Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Santa Fe, NM



Master Pueblo Painters, 1900-1930


"Master Pueblo Painters, 1900-1930," opening Sunday, October 1, 2000 at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, reveals a painting style that merged ancient Pueblo traditions with the aesthetic principles of Euro-American modernism, and reflects the changing relationship between the two cultures. In this exhibition, 66 paintings (42 paintings from the School of American Research and 24 from the Museum of New Mexico collection) show Pueblo life in an idealistic way, but is also a very realistic look at Pueblo ceremonial life during the period. The works on display are featured in the book Pueblo Indian Painting: Tradition and Modernism in New Mexico, 1900-1930 by J.J. Brody published by SAR press. (left: Fred Kabotie (Naqavoy'ma); Navajo Mask Ceremony; ca. 1921)

"This art began at a time when Pueblo culture was being threatened by a government intent on acculturating Indian people," said Duane Anderson, director of the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. "These works are important in their literal ethnographic accuracy and are sure to captivate the viewer, just as they did when they were first exhibited by the Museum of New Mexico in 1919."

The genre of painting began as a result of the archaeological work of Edgar Lee Hewett. founder of the Museum of New Mexico and the School of American Research. Hewett hired Pueblo people from San Ildefonso to work on the sites and field camps of his 1907 excavations on the Pajarito Plateau. The new art began there, with the work of Alfredo Montoya (1892-1913) and Crescencio Martinez (1879-1918), who sold their paintings to anthropologists and set the style on its course, working on the new medium of paper instead of the traditional pictograph and hide paintings. In 1918 Elizabeth DeHuff, wife of the Santa Fe Indian School superintendent, invited homesick boarding school students to paint pictures of the students' ritual dances. Inspiration for the art from its beginnings, dances were held for many reasons, among them, as a call for rain, to ensure a bountiful harvest, or to give thanks for a successful hunt. Dances were a means to carry prayers to the gods, thus necessitating extreme sensitivity to what could and could not be painted out of respect for the group culture. (left: Tonita Peña, (Quah Ah) Deer Dances, Two Lady & Two Man, ca. 1920-21)

In the era between World War I and II, exhibitions and acquisitions of both traditional Pueblo art and the new painting by museums across the country paralleled popular European aesthetic principles of formalism and metaphor, making the art attractive to modernists. When the Santa Fe art community encouraged Pueblo artists to paint more imaginatively, the work became increasingly abstract and individualized. In Pueblo culture, any art made in isolation from daily life was philosophically disharmonious, for it reduced art making to a private, egocentric act outside the scope of traditional values. Thus, this style of painting evolved uneasily as both artists and patrons tried to maintain a state of balance in a disharmonious new world. (left: Crescencio Martinez (Tá e), Tewa Eagle Dancer, 1918)

By 1941, the Pueblo painting tradition was already overshadowed by a new Pan-Indian one taught at Indian Schools nationwide and the early Pueblo painters and their art slipped into obscurity. Master Pueblo Painters, 1900 - 1930 highlights the best young Pueblo artists of the era and features the work of Fred Kabotie, Hopi (1900-1986), Otis Polelonema, Hopi (1902-1981), Alfonso Roybal, San Ildefonso (1898-1955), Velino Herrera, Zia (1902-1973), and two other San Ildefonsans - Tonita Peña (1893-1949), who lived at Cochiti Pueblo, and Abel Sanchez (1899-1971).

The Women's Board of the Museum of New Mexico hosts the opening reception from 2 - 4 pm, on Sunday, October 1. The exhibition closes January 1, 2001.

rev. 8/25/00

Read more about the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/23/11

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