by Stacia Lewandowski

It's interesting to think about the now-famous artists who at one time could be seen strolling Santa Fe's streets, perhaps carrying a canvas or two ready for exhibition at the art museum. Robert Henri thoroughly enjoyed his long visits in 1916 and 1917 that afforded him the opportunity to paint subjects far removed from his more typical urban fare. And imagine Marsden Hartley, from 1918 to 1919, stepping out of his studio at the Palace of the Governors carrying one of his thickly painted pictures imbued with abstracted santos or colorfully craggy mountains. Later, in the 1920s, both Stuart Davis (1923) and Edward Hopper (1925) sought inspiration from the city's unique cultural and historical attributes. These artists helped to put Santa Fe on the map, fostering the idea that Santa Fe had something out of the ordinary to offer artists.

But in terms of commitment and the development of Santa Fe's own artist community, it's John Sloan who could be called the most influential artist of them all. When he and the young artist Randall Davey arrived in 1919 after an exhausting six-week car drive from New York, both immediately found the city and its atmosphere well worth their efforts. They had been encouraged to visit Santa Fe by Robert Henri, who told them fantastic stories and spoke passionately about the city's intriguing artistic possibilities. At that point in his career, Sloan decided a change of scene would likely do him good. And when he arrived in Santa Fe, museum officials provided him studio space at the Palace of the Governors near the studio Marsden Hartley was using that same summer. Indeed, he was warmly welcomed.

Interestingly, during his first season of work in the splendid Southwest, Sloan reported to Henri that he had changed his typical working method and was only painting indoors in the studio. He admitted to Henri, "'contrary to my usual custom in Gloucester, I have made no work in the open.'"1 He enjoyed, and even practiced, gaining strong visual impressions of something - the landscape or a Pueblo dance - and afterward worked from memory to construct a composition. This is noteworthy because in later years, Sloan took to working outdoors in New Mexico. And he incorporated city life--typical street scenes, daily customs, and even special events in the city--just as he did with his New York scenes.

When he initially arrived in Santa Fe, Sloan was in mid-career. He was exhibiting regularly in New York and was a very popular teacher. But he didn't sell much. As a result of his first visit to Santa Fe, Sloan returned to New York with paintings of entirely new subject matter. The artist of crowded urban street scenes and laundry-draped multi-storied apartment buildings now revealed canvases filled with sun-drenched vistas of mountains and modest adobe buildings, of a life exceedingly remote from what his New York viewers expected of him. From trips to nearby Pueblos, Sloan also made paintings of dances he observed and admired. His next exhibit in New York then,  .  .  .           CONTINUED:  at Kraushaar Gallery, included eighteen paintings of Santa Fe subjects, along with only two others. Though not a single painting sold, critics recognized that something was different for Sloan and commented that his work seemed to be revitalized. Sloan felt the same way.

Santa Fe offered Sloan the perfect antidote to the hectic nature of his life in New York City. When he and his wife Dolly returned the next summer they promptly purchased an adobe house on Garcia Street near Canyon Road. In the rear of the property he built a studio for himself and even included a tall observation tower above the roof that allowed him a grand view of the mountains and all the immediate surroundings. It seems that Sloan was reinvigorated. His biographer claims that the landscape paintings he made that summer were "some of his best landscapes in several years."2 And when he returned to New York, even his sales improved. In 1921 the Metropolitan Museum purchased one of his paintings, a New York scene, "Dust Storm, Fifth Avenue," and Vanity Fair placed Sloan in its Hall of Fame, calling him "'one of the most vigorous of present-day American painters.'"3

Sloan remained committed to his summers in Santa Fe. For the next three decades, he immersed himself in city life--physically during summers--and by letter and association the remaining part of each year. He became so involved, in fact, that he began to remark that there was too much going on in Santa Fe, and so much socializing, that he had trouble finding enough time for painting.

During the 1920s and '30s, as Santa Fe's artist community grew, Sloan counted himself as one of them. He was always ready to participate in organized events, including joining in making elaborate floats for the annual Fiesta parades. Young artists looked to him, seeking his expertise as an experienced art teacher and exhibition organizer. (After all, he was one of "The Eight" whose exhibit at New York's Macbeth Galleries in 1908 famously led to the term, "The Ash Can School," and for many years he served as president and organizer of the Society of Independent Artists in New York.)  Sloan exhibited his work regularly at Santa Fe's art museum and even donated some of it for their permanent collection. He voiced his opinion about current events in town, and Santa Fe's artists knew they could depend on him to stand alongside them. His voice carried weight. Sloan's friendships were true and long lasting, and he loved, indeed savored, the simple authentic charm of his Southwestern idyll.

When John Sloan did not return to Santa Fe during the summer of 1951, all of the artists felt the void created by his absence. And when his great friend, Will Shuster, received the telegram reporting his death on September 8th, it was a grave shock. The newspaper responded the next day by dedicating a large amount of space to the writings of Sloan's various Santa Fe friends who were eager to pay tribute to an artist of lasting influence.

1.  John Loughery, John Sloan: Painter and Rebel (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p. 251.
2.  Ibid., p. 258
3.  Ibid., p. 259

Local Exhibits - October 2015


Lovers of American modernism take note! Several arts organizations in Santa Fe are currently hosting a series of events in honor of American modernism. Including gallery exhibits and special programs, "Fall of Modernism" is anchored by significant exhibits at the Museum of Art and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

New Mexico Museum of Art
"O'Keeffe in Process"
Through January 17, 2016

"O’Keeffe in Process" is a collaborative project that brings together works from the museum collection, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and private collections. The exhibit is unusual for the sheer variety of artworks that are on display--from the artist's very early days as a student and continuing through the diverse locations that mark the different eras of her long career. By including O'Keeffe's preliminary sketches and photographs alongside finished works, the visitor is allowed the rare opportunity to gain an appreciation for her creative process and working method.


"An American Modernism"
Through February 21, 2016

With works from its own collection, the Museum has created a showcase of modernist art. Dating from the three decades before World War II, the exhibit includes more than fifty paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs. In choosing each of these works the curator hoped to illustrate the different paths each artist blazed, some employing the spirit of the machine age, while others dealt with the elements of humanity or nature. Artists included in the show are Andrew Dasburg, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Cady Wells, and Edward Weston, among others.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
"From New York to New Mexico: Masterworks of American Modernism from the Vilcek Foundation Collection"
Through January 10, 2016

CONTINUED: The O'Keeffe Museum is hosting this traveling exhibit. Works are drawn from an art collection that was expertly amassed over many decades by Jan and Marica Vilcek, a couple who immigrated to the U.S. from the former Czechoslovakia.The exhibit affords visitors an opportunity to see a collection of extraordinary focus--paintings by artists who are recognized today as masters of  American modernism. These were artists who were drawn to express the "newness" of modern life through their art and helped to create an identity for art that is expressly American. Comprising more than 60 masterworks dating from the 1910s to the post-War era, the artists include Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Georgia O'Keeffe, and many more.

Also on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art:

"Looking Forward/Looking Back"
Through January 17, 2016

This exhibit juxtaposes historical art from the museum's collection by women artists alongside contemporary works by significant feminist artists. Artists include Juane Quick-to See Smith, with selections from her Paper Dolls for a Post Colonial World, and Eleanor Antin, Louise Bourgeois, Beatrice Wood, Angela Ellsworth and Ligia Bouton.


E. L. Blumenschein Home and Museum
"The Founder's Daughter: Prints by Helen G. Blumenschein"
Through January 15, 2016

Helen Blumenschein, daughter of artists Ernest and Mary Greene Blumenschein, was a highly trained artist herself. During the late 1920s and 1930s, she studied art in Paris and New York, including four years at the Art Students League where she focused on printmaking. Helen exhibited nationally and internationally and won particluar praise for her prints. Largely overlooked today, this exhibit provides a welcome opportunity to see a group of her acclaimed prints in her family home.

Exhibits Nationwide - October 2015

Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma
"Painted Journeys: The Art of John Mix Stanley"
Through January 3, 2016

John Mix Stanley is one of the most important artists to depict life in the early days of the American West. During the first half of the 19th century, he traveled almost incessantly, visiting numerous tribes, villages and forts. The portraits he painted came to be called his North American Indian Gallery. In 1852, he arranged to have some 200 of these works housed and displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. Tragically, a fire in 1865 destroyed all but seven of those original paintings. Fortunately, not all was lost and Stanley continued his work. This is a rare opportunity to see  60 Stanley paintings, including portraits and scenes from his encounters on his travels in the very early days of the western territories. The exhibit at the Gilcrease was organized by Peter Hassrick and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, Wyoming, and also features a new book published by the same name.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
"The Modern Pueblo Painting of Awa Tsireh"
Through January 31, 2016

The works by one of the most celebrated early Pueblo artists, Awa Tsireh (1898-1955), are being exhibited at the Smithsonian. Awa Tsireh was from San Ildefonso Pueblo and his career as an artist developed alongside the growth of Santa Fe's art colony. He was a good friend of artist William Penhallow Henderson and his wife, Alice Corbin, and Henderson painted a portrait of Awa Tsireh, now in the collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. This exhibit, of fifty-one watercolors painted between 1917 and 1930, is the first time these works have been shown together in a public exhibit. They were in the Henderson's own collection and donated to the Smithsonian in 1979 by their daughter, Alice H. Rossin.

Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX
"Tales from the American West: The Rees-Jones Collection"
Through February 21, 2016

CONTINUED: This collection of significant Western art was put together by a Dallas collector who acknowledged that his interest in American Western art grew from his childhood visits to the Amon Carter Museum. It is therefore fitting that the public debut of the Rees-Jones collection is being presented by the Amon Carter Museum. Featuring works from the nineteenth century through the 1920s, the exhibit includes paintings in oil and watercolor, sculpture and photography, by the best known artists of the genre, such as George Catlin, Henry Farny, Joseph Sharp, Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.

Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri
"American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood"
October 10, 2015 through January 3, 2016

Kansas City was home to Thomas Hart Benton for forty years and the Nelson-Atkins Museum has long been associated with him. But it has been more than 25 years since the museum has hosted a major exhibition of Benton's works and this one sounds fascinating. Early in his career, Benton worked on silent movie sets in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and in Hollywood. The museum curators have produced this exhibit to show how Benton was influenced by the visual storytelling of film (moving pictures in his day) and argue that it "inspired his signature style of painting . . . that appealed to a broad range of Americans." An all-encompassing exhibit, "American Epics" brings together 50 paintings and murals, plus assorted drawings, prints, illustrated books, film clips and related Benton ephemera.

Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney, Nebraska
"Native American Presence on the Missouri"
Through November 1, 2015

This exhibit highlights the importance of the Missouri River as the route of exploration for Eastern Americans entering the newly acquired western territories in the early 1800s. The banks of the long river were home to numerous Native American tribes. For most explorers and visitors on the river, it was the place of first contact between the cultures. In this exhibit, the museum explores this early interaction as portrayed in etchings, steel engravings, lithographs, and woodblocks by Karl Bodmer, George Catlin, and William De La Montagne Cary, among others. Adding further depth to the show are illustrations from newspaper publications, and photographs by Frank Rinehart, the official photographer of the Indian Congress in Omaha at the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition.

Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona
"American and European Art from the 1920s and 1930s"
Through November 15, 2015

The Phoenix Art Museum has curated an exhibit from its own collection of works from the 1920s and '30s, designed to complement the traveling Vilcek Foundation Collection exhibit that they hosted over the summer. (And now showing at Santa Fe's Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.) Beginning with the First World War, the exhibit highlights this tumultuous period, influenced by the rise of jazz and the automobile, voting rights for women, the Great Depression and political conflict. Through the expression of modernism, the curators show how the artworks reflect the dynamism of the times. Artists include both European and American masters.


The Taos Society of Artists Turns 100, Part 2

by Stacia Lewandowski

"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.

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

A Centennial Celebration

The Taos Society of Artists at 100, Part 1

by Stacia Lewandowski

"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.