NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Four Women

NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Women Artists of New Mexico ends on May 31st. Over the course of the exhibition, we’ve blogged about early women potters of New Mexico and their influence on women artists who migrated here. Here are the tales of four 20th century women who came from near and far to turn over a new leaf—or a new canvas—in the Land of Enchantment. Through their efforts, the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies were forever changed. 

Beulah Stevenson- Signature Detail- Matthews Gallery

Beulah Stevenson (1891-1965) grew up in Brooklyn Heights, New York. After studying at the Pratt Institute, she enrolled at the Art Students League where John Sloan became her mentor. Sloan invited Stevenson to summer in New Mexico, where she was inspired to create modernist landscapes and wild abstract works in the vibrant palette of the Desert Southwest. She returned to New Mexico many times throughout her life.

Stevenson worked as a printmaker, painter, illustrator, art teacher and Brooklyn Museum curator. She was a staunch advocate of modernism and the avant-garde, working with the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors and numerous other artist organizations.

Ila McAfee- Artwork Detail- Matthews Gallery Blog

Ila McAfee (1897-1995) was born in Colorado, and first visited Taos on a road trip to California in 1926. She fell in love with the mountain village and its thriving art scene, and settled there with her husband Elmer Turner. They quickly befriended influential members of the Taos Society of Artists such as Blumenschein, Berninghaus, Hennings and Higgins. McAfee was a rare Western-born artist in Taos, where many artists were transplants from the East Coast. She captured the spirit of the West through her paintings of sweeping landscapes and the wild horses that roamed them.

Dorothy Morang- Signature Detail- Matthews Gallery Blog

Dorothy Morang (1906-1994) was born in Richmond, Maine. She met Alfred Morang in 1925, while studying at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Alfred was a violinist and Dorothy a pianist. They married on June 13, 1930 and moved to Portland, Maine soon after.

The couple moved to Santa Fe in 1937 in an effort to alleviate Alfred’s tuberculosis. In the City Different, they landed in the center of a colorful circle of artists. They threw Saturday night salons at their home not far from Canyon Road and taught music and painting to make ends meet.

In addition to painting, Dorothy Morang worked for many years at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, primarily as a curator.

Doris Cross- Signature Detail- Matthews Gallery Blog

In her three decades in Santa Fe, beginning in 1972, Doris Cross (1907-1994) was known as the City Different’s “most avant-garde artist.” An excerpt from a 1990 biography by Anna Christine Hansen traces the artist’s New York roots and her early days in New Mexico:

Doris Cross began her career in New York City with the Art Students League. After meeting Hans Hoffman, who was known for encouraging artists to investigate their own ideas and unique styles, she went to the Hans Hoffman School of Art. “Hans Hoffman was it,” Doris said of him as a teacher. “…The possibility of discovery! That was the important thing, discovery.” […] 

In the mid-1940’s, Doris received the Turner Award from the National Association of Women Artists for a painting which made the leap to large-scale. […] Like many women, she was married and raising a family in the 1940’s—a son and a daughter. In the early years of her development, while living in Woodstock, she painted a series of Madonnas. Later, she taught painting in a basement in Brooklyn in order to afford supplies to paint. 

Click here to view all of the artwork in NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS, and make sure to stop by tomorrow if you haven’t seen it. You can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news.

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NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Southwest Premodernism

Nampeyo- Hopi Potter- Matthews Gallery Blog

This is part 2 of our blog series on the history of women artists in New Mexico.
Read part 1 here, and learn more at our May 8-31st exhibition
NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Women Artists of New Mexico.

“I have alluded to Nampeyo as a ‘modern artist,’ because the more I understood her life and work, the more her extraordinary career seemed to parallel that path,” writes Steve Elmore in the last chapter of his book In Search of Nampeyo. Elmore stepped in as our guest blogger last week, which gave us some time to study the links between Pueblo aesthetic innovations and the diverse New Mexico art movements that emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries.

What did romanticist painters of the early Santa Fe and Taos art colonies learn from Pueblo traditions that had been around for centuries before they arrived? How did the elegant abstract patterns on San Ildefonso jars and bowls influence abstract expressionists like Beatrice Mandelman and Janet Lippincott?

Nampeyo- Hopi Pottery- Matthews Gallery Blog

Elmore provided the first clues to this investigation in his biography of Nampeyo (1856-1942), a Hopi-Tewa potter whose innovative images bridged the ancient and modern worlds. Here’s more from In Search of Nampeyo:

While much of Nampeyo’s life was that of a traditional Hopi woman, we need to consider her life and work outside of the academic fields of archaeology and anthropology, which have heretofore defined how Nampeyo has been perceived by the public. Today, her masterpieces are mostly displayed in natural history museums next to Anasazi jars or in anthropological exhibits of Pueblo Indians—not in art museums—and certainly not as modern art.

Yet, in the end, Nampeyo was not an ancestral potter, nor even a traditional Pueblo potter, although these conditions were the context for her achievements. While she was trained as a traditional potter, she evolved into a unique artist using modern marketing techniques to sell her work to a new Euro-American audience.

As Elmore stresses, it’s important to understand Nampeyo, Maria Martinez and other influential Pueblo potters not as isolated traditionalists but as artists who interacted with newcomers and adapted to the cultural changes they affected. The realities of frontier living necessitated a constant dialogue between the first artists who emigrated from the East Coast and Pueblo artisans. This interchange continued as the market for Pueblo arts and crafts grew and shifted based on the demands of visitors.

IlaMcAfee

Ila McAfee (1897-1995), one of the early “Euro-American” transplants, drew inspiration from Pueblo traditions in her work. McAfee often painted wild horses in profile, echoing the stark monochrome of pottery designs. In The Golden Triad, three beasts hover before a textured golden-brown field that captures the hues of high desert clay.

Taos art dealer Robert Parsons interviewed McAfee about her early years in Taos:

It was so different then. There was nothing between me and the mountain when we first got here. The village was small and the Indians remained uninfluenced by the invaders. Once I asked one of them, ‘What did you call this country before the Europeans came?’ ‘Ours,’ he told me.

Dorothy-Brett-Artist-Matthews-Gallery

Other early Taos artists such as Helen Greene Blumenschein (1909-1989) and Dorothy Brett (1883-1977) also interacted with the nearby Pueblo. Blumenschein meditated on the relationship between the new settlers and the natives in her Taos memoirs, and Brett spent years making genre paintings of the Taos Poblanos. Later on, Brett switched to more mystical subject matter that was inspired by Native American spirituality. Her paintings Cat Shaman and Moon Ray reflect her mature philosophies that link humanity and nature.

Agnes Sims Artwork with New Mexico Petroglyphs- Matthews Gallery

In the 1930s, Santa Fe artist and archaeologist Agnes Sims (1910-1990) arrived in New Mexico and began studying the ancient Pueblo petroglyphs. As she pondered the mysteries of the lost language, she began developing her own abstract symbol system in a series of paintings and sculptures.

Sims’ abstract experiments prefigured the innovations of Beatrice Mandelman (1912-1998) and Janet Lippincott (1918-2007), abstract expressionists who helped bring a bold new aesthetic to the Desert Southwest in the 1940’s. This wave of modernists surely took note of Pueblo aesthetic innovations that had spread from Nampeyo’s studio to the San Ildefonso Pueblo and beyond. From Elmore:

Nampeyo’s abstract drawings are strangely prescient of the abstractions of Euro-American modern art. This remains a large part of her mystique. In particular, critics have noted the comparison between Nampeyo’s abstractions of birds to Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s invention of Cubism, wherein an object is shown from multiple views at the same time.

Elmore’s observations complete the circle of influences, revealing a far more interconnected aesthetic evolution than we originally imagined. Check back next week for the continued tale of women artists in New Mexico, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news.

Nampeyo and Pablo Picasso- Matthews Gallery Blog*Images of Nampeyo’s pottery courtesy of Steve Elmore. Image of New Mexico petroglyph courtesy of Roch Hart.