THE TAOS SOCIETY OF ARTISTS AT 100, Part 2; July 2015

The Taos Society of Artists Turns 100, Part 2

"Theirs is painting of distinctive character, reflecting a vital and significant phase of American art."

When the Taos Society of Artists formally joined together in July of 1915, the group comprised six men: Joseph H. Sharp, Ernest L. Blumenschein, Bert G. Phillips, Oscar E. Berninghaus, Eanger I. Couse, and W. H. "Buck" Dunton.

All were established artists already working in Taos and frequent exhibitors in the state museum in Santa Fe. But they were also ambitious, with a strongly held belief in themselves and in the art they were creating. By attaching a name to the group and promoting their art nationally on exhibition circuits, they hoped to enhance their professional stature and sales. In addition, they were ardently enthusiastic about Taos as a uniquely inspirational environment for the creation of American art, and their exhibitions proved it to the nation.

Always attentive to the impression their shows were making on the critics and public, the founders decided that they should allow additional artists to participate in their exhibitions. When granted membership, each new artist would be given a specific designation. In 1917, Walter Ufer and Victor Higgins were elected as active members (full status), along with Julius Rolshoven, as an associate member. The venerable Robert Henri, the New York and occasional Santa Fe artist, was elected as an associate member in 1918.

The TSA had been operating for three years before they created a formal mission statement. In 1918, they wrote a constitution with a series of by-laws. Beyond the scope of their artistic goals, article three shows that they maintained a simultaneous desire to imprint their influence on the wider region. They wrote: "To promote, maintain and preserve high standards of artistic excellence in painting, and to encourage sculpture, architecture, applied arts, music, literature, ethnology and archaeology solely as it pertains to New Mexico and the States adjoining."

In addition to their own promotion, it is clear that the members also hoped to have a lasting and positive effect on their adopted home while they showcased the people and beauty of the region to the rest of the nation.

As their circuit of tours progressed, members of the Society discussed the ample attention their exhibits received in newspapers around the country. The venues were usually museums or galleries in larger cities, and the artists were pleased with the amount of publicity that was generated about their shows. An article, written in 1920 by Rose Henderson, a New York Times art critic, stresses both the quality of the artists' paintings and the importance of Taos as the center for their work:

CONTiNUED:  The "picturesque town of Taos has long been the home of sincere and talented men whose work has found a market all over the world. . . Representative works from each member of the Society are included in a collection which goes the rounds of the large cities of this country every winter. A survey of the men in the field convinces one that theirs is painting of distinctive character, reflecting a vital and significant phase of American art."1

The TSA continually aspired to make their exhibitions of high quality and hoped to stave off the possible sense of staleness that could arise from year-to-year exhibits. This may be one of the reasons they sought to increase their membership. In 1920, they invited three artists associated with Santa Fe to exhibit with them. They were B.J.O. Nordfeldt, along with John Sloan and Randall Davey, two friends who had travelled together from New York to Santa Fe for the first time just the year before. Gustave Baumann and Birger Sandzen were voted into the group the following year. These artists were granted associate membership, which meant that they could show a limited number of works in the annual circuit exhibits, and would not have a vote or responsibilities concerning any of the organizational work.

As numbers increased, so did the workload of organizing the exhibits. As time went on, the complaints of the active members of the Taos Society steadily rose, due to personality conflicts, but also due to the administrative work that was involved in arranging exhibits and correspondence throughout a year's term. Haggling about officers' duties began to take a toll on the group. Dunton left the TSA in 1922, and, in 1923, Sharp refused to take the president's position. Due to a new by-law written that year, Blumenschein was expected to take on the secretary's role. When he refused, the language of the by-law forced his resignation from the group. He accepted.

Despite such drawbacks, the TSA continued onward and soon elected three new active members: Catharine Critcher and E. Martin Hennings, in 1923, and Kenneth Adams, in 1926. Adams never had the opportunity to exhibit with this highly recognized group of painters, for they voted to disband in 1927, before they managed to arrange their next travelling exhibit.

The nationwide exhibits of the Taos Society of Artists during their twelve years of existence never provided the artists the kind of steady sales that they hoped would come through such efforts. However, what they accomplished was, indeed, long lasting. They founded an art colony that continues to thrive; they fostered a greater awareness of the present-day Native American people inhabiting their pueblo at Taos; and they shined a light on the beauty of the Taos environment, each artist in his own distinctive manner.

Later in life, Phillips described the achievement of the Taos Society of Artists this way: "The idea was soon born to make this wonderful country known by forming an art colony where hundreds of artists could help in finding its countless messages of beauty--a wealth that will continue to exist as long as this old world shall endure."2

1. Dean Porter, Teresa Hayes Ebie, and Suzan Campbell, Taos Artists and Their Patrons, 1898-1950 (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1999), p. 42.
2. Bert Phillips, On the 50th Anniversary of the Taos Society of Artists, #297183, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.




Exhibits Nationwide - July 2015

The Rockwell Museum, Corning, New York
"Unveiling the Southwest Lodge Gallery"
New and ongoing

The Rockwell Museum has announced the opening of its new gallery devoted to art of the American Southwest, and specifically, the artists of the Taos and Santa Fe art colonies. The exhibit  includes artwork by Joseph Henry Sharp, E. Martin Hennings, W. H. "Buck" Dunton, Walter Ufer, and Gustave Baumann, among others, and is being displayed alongside a notable collection of pueblo pottery. The opening of the Southwest Lodge Gallery represents the first of several projects the museum has been planning in recognition of its 40th anniversary in 2016.

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas
"George Catlin’s American Buffalo"
Through August 30, 2015

“George Catlin’s American Buffalo” was organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in collaboration with the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is the only Texas venue on the circuit tour of this exhibit which has already been seen in six other locations.

George Catlin was the first artist to journey into the Great Plains to paint the people and the customs of the native tribes there. Throughout the 1830s he painted a vast number of portraits, as well as scenes portraying different aspects of tribal customs, and the landscape he encountered. The American buffalo, or bison, were integral to the well-being of native peoples on the Plains, and because of this, Catlin painted a large number of scenes involving buffalo and hunting traditions. “George Catlin’s American Buffalo” presents a selection of Catlin’s paintings created from 1832 to 1839 from the Smithsonian collection.

C. M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana
Harmless Hunter: The Wildlife Work of Charles M. Russell
Through September 13, 2015

CONTINUED: Beloved American artist, admired for his portrayals  of the early West, Charlie Russell rose to prominence in the early twentieth century as the "Cowboy artist." Yet, his work moved far beyond cowboys to include scenes of Native American life, rugged mountain men, landscapes, and wildlife. This exhibit highlights Russell's extensive body of work portraying wildlife in various media, which, over the course of his career, encompassed about one quarter of his entire output.

The title comes from Russell's own description of himself in a letter to a friend where he called himself a "harmless hunter." According to the curator of the show, B. Byron Price, Russell enjoyed the outdoors tremendously as well as the camaraderie of a hunting camp, but he was not a hunter. He would not participate in the killing of animals for food or sport. The exhibit features a variety of Russell's work from pure wildlife scenes to those that capture moments of interaction between humans and animals, and others that draw attention to the changes that occurred in the West due to western settlement.

Buffalo Bill Center, Cody, Wyoming
Painted Journeys: The Art of John Mix Stanley
Through August 29, 2015

Featuring nearly sixty works, "Painted Journeys: The Art of John Mix Stanley" provides visitors the opportunity to see rare images by this artist who figures prominently in the art of the early American West. Stanley is a little-known artist today, but was one who went into the field and portrayed subjects involving the exploration and settlement of the West. Despite the hardships of travel at that time, he journeyed across the continent and spent a good deal of time in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, documenting, in every region, the people and landscape he found there. The exhibit brings together, for the first time, works representing every aspect of his remarkable artistic career.

Heritage Museums and Gardens, Sandwich (Cape Cod), Massachusetts
The Wyeths: America Reflected
Through September 27, 2015

Three generations of the Wyeth family of artists are presented in this exhibit: N.C. Wyeth, son Andrew Wyeth, and grandson, Jamie Wyeth. With over 45 paintings on display, the exhibit looks at how each of these influential American artists presented themes reflecting American society during their day.

N. C. Wyeth’s 16 oil paintings from Poems of American Patriotism, showing Revolutionary heroes and early presidents, opens the door to the idea of America as reflected by the art of the Wyeth family. The exhibit progresses to landscapes by Andrew Wyeth, and concludes with the more provocative images by Jamie Wyeth, all highlighting the generational differences while reflecting the changing nature of American culture.

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
CMOA Collects Edward Hopper
Opening: July 25 to October 26, 2015

Coming later in the month, the Carnegie Museum of Art will open with an exhibit of their complete collection of works by the preeminent American artist Edward Hopper. Never before exhibited together, the works in the museum’s collection include etchings, drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings. Notable is the first painting Hopper ever sold, "Sailing" from 1911, that was purchased as a result of its display at the 1913 Armory Show. The exhibit also features prints by artists who were influential to him, such as Rembrandt, John Sloan, and Charles Meryon.

Local Exhibits and Events - July 2015

SANTA FE

Summer of 2015 marks the "Summer of Color" in Santa Fe. Several museums and local organizations have coordinated their efforts for this summer's exhibits along the theme of color. sometimes specific, and sometimes, as is the case with the Museum of Art, all colors.

New Mexico Museum of Art  
"Colors of the Southwest"
Through September 20, 2015
This is a revolving exhibit that features works by the now-legendary artists of northern New Mexico, such as Victor Higgins, William P. Henderson, Gustave Baumann, and Andrew Dasburg. It is sure to be a colorful exhibit, and since the artwork will be changed periodically, worth several visits over the course of the summer.

Museum of International Folk Art
"The Red That Covered the World"
Through September 13, 2015
"The Red That Covered the World" presents an interesting look at how varied cultures around the world, from ancient times to the present, have used the color red. The exhibit provides fascinating historical context to the early uses of red, stemming from a natural source--an insect that produces the intensely red carminic acid--the American Cochineal. According to the curators of this exhibit, the use of cochineal as the basis for red pigment caught on with a global zeal after the Spanish discovered it already in use by people in the 1500s in Mexico. Featuring objects and artifacts dating from the 16th century and into the 19th century, the exhibit shows the use of cochineal in painting, sculpture, furniture and textiles.

Additional "Summer of Color" participants include:

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture features the subject of turquoise, a color long associated with the American Southwest, in "Turquoise, Water, Sky: The Stone and its Meaning." Through May 2, 2016
CONTINUED:  Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts focuses on the use of indigo in "Blue on Blue: Indigo and Cobalt in New Spain." Through April 8, 2016
Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian presents an exhibit devoted to silver in its new gallery space, "Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry." The exhibit features silversmithing and stonework in historic and contemporary jewelry. Ongoing
Santa Fe Botanical Garden selected orange as its featured color in "Monarch-Orange Takes Flight." Through September 14, 2015

TAOS

Harwood Museum of Art
"An Enduring Appeal: The Taos Society of Artists"
Through September 7, 2015

The founders of the Harwood Museum of Art were artists, a married couple, who met Ernest Blumenschein in Paris. Because of his encouragement, the Harwoods, Burt and Lucy, went to Taos in 1916. They were active as artists themselves in Taos and in 1924, the Harwood Foundation (later Harwood Museum) held its first exhibition which included works by members of the Taos Society of Artists. This exhibit celebrates the centennial anniversary of the TSA and includes works from both the Harwood Museum and private collections.

Millicent Rogers Museum
"Margaret Tafoya: Santa Clara Pueblo Potter"
Through January 29, 2016
This exhibit features works by Margaret Tafoya, Santa Clara's most famous potter. Comprising pottery and other materials from a private collection, the exhibit examines the extensive creativity that underlies this exceptional woman's life and career.

MUSIC

Santa Fe Opera 2015 Season
The current season of opera includes:
The Daughter of the Regiment,,Donizetti
Rigoletto, Verdi
Salome, R. Strauss
La Finta Giardiniera, Mozart
Cold Mountain, ,Jennifer Higdon
Performances begin July 3rd and run through August 29th.
Check the online schedule at www.santafeopera.org/calendar

THE TAOS SOCIETY OF ARTISTS AT 100, Part 1; April 2015

A Centennial Celebration

The Taos Society of Artists at 100, Part 1

"Fate Drew the Three of Us Together"

At the time of the founding of the Taos Society of Artists, there were six members:

Bert G. Phillips
Ernest L. Blumenschein
Joseph H. Sharp
Oscar E. Berninghaus
E. I. Couse
W. Herbert "Buck" Dunton

During their lifetimes, members of the Taos Society of Artists were often asked about what drew them to Taos and what initiated the formation of the group that would become nationally recognized. Of the founding six artists, Blumenschein left not only a legacy of artwork, but also of a copious amount of writings that provide us with stories, as well as informative essays and notes from speeches that give us first-hand accounts of those early days.

When Blumenschein and Bert Phillips were students in Paris in 1896, they happened to meet Joseph Sharp who had been to the American West and visited Taos for a short period of time 3 years before. Blumenschein later wrote that while the three young artists sat talking at a cafe, Sharp told them "'If you ever go west you should visit Taos and see the Indian Pueblo.'" And that was the extent of Sharp's influence on them. However, Blumenschein would later write, "Fate drew the three of us together."

Two years later, Blumenschein convinced Phillips to join him on a western painting excursion that would take them from Denver to Mexico by wagon. In Denver, the two greenhorns bought a light wagon, "two broncos," and a harness to hitch the horses to the wagon. Leaving Denver in June, the pair traveled through Colorado and finally entered the Territory of New Mexico after two months' journey. Summer thunderstorms began to make the mountain roads hazardous and Blumenschein reported, "We soon found our light wagon was no match for New Mexico." Some twenty-five miles north of Taos, the wagon hit a deep rut, CONTINUED: a wheel broke, and the wagon was left tilting at a perilous angle toward a deep precipice. After pulling the wagon and all of their gear to safety, Blumenschein won the coin toss to take one of the horses and carry the wheel to the nearest blacksmith, in Taos. Phillips waited for his return; it would take three days.

"Sharp had not painted for me the land or the mountains and plains and clouds," Blumenschein later wrote. "No artist had ever recorded the New Mexico I was seeing. No writer had ever written down the smell of this air or the feel of that morning's sky. I was receiving under rather painful circumstances, the first great unforgettable inspiration of my life. My destiny was being decided as I squirmed and cursed while urging the bronco thru those many miles of waves of sage brush."

His description of his first impressions of Taos were equally enthusiastic:
"There I saw my first Taos Indians, picturesque, colorful, dressed in blankets artistically draped. ... New Mexico had gripped me -- and I was not long in deciding that if Phillips would agree with me, if he felt as inspired to work as I, the Taos valley and its surrounding magnificent country would be the end of our wagon trip."

Once they finally made it to Taos with the repaired wagon, the two artists sold the wagon and "broncos" and immediately set about painting the rich subject matter they found in Taos. Indeed, Phillips heartily agreed with Blumenschein; he decided to remain in Taos full-time. Blumenschein left Taos that Fall, but as he related, other artists soon appeared: "In 1901 Oscar Berninghaus drifted along and cast his anchor. Shortly after Irving Couse at my suggestion arrived to paint sheep. . . . Then in 1903 Sharp returned and from 1910 I joined this little group of happy pioneers for 3 or 4 months every year."

Blumenschein had returned to Paris for further study, married fellow artist Helen Greene, and later moved to New York City where he taught at the Art Students League. W. Herbert "Buck" Dunton, a talented illustrator, became one of his students and in 1912, at the suggestion of his teacher, spent that summer and the next painting in Taos. By 1914, he moved to Taos full-time. Blumenschein, with his wife and young daughter, moved permanently to Taos in 1918.

During the summer of 1915, this group of six officially formed the Taos Society of Artists. An exhibit of their work was displayed in Santa Fe at the state museum, which was still housed at the old Palace of the Governors. (The museum building we know today as the Museum of Art would open in 1917.) El Palacio, a publication of the Museum of New Mexico noted the show: "At present, an exhibit of fifty canvases by the Taos Artist Colony, is giving the Southwest the most notable art exhibit in its history." The notation lists the six artists with the inclusion of Ralph Meyers and recent new-comer, Victor Higgins. Though not organized formally as an exhibit of the Taos Society of Artists, it was the first group exhibit that included all six founding artists.

THE ENDURING APPEAL OF NEW MEXICO ARCHITECTURE; May 2014

By Stacia Lewandowski

What is it about New Mexico's old adobe buildings that attracts us to them? Perhaps it's the hand-crafted nature of them, the rounded edges, "not a plumb line in sight!" as locals used to boast. Or, perhaps it's how the buldings fit into the landscape, as when Carlos Vierra was reportedly pleased that the adobe house he had just designed and built was mistaken for "ruins." People's affection for adobe has not been universal, however, especially in the earlier days of the nineteenth century. But we know that enthusiasm for it increased alongside the growth of its art colonies after the turn of the twentieth century.

Prior to that, it was a different story. For example, in 1807, after Zebulon Pike entered Santa Fe, then a provincial capital of Spain, he reported: "There are two churches, the magnificence of whose steeples form a striking contrast to the miserable appearance of the houses."

By the time of New Mexico's statehood in 1912, Santa Fe's historical architecture was very much on people's minds. In fact, one of the first projects city planners initiated was a study of the region's indigenous architecture, with a particular focus on the Pueblos and the Spanish buildings of the colonial era. There were people who understood that architecture is the face of a community and, as such, should appropriately reflect its culture. They appreciated the fact that Santa Fe enjoyed a cultural history unique in all of the United States and its local architectural standards, already threatened by outside trends, should be perpetuated rather than demolished.

After a comprehensive study of the region's architecture, primarily made possible through a wide-ranging photographic survey conducted by Jesse Nussbaum (with contributions from artist Carlos Vierra), elements of style from the Pueblos and the old Spanish homes and churches were scrutinized, categorized, deemed authentic, and worthy of emulation and preservation. From 1913 onward, Santa Fe's construction and restoration projects were encouraged to reflect the "New-Old Santa Fe style."  

Newly arrived artists were among the first wave of people to appreciate the look of adobe architecture, the genuine nature of its elements. Many of them, escaping the industrial cities elsewhere in the United States, appreciated the hand-crafted work reflected in the local adobe traditions. Some of them eagerly built their own homes and revelled in the sculptural possibilities inherent with mud-covered adobe.

But more importantly, many of  the artists were enthralled by the appearance of these centuries-old buildings, the angles of the multi-storied Pueblos and the varied character of the mission churches. They were inspired by them, pulled by an aesthetic appeal of the solidity of the form, functionality of the designs, and tactile quality of the mud.

Without question, one of the most painted, photographed and probed buildings in all of New Mexico, is the San Francisco de Asís Church in Ranchos de Taos, south of Taos. The church and courtyard stand alone in a central plaza. Its commanding exterior is unorthodox in shape, weighted by huge rounded buttress supports, counterpoised by rising vertical lines of the central nave section. Artists from Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams to the present day, continue to be inspired by this building from the Spanish colonial period, begun in the late 1700s and completed in 1816.

In one of her masterworks, Taos printmaker Gene Kloss (1903-1996) provides us with a powerful scene of the interior of this same church. At once intimate and dramtatic, Kloss conveys a hushed atmosphere filled with the weight of worshipping figures bowed downward, clearly of this earth, while the prayerful service of the priest and his attendants in triangular form on the altar, is imbued with intense light, all of the focus uplifted heavenward. It's a brilliant scene from 1939, created during the depths of the Depression.