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Southwestern Allure: The Art of the Santa Fe Art Colony

October 8 - December 29, 2013

 

Santa Fe can become a rare spot in all the world...[It] is striving to be its own beautiful self
- Robert Henri, 1917
 
Santa Fe is beginning to enjoy preeminence in some enviable ways. It is sometimes spoken of as the intellectual capital of the Southwest...to its region what Alexandria was at its age.
- Edgar L. Hewett, 1920

 

Southwestern Allure explores the art and development of the Santa Fe art colony from its beginnings in the early 20th century up through 1938. The formation of the art colony was spurred on by a core group of artists who began to arrive in Santa Fe from the early 1900s for the singular desert landscape, tri-cultural society (notably Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo), inexpensive living, and salubrious environment. Santa Fe was also distinguished by its deep historic roots and its remoteness from the mainstream, making it especially appealing to artists and writers seeking freedom and inspiration. Some of the artists visited briefly but others established themselves in Santa Fe and helped create a sense of community, and an enduring aesthetic still apparent in the work of contemporary artist of the region. (right: Robert Henri (American, 1865-1929), Tesuque Indian Dance, 1917, pastel on paper, 12 1/2 x 20 inches. Collection of Gerald and Kathleen Peters, Santa Fe, New Mexico)

The works displayed in Southwestern Allure highlight the diverse painting styles of the artists of the Santa Fe art colony, from realism to the brink of abstraction. Their choice of subject matter was driven by the regional environment and focused on the people and the land. The exhibition concludes around 1938, which marks the founding of the Transcendental Painting Group, when a new phase commenced that was dominated by more avant-garde modernism and abstraction. From its modest beginnings, the art colony in Santa Fe evolved into a major art center and decades later it continues to thrive to this day.

 

Dr. Edgar L. Hewett, Robert Henri and the Museum of New Mexico

Two key personalities were instrumental in the growth of the art community in Santa Fe: Dr. Edgar L. Hewett and Robert Henri. Hewett was an ethnologist by training, founding director of the School of American Archeology (which opened in Santa Fe in 1907 and renamed the School for American Research in 1917), and the first director of the Museum of New Mexico, which officially opened in 1910 in the Palace of the Governors on the central plaza of Santa Fe. He zealously played an important role in positioning Santa Fe to become an art center where art and culture would thrive, and it was a mission that he pursued as a motivating figure with a keen sense of marketing and self promotion.

Although its mission was not initially devoted to fine art, by 1916 the museum had assumed a central role within the Santa Fe cultural community. Its active studio and exhibition programs were helpful in strategically positioning the museum at the center of a burgeoning art community. The offer of facilities to serious practicing artists made Santa Fe a welcoming destination for many painters. The museum provided many artists with studios, including: Paul Burlin, Gustave Baumann, Warren E. Rollins, Julius Rolshoven, Sheldon Parsons, William Penhallow Henderson, Kenneth Chapman, Willard Nash, Carlos Vierra, Robert Henri, John Sloan, Andrew Dasburg, Randall Davey, Marsden Hartley, and Stuart Davis.

In addition to these artists residencies Hewett wanted the museum to promote art of the Southwest, especially that of Santa Fe, through exhibitions. Rollins was the first artist to have a formal solo exhibition in 1910, and the museum's journal, El Palacio, documents this and many others during the ensuing years, including shows for Baumann, Burlin, Roshoven, Henderson, Davey, Ellis, Shuster, as well as many group shows. By 1916, it was becoming clear that a new facility dedicated solely to exhibiting fine art was needed.

Hewett developed the idea of building a new art museum and realized that to do so he had to enlist the counsel of an individual with an art background. After meeting Robert Henri in 1914 in San Diego, Hewett believed he had found the person to help him realize the new museum. By this time Henri was firmly established in the New York art world as a renowned artist, progressive teacher, and modern art advocate. He was a powerful force in turning young American painters away from academic art to the rich subject-matter of modern urban life. In Henri, Hewlett saw a powerful ally in raising the community's cultural profile and hoped that he would attract other artists of similar reputation and ability from the East. In the spring of 1916, work began on the building, the design of which was heavily inspired by the early 17th-century San Estevan del Rey Mission Church. Henri lent his expertise in establishing the institutional mission, philosophy, programming, and look of the new galleries. Henri also organized the inaugural exhibition at the new facility when it opened in 1917. (right: Edgar L. Hewitt in his office, Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico circa 1910. Photo by Jesse Nusbaum. Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), Negative 7383.)

Southwestern Allure and its accompanying catalogue are organized by the Boca Museum of Art in conjunction with independent curator Dr. Valerie Ann Leeds, a specialist in American art of this period. After its debut in Boca Raton, the exhibition will travel to the Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando, and the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe.

 

(above: Carlos Vierra (American, 1876-1937), Northern New Mexico in Winter, 1922, oil on canvas, 28 x 38 inches. Collection of Gerald and Kathleen Peters, Santa Fe, New Mexico)

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