House of Eternal Return: The Original Meow Wolf

A brief history of how Meow Wolf started and our original location in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The first chapter in the Meow Wolf story started in 2008 with a collective of creatives brought together by the universe to shake up the traditional art scene of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The group consisted of artists from various backgrounds with different talents, like design, acting, engineering, writing, painting, and sculpting. They made art for people like themselves, who didn’t fit in the fine arts world and didn’t want to experience art in a gallery or museum. The temporary exhibits, like The Due Return at Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe, grew to be so popular that a larger, permanent location became inevitable.

looking over a banister at a ship steering wheel, a piano against the opposite wall, and a formal couch and chair in the distance. Colorful twinkling lights hanging above
The Due Return, 2011. Photo by Kate Russell

House of Eternal Return is a scene straight out of science fiction: an old Victorian house inhabited by a family that has been sweeped into another dimension through a spiraling void, inside a former bowling alley.

Looking at the front of the House of Eternal Return, a Victorian-style house with plants on the front porch. There is yellow light coming from within the house.
Exterior View of House of Eternal Return, Photo by Kate Russell

Walking up to the house doesn’t feel otherworldly, like a very modern multiversal transit station or light projections on a 36-foot canyon behind an alternate reality grocery store. It feels like stopping by to say hi to a neighbor who doesn’t mind if you grab a drink from the fridge.

Inside a kitchen with green and white checkered floors, facing an open refrigerator door among white cabinets. The inside of the fridge is glowing, hinting that there are mysteries beyond.
Fridge Portal, Photo by Lindsey Kennedy

The familiarity of the ordinary rooms and objects encourage visitors to be curious about investigating the mystery of the missing Selig family who walked on the same floors and opened the same dryer.

Looking at a dryer with the door open. There’s a pink laundry basket on top and the inside of the dryer looks like a tiny galaxy of stars is swirling inside.
Dryer Portal, Photo by Kate Russell

“The House is so special, it’s got a scrappy-ness to it that makes it feel unlike any of the other locations in the best way possible. It’s full of such special important moments that only exist because we were still a small company and not ‘Meow Wolf The CorporationTM’.” - Anna Isenberg, Visitor Services Coordinator

glowing bones being installed in a rocky cave
Installing Joyce the Mastodon, Photo by Kate Russell

There’s no map, no pressure, just curiosity and imagination driving the path forward through a nexus of colorful, chaotic creations. This was the approach for creating the exhibition and the same can be said for exploring the hidden passageways and tunnels that lead to more magical rooms.

The artists who worked on the House of Eternal Return didn’t have a lot of money or experience with such a massive project. They learned how to solve problems as they came up and didn’t let imperfections hold up the process of sharing their creations.

One person holding a box full of materials, stepping over boxes on the floor. Another person is working on what looks like octopus legs, surrounded by boxes inside a warehouse.
Building the Forest Floor, Photo by Kate Russell
A hallway with cardboard colored walls and futuristic designs carved into it. There’s a doorway on the right leading to another room.
Portals Bermuda Under Construction, Photo by Kate Russell

They worked with what they had and managed to get financial backing from Game of Thrones creator, George R. R. Martin, to buy the bowling alley that became the very first Meow Wolf location.

People on the roof of a building with several archways in the front. There is a lift with three people standing on it. The Meow Wolf sign has just been installed on the former bowling alley.
Installing the Meow Wolf sign, Photo by Lindsey Kennedy
A large red robot is being pieced together by a crane in front of Meow Wolf Santa Fe. A bowling pin sign is in the distance.
Installing “Becoming Human” in the front of Meow Wolf Santa Fe, Photo by Kate Russell

“It doesn't look like it was made in a factory, and from the very moment the door opens to the exhibit, there's an all-consuming feeling of being transported into something completely different, magical, and important." - Shanny Schmidt, Santa Fe Social & Community Manager

Artist Sarah Bradley sitting with 20+ clay creatures that are now featured inside the Forest at House of Eternal Return.
Sarah Bradley and her Lowelies, Photo by Kate Russell

Meow Wolf was started because this particular group of artists didn’t want to fit into the fine arts world that had already been established in Santa Fe, so they found their own place and made their own rules, where no one had to question if they belong or not.

30+ people standing in the parking area in front of Meow Wolf.
Photo by Kate Russell

They wanted somewhere to experiment with their creativity and play around in. House of Eternal Return is supposed to feel “lived in”, so seeing a well-worn couch in a cozy tree nook is a simple reminder that things don’t have to be perfect or brand new to be appreciated.

“At the House, you can see that this is a true labor of love. It was built from nothing but found materials in our immediate environment. The House is representative of the “organic” aesthetic of Meow Wolf.” - Steven Brisk, Visitor Services Team Member

Baby Yaba’s Treehouse Under Construction, Photo by Kate Russell
Person in a yellow hardhat and gloves, putting something on the walls.
The Forest Under Construction, Photo by Lindsey Kennedy
Inside the Forest at Meow Wolf Santa Fe. There’s a couch in the trunk of a tree and lots of sparkling moss hanging from above.
Treehouse inside the Forest, Photo by Kennedy Cottrell

“In my opinion, there are very few cities that this would have been possible to create such a wildly unique exhibition as the House of Eternal Return, it was kind of a perfect storm of people, place, and time that supported, produced, and opened the portal that carried us to where we are today.” - Geoffrey Banzhof, Senior Fabricator

No two Meow Wolf exhibits or experiences are the same. Just because you have seen the House of Eternal Return doesn’t mean you’ve seen it all. Since your last visit, maybe someone uncovered a clue on a table that you didn’t see before…

Person with beard in a yellow hard hat sitting on a yellow bucket, painting a wall.
House of Eternal Return Under Construction, Photo by Lindsey Kennedy

Want more? Watch the Meow Wolf: Origin Story to get the full picture of where it all started or check out our Behind the Scenes playlist to get a closer look at some of the rooms inside the House of Eternal Return.

Photo by Kate Russell
Person with long curly blonde hair standing with arms on top of a piano inside a warehouse.
Photo by Kate Russell
Person with shoulder length blonde hair and a pink flower wearing a pink hard hat, adding red shingles to a roof inside Meow Wolf Santa Fe.
Photo by Kate Russell