grease and a little know how, the volunteers were able to make everything work again. The difference with this display is that every light in the display has been changed to LED and the mechanical displays, which are operated by remote control, won’t be turned on until someone visits the museum.
Artists Aragon and Bucklew remember working on the Bugg Lights when they first came to the Harvey House. They both said it’s an honor to do it again.
“We’ve worked on this every free moment we had,” Bucklew said. “It was a lot of work but a lot of fun.”
“I’m really excited because the refurbishing of all the figurines has been done for the last time because now they’re protected,” Aragon said. “We spent a lot of hours (working on it) when they first brought them down, and it was a sad thing to see the weather and movement destroy some of them.”
“We worked more now, because back then, we only had one or two months to work on them,” Bucklew said. “All of faces of the choral people had been destroyed, cracked and decayed. We had to sand them and redo them. That took more time than the first time.”
Aragon said the display means a lot to the Bugg family, the people of Belen as well as the younger generation who have enjoyed visiting the Bugg Lights year after year at the Harvey House. She said they need to see something that was handmade.
Cross, who wasn’t here when the Bugg Lights first came to Belen, was excited to see they were in the Hub City. He had grown up in Albuquerque and it was part of his family tradition to see them at the Bugg’s house.
“It’s an honor to be able to help restore this,” said Cross, who helped paint the mural of the Bugg’s home on the wall and a desert scene, worked on the carousal horses and made a rug for one of the displays.
“It’s a part of history and it represents people giving to a community,” he said. “You know it was a sacrifice of time, but it wasn’t a sacrifice emotionally. It was a gift to the community, and that makes people feel good.”
While most of the displays are original, the artists were able to put their own touch on them while they mended, sewed and painted. Bucklew said a lot of time and love were put into each one.
“There was a lot of detail,” Bucklew said. “I can’t do the fine detail, so I left that up to CeCe and others, but I can do the bigger things like fixing legs and putting clothes on.”
Bucklew too visited the display in Albuquerque for years before the family was forced by the city to take them down. She said she was excited to be able to meet the family when the display moved to Belen.
Unfortunately, Norman Bugg passed away last November. Torres said he heard of his passing just before he was going to call them to let them know of the new museum.
“He died two days before I was going to call him to tell him we were doing this,” Torres said. “The whole time we were doing this, I felt he was looking down on us, giving us mental direction. This was his thing. He was so proud of everything they made, and I’m sure he’d be thrilled.”
Joyce Bugg, and aunt Margie, who made a lot of the display, will be attending the grand-opening celebration.
Torres and the others hope the new Bugg Lights Museum will be an added attraction for tourists to the Hub City. Along with the display, visitors will also be able shop in the gift store, and build a penguin.
While there is no fee to visit the museum, Torres said they will gladly take donations. All money generated at the Bugg Lights Museum, he said, will go back into fixing, maintaining and growing the display.
The Bugg Lights Museum will be open from noon to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Look for expanded hours starting this fall.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.