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.

Advertisements

START YOUR BIDDING: Colorful lots from our fall online auction

Matthews Art Auctions- Camille Boutet- Artfact

Our European, American and Southwestern Art Auction just started on Artfact.com, and it features a particularly vibrant line-up of lots. The charming image above is a color lithograph from turn of the century France by Camille Boutet. It shows three children peering longingly into a confectioner’s shop, and would make a lovely holiday gift. The best part? Bidding starts at $50. Read about more of our offerings below, and make sure to bid before the auction ends on November 17.

Frank Morbillo- Arched Axe- Artfact Auctions

Lot 41: Frank Morbillo- Arched Axe
Starting bid: $350
Estimated value: $450-$900

Arched Axe” is from Frank Morbillo’s sculpture series inspired by the simple, elegant lines of prehistoric hand tools. Several other glass and bronze works from the set appear in the sale, including “Ceremonial Serpent Axe“, which features an intricate floral motif, and the swanlike “Honing Axe“.

Bertram Hartman- Still Life- Artfact Auctions

Lot 59: Bertram Hartman (1882-1996)- Still Life
Starting bid: $250
Estimated value: $350-$750

Bertram Hartman (1882-1960) was born in Kansas and received training at the Art Institute of Chicago. He continued his studies at the Royal Academy in Munich and Paris, drawing inspiration from Impressionism and other modernist movements. His European influences are clear in this impeccable impasto still life.

Jamie Chase- Bather by the Sea- Artfact Auctions

Lot 70: Jamie Chase- Bather by the Sea
Starting bid: $400
Estimated price: $600-$900

Jamie Chase’s well-known figurative work and his latest experiments with landscape painting combine in “Bather by the Sea“. An abstracted nude  stands on the shore, and the surrounding landscape seems to radiate her serene mood. Jamie’s “Seen” and “Iconic II” are also up for sale in the auction.

Ernest Blumenschein on Artfact

Lot 86: Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960)- Loading
Starting bid: $700
Estimated price: $2,000-$3,500

Ernest L. Blumenschein (1874-1960) was a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, and is known for his stunning portrayals of the Southwestern landscape and people. In “Loading” the artist pays homage to his home state of Ohio. A lone figure smokes a cigarette and watches the activity at the Conneaut Mill across the tracks.

William Lumpkins- The Red Sky- Artfact Auctions

Lot 91: William Lumpkins (1909-2000)- The Red Sky
Starting bid: $400
Estimated price: $600-$1,000

William Lumpkins- Pink Handle- Artfact Auctions

Lot 97: William Lumpkins (1909-2000)- Pink Handle
Starting bid: $400
Estimated price: $600-$1,000

The Red Sky” and “Pink Handle” are from a series of never-before-seen artworks by legendary Santa Fe modernist William Lumpkins (1909-2002). The work was recently released from the collection of a Lumpkins family member, and also features a series of serigraphs.

Ed Levin- Kachina- Artfact Auctions

Lot 102: Eli Levin- Kachina (after Louie Ewing)
Starting bid: $175
Estimated value: $400-$600

Contemporary Southwestern painter and printmaker Eli Levin pays tribute to legendary Santa Fe printmaker Louie Ewing (1908-1983) in this silkscreen of a Pueblo kachina doll. In the 1930s, Ewing received a grant from the WPA’s Federal Art Project to pursue printmaking, and is largely responsible for the enduring popularity of printmaking among contemporary Southwestern artists.

Bettina Steinke- Santa Clara Dancer- Artfact Auctions

Lot 106: Bettina Steinke (1913-1999)- Santa Clara Dancer
Starting bid: $50
Estimated value: $400-$500

Bettina Steinke (1913-1999) moved to Taos in the 1950s, where she opened a gallery with her husband and mentored young artists. She moved to Santa Fe in the 1970s. The artist was known for her vivid portraits of the Pueblo people, and was particularly interested in traditional Native dancers. Other historic New Mexico artists featured in the auction include Fremont Ellis, John McHugh and Hannah Holliday Stewart.

Check out the European, American and Southwestern Art Auction on Artfact to browse all 116 lots, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to see more highlights from the sale. The auction ends on November 17 at 7:00 pm.