How does an artist capture the essence of the American West? What image says it best? Is it an immense peak of the Rocky Mountains or a Native American village scene? Is it a buffalo-filled plain or multi-hued canyon? The American West is all of these things, and yet, so much more. How best to express it?  Where would you start? Artists have long grappled with these questions and the diversity of their works highlights the depth of artistry on this subject.

From this approach, viewing works on paper can give us a greater dimension, an almost kaleidoscopic panorama, of the American West. We can view it from multiple perspectives, the different vantage points, through time and media. It allows us the chance to see the intimate hand of the artist in one-of-a-kind drawings, watercolors, and mixed media, as well as the superb craftsmanship of the printers' techniques. Considering art of the American West, works on paper offer the full gamut: from the earliest, intrepid explorer artists and those who followed throughout the nineteenth century, to those who established the Taos and Santa Fe schools, to modern times and the contemporary genre.   

Before 1830, there was no such thing as "art of the American West." But after artists George Catlin (1832) and Karl Bodmer (1833-34) famously ventured along the Missouri River, exploring and depicting scenes in that vast, largely unknown territory, other artists were likewise inspired. Catlin and Bodmer and those who followed shortly afterward, such as John Mix Stanley and Carl Wimar, are known today as the explorer artists. Each of them created unique and significant first-hand accounts of their explorations. Their drawings and watercolor paintings evoke the freshness of the subject, while the later-made prints--hand-colored lithographs, hand-colored engravings, and chromolithographs--show a refinement of their creations. These works on paper are extremely rare, each a precious document of a moment long-gone in American history.

Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran accompanied government-led expeditions into the western territory, Moran more than once. The subsequent paintings that resulted from their travels caused considerable sensation in the East and even the establishment of the nation's first national park at Yellowstone, based on Moran's paintings of that region. CONTINUED: Both of these artists turned to the print method of chromolithography to allow further dissemination of their fine-art images. Thomas Moran was especially proud of the work Louis Prang and Company, Boston, rendered to reproduce his paintings of the Yellowstone region for a portfolio of fifteen chromolithographs, published in 1876. Thomas's brother, Peter Moran, visited New Mexico during the 1870s and created a body of work that included a variety of drawings and prints, such as etchings (in black and white), but also hand-colored photogravures and hand-colored lithographs.

The West provided rich subject matter for artists, many of whom were as adept with water-based paints, such as watercolor and gouache, as they were with oils. The quick-drying nature of water-based paints and the relative ease of carrying supplies (including paper, instead of bulky stretched canvas) gave them a certain appeal for use in the field. Four notable artists who spent considerable time in the West were Henry Farny, Frederic Remington, Thomas Hill, and later, Maynard Dixon. Each made prolific use of watercolors and gouache on paper to render their subjects with charming authenticity.

The American Southwest held particular allure for artists after the turn of the 20th century. The landscape and cultural milieu around Taos and Santa Fe provided plentiful subject matter for oil painting, but also fostered an extraordinary array of other types of media, namely, works on paper. Many members of the Taos Society of Artists were well-respected printers. Joseph Henry Sharp, especially, experimented with a broad range of print work that included etchings, but also monoprints that allowed the artist room for variations on his subject. Oscar Berninghaus kept his draftsmanship fresh with charming one-of-a-kind drawings in ink, watercolor and pastel, in addition to a series of colorful single-edition monotype prints. E. Martin Hennings produced a number of drawings, some of which became the basis for limited-edition lithographs, often depicting quiet scenes of daily life of the Taos Pueblo people.

Printmaking was an endeavor favored by many artists working in New Mexico. Some savored the challenges of old techniques to depict their subjects with vivid and dramatic flair. For others, printmaking allowed an expressive outlet that was adaptable to permutation. Gene Kloss and Gustave Baumann were the premier printmakers for whom the old techniques served their creativity with astounding variety. Though Kloss is best known for her masterly black and white prints from etching, drypoint, and aquatint techniques, she also produced watercolor paintings on paper, showing the New Mexico landscape in its full-range of seasonal colors. Baumann was already a master of the color woodblock print when he settled in Santa Fe in 1918. His prints, charming scenes with immediate appeal, belie the labor-intensive process of carving one woodblock for each color in the image and printing each, successively, in perfect registration.
Throughout the century, printmaking appealed to a wide variety of artists, some of whom made highly original contemporary images. Two exemplars of this are T. C. Cannon, the great Native American artist, and Harold Joe Waldrum. Cannon, a groundbreaking artist, and a graduate of IAIA (Santa Fe's Institute of American Indian Arts) was featured in a two-man Smithsonian exhibit (with Fritz Scholder, his former teacher at IAIA) while still in his mid-twenties. He adapted some of his powerful images, often with an element of social commentary, into color woodblock prints. Waldrum abstracted forms from New Mexico's traditional architecture, and presented his colorfully bold compositions in paintings, as well as in varied linocut and aquatint prints.

Spanning a wide expanse of time and place, "The American West: On Paper" serves as both an extraordinary historical document and creative achievement. To view all the works in the accompanying online exhibit, please go to "The American West: On Paper" exhibit page.

Stacia Lewandowski

Exhibits Nationwide - October 2016

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
"Stuart Davis: In Full Swing"
Coming: November 20 - March 5, 2017

Having opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, "Stuart Davis: In Full Swing" will move to the National Gallery of Art. This is a major retrospective of an important American artist who had visited Santa Fe and its surrounding region in 1923. At the time, he was a young artist influenced by what he saw at the Armory Show in 1913, an exhibit that brought cutting-edge contemporary works to New York and Chicago. That is the path that Davis chose for his own work in a career that spanned some 50 years of the twentieth century. "In Full Swing" features approximately 100 works of art representative of the artist at the height of his creative powers.

Barbara Haskell, the exhibit curator, remarked about Davis: "By merging the bold, hard-edged style of advertising with the conventions of avant-garde painting, he created an art endowed with the vitality and dynamic rhythms that he saw as uniquely modern and American. In the process, Davis achieved a rare synthesis: an art that is resolutely abstract yet at the same time exudes the spirit of popular culture."

The exhibit will also be displayed at the De Young Museum in San Francisco (April 8 -  August 6, 2017) and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, (Sept. 16, 2017 - Jan. 8, 2018).

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
"William Merritt Chase"
Oct. 9, 2016 - Jan. 16, 2017

A traveling exhibit co-organized by Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, Terra Foundation, and the Phillips Collection of Washington, D.C., "William Merritt Chase" is the first major exhibit in over thirty years to focus on the artist and his contribution to American art. Comprising important examples of some of Chase's (1849–1916) finest works in oil and pastel, the exhibit showcases eighty works from public and private collections. The artist held a preeminent place in American cultural life as an exponent of Impressionism and as an influential teacher to many important 20th-century American artists, including George Bellows and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Following this exhibit, the paintings will travel to Italy: Fondazione Musei Civici Venezia (Venice), February 10 - May 28, 2017.

An exhibition catalogue, "William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master," features essays by prominent scholars of American art. Published by Yale University Press, in association with the Phillips Collection.


"Making Modern"

The museum's Art of the Americas Wing has dedicated five of its gallery spaces to showcase art of the 20th century. It is described as an attempt to illustrate "the evolution of CONTINUED: Modern art in North America. Each gallery represents a moment—from Mexico City to New York to Boston." The curators have incorporated sources of inspiration and ideas from the social milieu in which each artist worked. Pulled from the museum's own collection as well as pieces on loan, the exhibit hopes to present a fresh perspective on the work of some of the greatest artists of the past century.  

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Norman, OK
"Picturing Indian Territory, 1834-1907"
Opens October 7 - December 30, 2016

"Picturing Indian Territory" will survey the visual history of Oklahoma, from the earliest depictions by the explorer artists to later illustrators, artists, and even journalists. Moving chronologically, the exhibit will include paintings by notable artists such as George Catlin, John Mix Stanley, and Frederic Remington; drawings by James Wells Champney and Balduin Mollhausen, two artists who helped explore Indian Territory; and important ephemera from the nineteenth century that helped to provide the American public with a pictorial view of Native American life and the Oklahoma Territories.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a book authored by exhibition curators Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West; James Peck, director of the Old Jail Art Center; and Mark White, the Wylodean and Bill Saxon Director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. Published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Tacoma Art Museum
"Artists Drawn to the West"
Closing in 2017

This is a wide-ranging exhibit that spans art from the Hudson River School and onward through 20th-century Modernism. With a focus on trends and movements that influenced artists and public perception, the exhibit attempts to show how these Western scenes connect with other contemporaneous movements in American and European art.


"(Re)Presenting Native Americans"
Closing Oct. 30, 2016

This exhibit poses a fundamental question to the viewer: What is 'American identity'? Focusing on images of Native Americans created from the late 1800s to the present day, the exhibit explores how the Indigenous cultures of North America have been portrayed through time, by artists from different eras and backgrounds.

Local Exhibits - October 2016


Ninth Annual Historic Canyon Road Paint & Sculpt Out
Friday & Saturday, October 14 & 15, 2016

Friday evening features open galleries, receptions and previews, while the shops and restaurants will remain open late.

Saturday is a full day of art in the open-air along Canyon Road. Artists will be outdoors with their easels and other essential tools of their trades, working and demonstrating their techniques. The event includes painters, sculptors, fiber artists, potters, and jewelry makers, as well as various musical performances. Both days are free and open to the public.

The O'Keeffe Museum

The museum is showcasing early works by Georgia O'Keeffe in three installations, each closing October 30, 2016:

"Abstract Nature"

During the academic year of 1915-1916, Georgia O'Keeffe taught art at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, At this time, she explored painting in an altogether new way, using the individual components of composition--line, shape, color, and contrast--as capable of vivid expression in and of themselves. The museum calls these works "some of the world’s first pure abstractions." This did not steer O'Keeffe away from her perception of the beauty and spiritual power of the natural world. Instead, she continued to use the landscape, flowers, and trees as the basis for many of her abstracted compositions. Alfred Stieglitz exhibited O'Keeffe's abstractions in New York for the first time in 1916 at his avant-garde gallery, called, “291.”

"Georgia O'Keeffe's Far Wide Texas"

From 1916 to 1918, Georgia O'Keeffe lived in Canyon, Texas, while teaching at West Texas State Normal College, now West Texas A & M University. This exhibit explores this period in her life as a time "of radical innovation," when O'Keeffe turned the direction of her art fully toward abstraction. Twenty-eight of the fifty-one watercolors she created in Canyon are presented. The watercolors and drawings O'Keeffe created during that period were also exhibited at Stieglitz's 291 gallery.

"My New Yorks"

This installation includes works by O'Keeffe in the years following her move to New York in 1918. At this time, now in a close relationship with Alfred Stieglitz, she began to split the year between New York City and the Stieglitz family compound at Lake George, in upstate New York. They were married in 1924. For her city work, O'Keeffe focused much attention on the urban landscape and skyscrapers, in particular, as an American symbol of modernity. While in Lake George, she focused on the natural world around her. This exhibit contrasts both of these themes.

New Mexico Museum of Art
"Southwestern Sampler"

This is an ongoing and changing exhibit of work from the collection of Santa Fe's New Mexico Museum of Art. Highlighting the breadth of work created by artists working in the state since the museum's founding in 1917, the exhibit always includes works by the Taos Society Artists, Santa Fe Art Colony members, and the modernists.


Albuquerque Museum
"Taos Moderns: Works on Paper"
Sept. 24, 2016 - Mar. 19, 2017

"Taos Moderns: Works on Paper" is a showcase for works by some of the best known Modernists working in New Mexico during the last century. Highlighting the different concerns of various artists in their approach to Modernism, the exhibit sets out to demonstrate the ways such issues were addressed. Whether it's the deconstructionist ideas of cubism, metaphysics, social issues, or Native American arts, a wide array of artists and media are on display. The exhibit curator explains: "Modernism was a cultural movement that triumphed by the middle of the last century. It prioritized personal experience, social consciousness, awareness of essential impulses, and novelty of form and expression." Noted artists include Andrew Dasburg, Kenneth Adams, Thomas Benrimo, Fred Kabotie, and photographer Laura Gilpin.


Roswell Museum and Art Center
"Beyond American Indian Modernism"
Closing October 18, 2016

If you are in the Roswell area, it would make a worthwhile visit to stop at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. They are currently featuring a small exhibit of modern and contemporary works by highly regarded Native American artists. Comprising works from their own collection, artists featured include Fritz Scholder, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and R.C. Gorman, among others. The exhibit highlights the many paths of expression in contemporary Native American art.


by Stacia Lewandowski

By the early 1920s, Santa Fe and Taos were already home to a wide variety of well-established and respected artists. The Taos Society of Artists, founded in 1915, was actively exhibiting their new works in Santa Fe's art museum in addition to galleries and museums in other cities around the country. The Santa Fe Art Colony, a more loosely formed group of resident artists, regularly shared museum exhibits with their Taos counterparts. At the same time they also sought opportunities to expand their reach to the wider American public.

When these artists exhibited outside of New Mexico, they drew the attention of audiences for their distinctive artwork. Showing scenes of domestic Pueblo life, rural Hispanic villages, and the rugged New Mexico landscape, the works were representative of a burgeoning new genre, unique to American art. It was unmistakably Southwestern. Undoubtedly, these exhibits helped build interest in the art of the Southwest. They became a catalyst, drawing other artists to explore the region and challenge their own artistic aspirations. But, considering the unusually large number of artists who visited and worked in New Mexico during the first half of the twentieth century, it is important to remember another component to this story, vital to the creation of Southwestern art at this time.

The Museum of New Mexico's Art Gallery--today's New Mexico Museum of Art--was inaugurated in November of 1917. From the beginning, the museum promised to operate with an "open door" policy toward artists. The mission statement that the museum published made a very unusual pledge that acted as an enticement, offering any serious artist working in New Mexico the right to exhibit their work in this state-run museum. As a result, this policy became a highly motivating factor in encouraging artists to work in the Southwest.

In recognition of this unique circumstance, we have assembled a broad range of outstanding artworks created in New Mexico to display in our online exhibition, "Under the Radar."

As time went on, Santa Feans couldn't help but notice the influx of artists. It became a common topic of discussion. In 1934, Santa Fe author, Ruth Laughlin, posed some questions to artists and revealed their answers in "The Santa Fe New Mexican":

CONTINUED:  "Why do we come to Santa Fe? What is the fascination?" An unnamed eastern artist was quoted as saying: "'I am hypnotized with what I've heard of Santa Fe, of its charm, picturesqueness, atmosphere. What's it all about? . . . I decide that it isn't what I've heard of Santa Fe. It's something in the place itself. I don't know what it is, but it's here.'" And in September, 1935, the museum's "El Palacio" magazine included an article about the Fiesta exhibit, calling it: "Southwestern Artists Annual Show." In this exhibit, it is remarkable to see the great number of names--well over one hundred artists--on the roster. Peppered throughout are all the majors, including Blumenschein, Sharp, Dunton, Cassidy, and Sloan. Yet the list, as a whole, is a dramatic snapshot of the great number of artists working to produce art in the Southwest at that time.

As a result of such flowering efforts, comprising both established and aspiring artists, New Mexico became well known as an art center. The state's fame rested not only on its many art colonies, but also on its itinerant artists in search of inspiring subjects. Today we think of ourselves as a mobile population, but traveling has been a common thread in the careers of numerous artists throughout history. From 1920 onward, Santa Fe and Taos have witnessed the regularly revolving movement of artists working, visiting, sharing ideas, and exhibiting in the museum.

The remarkable breadth of works in our "Under the Radar" online exhibit is a testament to this fertile period of time in New Mexico.


Catlin & Bodmer: Into the West

by Stacia Lewandowski

It's difficult to imagine anyone who had a greater influence on the image making of the early American West than artists George Catlin and Karl Bodmer. And because they were among the first artists to journey into the West, the accounts of their experiences are the stuff of true adventure. Interestingly, in a remarkable coincidence of history, the two artists found themselves working in the same region, on many of the same subjects, at almost the same time.

By the early 1830s, the West was still a new vast territory for the United States, the majority of it still unexplored. What was known was detailed in descriptive language, primarily as notes from government explorations or kept in the keen memories of the fur traders who stored huge amounts of information in their heads. Up to that point, only one government-sponsored expedition had included artists. In 1820, an expedition led by Major Stephen H. Long brought along Titian Peale and Samuel Seymour, who mainly focused on depictions of the plants, animals, and landscapes they encountered.

Therefore, when two artists arrived in Saint Louis only one year apart--between 1832 and 1833--it made for a striking confluence of events. Each held the surprising expectation to follow the perilous journey of the fur trappers, going by boat up the Missouri River in order to stop at various points along the way to paint the Native American people, the villages, village life and customs, as well as the surrounding landscapes in which they thrived.

George Catlin was the first to arrive. A young artist working in Philadelphia, Catlin aspired to become the artist of the Native American people living west of the Mississippi River. Catlin wrote: "The history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations are themes worthy the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life, shall prevent me from visiting their country, and of becoming their historian." By the 1830s, it was obvious to him that the Native cultures living east of the river had already lost much of their original pre-contact identity.

CONTINUED: Over the course of several years Catlin made many trips into the West, after which he developed his "Indian Gallery" that was exhibited with much fanfare in the U.S. and Europe. In his book, "North American Indians: Being Letters and Notes on Their Manners, Customs, and Conditions, Written During Eight Years' Travel Amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America 1832-1839" Catlin documented the work he accomplished, writing that he visited forty-eight tribes, most of which spoke different languages, and brought home over three hundred portraits in oil and two hundred other oil paintings depicting views of the villages, ceremonies, dances, games, buffalo hunting, and landscapes. Catlin is credited with being among the first artists to ever depict the all-important buffalo hunt, and is surely among the first artists to witness such a scene on horseback with pencil and sketchbook in hand.

At the age of twenty-three, in 1833, the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer accompanied Alexander Phillip Maximilian, the Prince of Wied-Neuwied, Germany, on a journey into the pristine wilds of the American West. Maximilian was a respected naturalist who wanted to study the native peoples of North America. Bodmer was hired to create the images to illustrate the Prince's research. Bodmer proved to be a marvelous watercolorist, capable of rendering not only a scene or a physical likeness accurately, but also of conveying tremendous aesthetic sensitivity.

During their thirteen-month journey along the Missouri River, Bodmer and Maximilian visited many Native American villages and trappers' forts, experiencing encounters with some of the same people who had met with Catlin the year before. Fortunately, the two artists did not duplicate much of the same subject matter. Catlin never went into the Blackfoot country and only visited the Mandan in their summer villages (they moved seasonally); Bodmer visited during the winter months. At Fort McKenzie in Blackfoot country near the Marias River, Bodmer and the Prince witnessed a fierce battle between members of the Piegan tribe, who were encamped outside the fort, and about 600 Assiniboine and Cree, who suddenly swarmed on horseback. Maximilian reported that when they looked out from their perch on a platform, the entire vista of prairie was filled with the chaos and calamity of fighting on horseback and on foot. The battle lasted all day. Bodmer had plenty of time to make depictions of the scene.

Following the expedition, Maximilian's journal, "Travels in the Interior of North America," was published in German, French and English editions. Bodmer's watercolor paintings that illustrate the text were made into reproducible images as aquatint engravings. Today much of the Maximilian-Bodmer materials survive and are held in the collection of the Joslyn Art Museum, in Omaha, Nebraska.

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