Editor's note: The following article, with notes, was rekeyed and reprinted on August 8, 2003 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society. The article was previously published in Kansas Historical Quarterly 19 (August 1951): 225-253, pages 247-253. Images accompanying the text in the Kansas State Historical Society publication were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the KHQ issue containing the article, please contact the Kansas State Historical Society directly through either this phone number or web address:


The Pictorial Record of the Old West: the beginning of the Taos School of Art

by Robert Taft


The Beginning of the Taos School


The 80 years of Western illustration, beginning with the work of Samuel Seymour in 1819, had its logical conclusion in the Taos art colony of the modem day. The landscape of the great open spaces and of the Shining mountains (an early and appealing name given the Rockies), the activities of the memorable but past Western scene including its Indian inhabitants, had so firm a hold on the life of America that it seems inevitable that collectively these aspects of our land and history would eventually lead to its artistic expression. That it culminated at Taos may be more or less accidental; that artists not connected with the Taos School have utilized the same themes is more or less irrelevant. The point of immediate concern is that there exists a considerable group of artists who carry on the Western tradition and spirit.

The attitude of the art historian toward this group is varied. In the recent Art and Life in America which purports to be written "for students of American civilization who wish to know what part the visual plastic arts have played in our society" no mention is made of Taos and modern Western painting and illustration, although the early Western landscape school is given brief comment.[61] Royal Cortissoz, in his addition to Samuel Isham's History of American Painting at least makes recognition of the Taos group and its purpose. "In substance," he wrote, "the group has brought into American painting romantic motives studied against a notably vivid background." [62] Other art historians have in general ignored the Taos artists; the most notable exception to this group, as might be expected from the fact that he himself is a Westerner, has been Eugen Neuhaus. Neuhaus, writing with commendable understanding and judgment stated

"...the name of Taos has come to mean a definite achievement in American art, which promises to have a long and honorable career before its artistic possibilities are exhausted. A peculiar combination of the great open country relatively easy of access and a long season of painting weather and clear sunlight, under which the landscape as well as human beings assume definite contrast of light and shadow, has made Taos a focal point in American art life. The Indian at Taos, furthermore, has survived without much loss of his original characteristics, and his genuine qualities are not the least element in attracting artists to the Southwest."[63]

If the later history of Taos artists is primarily part of another story than ours, its development as a logical extension of the field which we are here considering warrants the few words which we have devoted to its present significance.

The origin of Taos as an art colony in 1898, however, does manage to come within the more or less arbitrary time limits we have set for ourselves. A number of artists had visited Taos before 1898. Blanche C. Grant in her history of Taos, When Old Trails Were New, has listed a number of them, including Henry R. Poore, whose painting, "Pack Train Leaving Pueblo, of Taos, New Mexico," has already been mentioned in this series.[64] This illustration is probably the first bearing the name of Taos to be reproduced. Poore was in Taos in 1890 but he had been preceded by one well-known Western artist in 1881. Charles Craig sketched and painted at Taos in the summer of that year, but later in the same year settled in Colorado Springs where he spent the next 50 years of his life. With Harvey S. Young, he was the first resident artist of the Springs and his depiction of Western scenes won him not only a local but an international clientele. [65]

For many years Craig had virtually a continuous one-man exhibit in the lobby of the famous Antler's Hotel of Colorado Springs and many of his buyers were visitors at the hotel. When the Antler's was destroyed by fire in 1898, many of Craig's canvases were lost.

Although neither Craig nor Poore were in any way responsible for the present art colony of Taos, Joseph H. Sharp who visited Taos, in 1893, can be more directly related to its origin.

Sharp, born in Ohio in 1859, began the study of art in Cincinnati when he was but 14 years of age, and for many years was associated with the art life of Cincinnati. He had a studio in the same building as Henry F. Farny, at the time Farny began his career as a Western artist, and it was Farny's example that played an important part in determining Sharp's career. Sharp, in a letter written in 1939, pointed out that he was fascinated with the American Indian long before he met Farny. He wrote:

I was first interested in Indians before becoming an artist - the first group I ever saw was at the B. & 0. depot near Wheeling, W. Va. They would shoot at dimes and quarters placed in upright forked stick with bow and arrow - even the kids were expert. I was about six years old [then]. Later, living at Ironton, 0., near Cincinnati, the town used to have summer parades and fiesta-simple floats, etc. Once, when I was 12-13 yrs. old, 4 other boys & myself were Indians on ponies, stripped to G-string & all painted up by local druggist with ochre . . . . we got tired of the slowness [of forming the parade] and with yells & war whoops we broke loose, stole the show and went galloping & maurauding all over town. When I went to Cincinnati Art Academy & learned to draw and paint, I wanted to paint Indians - Farny was doing it then, & dissuaded me by telling of hardships, dangers and made me feel I didn't exactly have a right to paint Indians - after a couple of years or so when he saw I was determined to go west, he gave me books on Pueblo Indians & particularly the Penitentes of New Mexico & wanted me to take that up!

It was to the Southwest that Sharp finally went - first in Santa Fe in 1883, and later to Taos in 1893, and to other pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona in the following years. He retained a position on the Cincinnati Art Academy in the winter months, from 1892 until 1902, and then resigned to devote all his time to painting Indian themes in the Indian country. For a number of years, beginning in 1901, he had a summer studio on the Crow agency of Montana which was located at the foot of the Custer battlefield. He became a permanent resident of Taos in 1912, where he lives across from the home of the celebrated frontiersman, Kit Carson. [66]

After Sharp's sketching trip to Taos in the summer of 1893 he went abroad. There he met Bert G. Phillips and Ernest L. Blumenschein, both interested in painting the American Indian. They were students at the Academy Julien in Paris, and were particularly receptive to Sharp's glowing account of the Southwest and of the village of Taos in particular. Upon their return to this country in 1895, they set up a studio together and then in the winter of 1897 and 1898, Blumenschein, who was also a one-time student of Lungren, spent some time in Colorado and New Mexico. A number of illustrations appeared in McClure's Magazine as the result of this trip. In the fall of 1898, Blumenschein, with Phillips as his companion, was back in New Mexico.

On September 4, 1898, they arrived in Taos, and Phillips has remained there ever since. Blumenschein stayed for a time with Phillips but he did not make Taos his permanent home until 1919, so that Phillips is to be regarded as the founder of this modern art colony in the Southwest.[67] The first of the pictures to be reproduced belonging to the modern Taos group, however, is to be credited to Blumenschein, for there appeared late in 1898, the illustration, "A Strange Mixture of Barbarism and Christianity - The Celebration of San Geronimo's Day Among the Pueblo Indians," and signed by Blumenschein, "Taos N. M. 1898." The next year there appeared two further illustrations, "The Advance of Civilization in New Mexico - the Merry-Go-Round Comes To Taos," and "Wards of the Nation - Their First Vacation From School [Navajo]." [68] The original drawing of "The Merry-Go-Round" illustration, according to Mr. Blumenschein, was done in black and white gouache, and its present whereabouts is unknown.[69] These illustrations were "very early work in my career," continued Mr. Blumenschein. "I afterward and until about 1912 was a successful illustrator at a period when illustration of magazines was in a much higher plane than today." The long and imposing list of awards made Blumenschein since that day and his election to the National Academy in 1927, are sufficient achievements for his inclusion in any consideration of American art. [70]

For many of these artists and illustrators, as has been said, the Indian and the cowboy of the West were the boyhood magnets that drew them to their careers. Even mature men, with no previous acquaintance with the West, were not immune to the power of this attraction. One artist wrote on his initial trip to the West in 1893:

We Easterners were worked up to a pitch of nervous excitement, until, at the close of the third day, we could descry from the car window signs of approaching desolation. Even the seemingly endless plains with bunches of cattle here and there were interesting to us . . . . Our ears tingled with new names and new expressions."[71]

The marvelous range of color, the brilliant sunlight, the early inhabitants - both red and white - the contrasts of plain and desert and mountain, captivated many artists as it has captivated a countless number of souls outside the profession. "It is a striking scene of gorgeous color," wrote one artist in viewing an Indian dance, "The brilliant sunlight illumines the gaudy trappings of the dancers." Another artist wrote after a trip across the San Juan valley:

Sand, sage, and cactus, a true picture of the Southwest. The mountains in the distance, with their snowy tops, were beautiful in their softness of tone and grand proportions . . . . During the ages of erosion, towers of rock have been left standing in the plain, giving to the scene a weird and wondrous effect. The color in all is beautiful, the snuff-brown hue of the nearer towers and slopes losing itself in the blue and misty ones far away.

And still another artist, an ardent lover of solitude and remote mountain recesses, was to write of New Mexico and the beauty of

...the skies of marvelous blue through which pass, in summer, regiments of stately clouds; the majesty of the mountains, those serrated, rugged peaks to the East and North, and the gentler tone of the remoter ranges low lying in the west . . . . Every turn unfolds a new wonderland of beauty. [And in fall] The timbered sides of the mountains capped in now are now carpeted in the delicate pattern of the changes, aspens, gold and russet against the green of the pine. The heat of summer is gone . . . . Everywhere the sage, the adobes and the cottonwoods melt together in one harmonious symphony of greys and browns and violets of the choicest quality.[72]

All these marvels of Western land and color remain to us today. All who will may look and see. But the life of an earlier day, portrayed against this colorful background of tremendous breadth and scope, has gone. To that group of artists who recorded the early life of our West we owe much, for they have left us the nearest approach to the past that we will ever know.

The passing of the old West was mourned by many, including these pictorial recorders who lived through its closing hours. One artist wrote:

When I was last in Tucson there were four gambling houses running full blast night and day to every block. They were patronized by Indians, cowboys, sheepherders, niggars and Chinamen. Every man, whatever his color, wore a gun in sight, and I could walk up and down the main street of Tucson all day and every day of the week getting material for pictures, local color and new types. Now the town is killed from my point of view. I met a man here who had just come up from Arizona and he tells me they have shut down all the gambling houses tight, and not a gun in sight! Why the place hasn't the pictorial value of a copper cent any longer.[73]

Even the best-known of all the recorders of the life of the West that was, lamented its passing. Frederic Remington wrote:

I knew the derby hat, the smoking chimneys, the cord-binder, and the thirty-day note were upon us in a resistless surge. I knew the wild riders and the vacant land were about to vanish forever, and the more I considered the subject the bigger the Forever loomed . . . . I saw the living, breathing end of three American centuries of smoke and dust and sweat, and I now see quite another thing where it all took place, but it does not appeal to me.[74]

The wheels of change and progress wait for no man, not even artists. Doubtless in the comments above, at least two were carried away by their own words. The fact remains that the years around the turn of the century mark with some finality the end of an important era in the life of the West and of the nation. What better recognition could be made of that fact, from the standpoint of this series at least, than a pictorial one? So we shall let Blumenschein's "The Advance of Civilization in New Mexico - The Merry-Go-Round Comes To Taos" (reproduced facing p. 249) be our pictorial conclusion.



61. Oliver W. Larkin, Art and Life in America (New York, 1949), p. vii.

62. Samuel Isham, The History of American Painting, new edition (New York, 1927), p. 575.

63. Neuhaus, op. cit., pp. 322 and 323. The attraction of light and color and of Indian and Mexican life for the artist, is attested by one member of the Taos group himself; see W. Herbert Dunton "Painters of Taos," American Magazine of Art, v. 13 (1922), August, p. 247. Rilla C. Jackson in American Arts (Chicago, 1928), is another art historian who, like Neuhaus, makes some consideration of Taos. In her discussion, "The Taos Artists" (pp. 266-274), she included not only the Taos group as such but Western artists in general, including Remington and his contemporaries. Art historians who make no mention of the Taos artists are Homer Saint-Gaudens, The American Artist and His Times (New York, 1941), and Suzanne La ollette, Art in America (New York, 1929). Miss La Follette has so little understanding of American history that she makes (p. 110) the well-nigh incredible statement "on the contrary, it [westward expansion] is one of the most depressing chapters in American life . . . it promoted deterioration in the quality of life." Miss La Follette is not alone in expressing such an attitude, but such critics have seized on fraud, land exploitation, corruption in public office and other ills that accompanied the development of the West, while totally overlooking the facts of similar irregularities of Eastern life and the more favorable aspects of Western life. Bernard De Voto in Mark Twain's America (Boston, 1932), is in part an answer to such critics.

64. Blanche C. Grant, When Old Trails Were New (New York, 1934), p. 254. For the previous mention of Poore in this series, see The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 18 (1950), February, p. 6. Poore visited Taos in the summer of 1890; see Report on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed . . . Eleventh Census: 1890 (Washington, 1894), p. 424.

65. Craig (1846-1931) is another artist who really deserves fuller notice in this chronicle than we have given him. Examples of his work are so widely scattered that it is difficult if not impossible to secure photographs of them, as I have been trying to do for the last ten or dozen years. Craig was one of the illustrators for Verner L. Reed's Lo-To-Kah (New York, 1897) and others of Reed's publications. Born in Ohio in 1846, he made his first Western trip in 1865-up the Missouri river. He was a student in the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts in 1872 and 1873 and after he settled in Colorado Springs he took an active part in the art life of Colorado, both as a productive artist, a teacher of art, and as manager of a number of early art exhibitions in Denver and Pueblo, as well as Colorado Springs. Biographic material will be found in obituaries in the Colorado Springs Telegraph, October 20, 1931, p. 1, and the Denver Post, October 20, 1931. Other materials bearing on his work include accounts in the Colorado Springs Evening Telegraph, February 4, 1920, p. 9; the Colorado Springs Sunday Gazette and Telegraph, November 11, 1923, Sec. 1, p. 4; in Brush and Pencil in Early Colorado Springs by Gilbert McClurg, also in Colorado Springs Gazette and Telegraph, November 30, 1924, Sec. 2, and in Who's Who in America, v. 13 (1924), p. 832.

Harvey B. Young (1841-1901), a landscape artist, had his first Western experiences in California in 1859. He received art training abroad and made his home in Manitou, Colo., in 1879, and later in Aspen and Denver. He deserted art for a time in the 1880's when he made and lost a fortune in mining. His reputation as an artist was based on landscape paintings of the Rockies and of Brittany and Fontainebleau. For biographical information see Gilbert McClurg, op. cit., Colorado Springs Gazette and Telegraph, November 23, 1924, Sec. 2, pp. 1, 3, and an obituary in the Denver Republican, May 14, 1901.

Another friend of Craig's was Frank P. Sauerwen, who was also a visitor to Taos in 1898, but who was claimed as a Denver artist. Sauerwen was born in 1871 in New Jersey, and moved to Denver about 1891. He moved to California in 1905 and died in Stamford, Conn., on June 13, 1910. He had a large local reputation as an artist but was scarcely known outside of the mountain West. Fred Harvey was one of his patrons as was Judge J. D. Hamlin of Farewell, Tax. Judge Hamlin wrote me in 1940 that he owned some 40 canvases done by Sauerwen. I have seen but two reproductions of Sauerwen's work, "First Santa Fe Vain," reproduced in color by the Fred Harvey System in post-card form and "The Arrow," probably his best-known picture, which was reproduced in black and white in Brush and Pencil, Chicago, v. 4 (1899), May, p. 83.

I am indebted to Judge Hamlin, to the Denver Public Library, and especially to Alfred W. Scott, art dealer of Denver, for biographic information concerning Sauerwen. Newspaper material on Sauerwen will be found in the Denver Republican, November 22, 1898; Rocky Mountain News, Denver, November 22, 1898; Denver Weekly Church Press, December 10, 1898; Denver Republican, April 9, 1899; Rocky Mountain News, April 9, 1899; Denver Republican, April 15, 1900, and April 18, 1903.

66. I have carried on a correspondence with Mr. Sharp since 1939, the material quoted above being from a letter dated "April, 1939." For published information on Sharp's career, see National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, v. 18, p. 188; Who's Who in America 1950-1951, v. 26 (1980), p. 2483. Sharp illustrations resulting from his visit to New Mexico in 1893 may be found in Harper's Weekly, v. 37 (1893), October 14, p. 981, "The Harvest Dance of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico" (full page), dated "93" with a description by Sharp himself on pp. 982 and 983; ibid., v. 38 (1894), June 9, p. 549, "The Pueblo Turquoise Driller" (small), with brief description by Sharp on the same page; Brush and Pencil, v. 4 (1899), April, pp. 1-7, "An Artist Among the Indians," by Sharp, with reproductions of 11 of his paintings, one (full page) in color, "The Mesa, From Kit Carson's Tomb, Taos, New Mexico." Several others of these reproductions indicate Taos as the locale. A full-page reproduction in color of Sharp's "The Evening Chant" (Pueblo Indians), appeared in ibid., v. 5 (1900), March, facing p. 241, with a brief comment by Sharp on p. 284 (reproduced in black and white with this article); in the same periodical, v. 7 (1901), April, p. 61, is a full-page black and white reproduction of his painting, "Mourning Her Brave," which on p. 64 is credited "from life." An Exhibition of Oil Paintings by Joseph Henry Sharp (Tulsa, 1949), lists 204 of his paintings, many of which are dated; one, "Zuni Pueblo," bears the legend, "Painted 1898"; altogether some 16 were painted before 1900. The Sharp exhibition at Tulsa was opened on his 90th birthday!

67. In this statement of the founding of the art colony at Taos, I am following the account of E. L. Blumenschein which appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican, June 26, 1940, "Artists and Writers Edition," and the biographic sketch of J. H. Sharp which also appeared in the same issue of the New Mexican. Blanche C. Grant, op. cit., ch. 85, was another who described the founding of the art colony at Taos and gave biographic sketches of a number of the artists in the colony at the time of writing (1934). Miss Grant also included an interesting group photograph of ten of the Taos artists. According to the Blumenschein account, some 50 artists were making Taos their permanent home in 1940. Blumenschein's illustrations appeared in McClure's Magazine, New York, as follows: v. 10 (1898), January, p. 252; v. 12 (1899), January, p. 241, February, pp. 298-304; v. 14 (1899), November, pp. 88, 90-93, 95. For Bert G. Phillips (born 1868), see Who's Who in America, v. 26 (1950-1951), p. 2163.

The story of the actual arrival of Phillips and Blumenschein at Taos in 1898 has been told by both men; by Blumenschein in the account cited above, and by Phillips in "The Broken Wagon Wheel or How Art Came To New Mexico," an address made by Phillips in 1948 on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Taos Art Colony.

The two young artists of 1898 started out from Denver for Mexico after buying a team and a light wagon for their artistic exploration of the Southwest. Neither of the two had handled horses before and their training in harnessing and driving was gained the hard way by the method of trial and error. After a series of vicissitudes, one of the rear wagon wheels collapsed when they were on a mountain road about thirty miles north of Taos. By drawing lots, it was decided that Blumenschein should take the wheel to Taos for repairs, Phillips remaining behind to guard their belongings. After three days, Blumenschein was able to return with the repaired wheel, and the two traveled on to Taos. So entranced were both with Taos and its surroundings that they went no farther, both resolving to make the wealth of beauty and picturesque life around them known to a far wider audience; "a wealth," as Mr. Phillips remarked, "that will continue to exist as long as this old world shall endure." It is not surprising with this account before us, that the symbol of the present Taos Colony is a broken wagon wheel.

Santa Fe itself as well as Taos, is now a very considerable center of art and has been for many years. Although no attempt will be made to outline the history of Santa Fe as a center of art it can be pointed out that the Santa Fe New Mexican has many items bearing on such a history previous to 1900. For example, the New Mexican for September 9, 1886, p. 4, described the work of a Mr. and Mrs. Elderkin, art teachers, who were established in Santa Fe.

The modern art colony in Santa Fe had a much later beginning. Dr. Reginald Fisher of the Museum of New Mexico wrote me recently as follows concerning the modern period: "Roughly speaking, the years 1918 and 1919 might be given for the founding of the Santa Fe art colony. It was during this time that the original group of artists established permanent homes here. Among these were Gustave Baumann, Randell Davey, Fremont Ellis, John Sloan, and within a year or two following were Will Sluster, Jozef Bakes, Theodore Van Soelen (who settled first at Albuquerque in 1916 then at Santa Fe in 1922) and Albert Schmidt. These are all leading names today among Santa Fe artists."

68. These illustrations appeared in Harper's Weekly, v. 42 (1898), December 10, pp. 1204, 1205; v. 43 (1899), June 17, p. 587, October 28, p. 1100. J. H. Sharp's painting reproduced in Brush and Pencil, "The Mesa, From Kit Carson's Tomb, Taos. New Mexico," cited in Footnote 66, should not be overlooked in considering the early illustrations from Taos.

69. Letter of E. L. Blumenschein to the writer, March 16, 1940.

70. For Mr. Blumenschein's career see Who's Who in America, v. 26 (1950-1951), p. 253. Mr. Blumenschein is still active at the age of 76.

71. Remington W. Lane, "An Artist in the San Juan Country," Harper's Weekly, v. 37 (1893), December 9, p. 1174. Seven of Lane's pictures of southwestern Colorado and Utah will be found on p. 1168. Lane was a member of Warren K. Moorehead's archaeological party that traveled overland from Durango, Cob., to Bluff City, Utah. I have found no other data concerning Lane.

72. The first quotation given above was written by J. H. Sharp, Harper's Weekly, v. 37 (1893), October 14, p. 982; the second was Remington W. Lane, in ibid., December 9, p. 1174; the third by W. Herbert Dunton, in American Magazine of Art, v. 13 (1922), August, p. 247.

73. H. W. Hansen in the Santa Barbara Morning Press, June 30, 1908, p. 5.

74. Collier's Weekly, New York, v. 34 (1905), March 18, p. 16.


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

rev. 11/20/10

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