Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on November 26, 2004 with permission of the author and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay please contact the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
Women Artists of Santa Fe
by Michael R. Grauer
The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, on the West Texas A & M University campus in Canyon, Texas, has been a pioneer in presenting the work of female artists on a scholarly level. For example, the Museum's landmark "Women Artists of Texas, 1850-1950," in 1993 contributed directly to the nationally-touring exhibition, "Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945" in 1995. Consequently, it is only natural that for the last exhibition in its series honoring the centennial of the Santa Fe Art Colony, Panhandle-Plains will present "Women Artists of Santa Fe."
Women have been integral to the Santa Fe art scene since Olive Rush first visited in 1914. From the late 'teens and into the early 1960s, women artists made their presence felt in Santa Fe, not only through the visual arts, but also in literature. For example, Willa Cather first visited Santa Fe in 1915, Alice Corbin Henderson moved there with her husband in 1916, and Mary Austin first visited in 1918, moving to Santa Fe in 1924. This edifying atmosphere, combined with the mezcla of Hispanic, American Indian, and Anglo cultures, created an environment fecund for visual exploration. Interestingly, while scholars recognize the Modernist tendencies of the Santa Fe Art Colony during this period, on several levels, women artists were far bolder and more avant-garde than their male counterparts, on several levels.
Furthermore, with its open-door (non-juried) exhibition policy and free, temporary studio space, the Museum of Fine Arts that opened in 1917, was an offer many artists could not refuse. Thus, like moths to a flame between 1913 and 1920, artists with modern leanings either visited Santa Fe for extended periods or moved there permanently.[i] Many artists, both male and female, were part-time residents of Santa Fe. Others would come to Santa Fe for consecutive years and never return as they moved on to new locales. However, to a woman, these temporarily visiting artists sustained strong feelings about their time in New Mexico.
Indiana-born, Quaker-raised Olive Rush (1873-1966) first visited Santa Fe in 1914, the first recorded female artist to do so. Rush studied at the Corcoran School of Art and the Art Students League before beginning a career as an illustrator in New York in 1895. Like many female artists throughout history, she became well known for her paintings of children and women reproduced in magazines such as St. Nicholas and Woman's Home Companion and for her portraits of the same type subjects. From 1904 to 1910 she lived at Wilmington, Delaware, to study with Howard Pyle. Rush completed her twenty-year art education in England and France and the Boston Museum School in 1912.
Rush traveled to Belgium and France with fellow painter Alice Schille (1869-1955) in 1913, whom she later encouraged to visit New Mexico in 1919. During her 1914 visit to New Mexico and Arizona, Rush had a one-person exhibition at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. She moved there permanently in 1920 and her home on Canyon Road became a magnet for artists, especially female artists who socialized in her garden. In spite of the isolation of Santa Fe, Rush contributed to major national and international venues throughout her career, culminating in a retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe in 1957. Olive Rush was one of the pillars of the Santa Fe Art Colony, regardless of gender. [ii]
A Seattle native, Louise Crow (1891-1968) opened a studio in Santa Fe in 1918She studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, under William Merritt Chase at Carmel, California, at the National Academy of Design, the Art Students League with Max Weber, and with Frank Duveneck. From a prominent Seattle family, Crow began exhibiting in California and Seattle in 1915, but in Santa Fe her career soared. None other than the harshly critical Marsden Hartley reviewed her 1919 exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe: "The indication in her works is as clear as a clearly sounding bell, it has the ring of good metal in it." [iii]
Crow bought a studio home on Canyon Road next door to Gerald Cassidy (1879-1934) and maintained it until 1921, when she returned to Seattle. However, she revisited Santa Fe periodically throughout her career. The School of American Research made her a fellow in 1920 because of her fieldwork at San Ildefonso Pueblo and her work with Dr. Edward L. Hewitt, director of the Museum of New Mexico.
Ohio's Alice Schille (1869-1955) visited Santa Fe in 1919 and 1920, the latter year to renew her friendship with Olive Rush. Schille and Rush were housemates in a New York boardinghouse while Schille studied at the Art Students League. Born into a wealthy Columbus, Ohio, family Schille (pronounced "shilly") "lived in comparative luxury in the family home."[iv] She studied at the Columbus Art School, the Art Students League, and at William Merritt Chase's Chase School of Art and the Shinnecock School of Art. Schille then spent two years' study in Europe, including the Academie Colarossi and private study with Chase in Paris.
While in Paris, Schille exhibited at the 1904 Salon before returning to Columbus where she began her teaching career at the school of art. She spent much of her early career traveling in Europe, including a 1913 trip to France and Belgium with Rush. Schille also traveled to Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East during her career. She began exhibited with the Society of Western Artists throughout the Midwest and in 1915 won a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco.
After her first two visits to Santa Fe, Schille visited New Mexico periodically between 1925 and 1947. She had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe in 1920. Alice Schille painted some of the most dynamic watercolors ever produced in American art and her New Mexican watercolors are most assuredly among the best ever done there.
Another Midwestern visitor to New Mexico, Laura van Pappelendam (1883-1974) was a frequent visitor to Santa Fe beginning in the early 1930s. Born in Iowa, van Pappelendam studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and later earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Van Pappelendam also attended the art colony at Provincetown, Massachusetts, studying under Charles W. Hawthorne and received private instruction from Diego Rivera and Nicholas Roerich. Van Pappelendam painted not only in the Santa Fe area, but also used Santa Fe as a base from which she could travel to Arizona and Utah. She taught at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1909 to 1956 and at the University of Chicago from 1924 to 1948.
Dorothy Newkirk Stewart (1891-1955) arrived on scene around 1925. A painter, illustrator, muralist, and printmaker, Stewart focused nearly all her New Mexico work on American Indian life. Calling her home Galeria Mexicana, it became a center for cultural activities in Santa Fe. Stewart wrote and illustrated with her block prints, The Handbook of Indian Dances and Shakespeare's Midsommer Night's Dream.
The only sculptor in the exhibition, Eugenie Shonnard ( 1886 -1978) arrived from New York in 1927. A pupil of New York's School of Applied Design for Women, where she studied with the Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha, Shonnard also studied at the Art Students League with James Earle Fraser, one of the leading sculptors of Western motifs in the country. Shonnard also studied in Paris with Auguste Rodin and Emile Bourdelle, two of the greatest French sculptors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Shonnard worked in a variety of media, both carving and modeling the material. She specialized in human figurative sculpture and was well known for her sculpture of Brittany peasants and Pueblo Indians as well as animals. Her work is found in public collections across the United States and in the Luxembourg Palace and the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Shonnard felt "sculpture is the 'flower of architecture' and I'll not be content until sculpture and architecture are allied." [v]
Her exhibition record is one of the most impressive of all New Mexico artists, beginning at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1916. She had a solo exhibition in Paris by 1926, exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1933, Salons of America in 1934, and at the World's Fair at New York in 1939, as well as at the Art Institute of Chicago and in most venues in New Mexico during her career.
"It was not until 1931, when I went to New Mexico that I started thinking in terms of 'ART'," reminisced Gina Schnaufer Knee (1898-1982) what inspired her to move to Santa Fe.[vi] A John Marin disciple and protégée of Ward Lockwood she sought out American Indian ceremonials as the subjects for her first years of paintings in New Mexico around 1932. Born Virginia Schnaufer in Marietta, Ohio, and like her fellow Ohioan, Alice Schille, grew up in well-to-do circumstances at Louisville, Kentucky, and newly married about 1920 she "pursued an active, genteel life of parties and polo."[vii] The marriage ended in divorce ten years later, still somewhat scandalous in 1930, and setting up a sad pattern for the artist throughout her life. By the time she met photographer Ernest Knee and moved to New Mexico in 1933, the painter had changed her name from Virginia to Gina, pronounced with a hard "G."
The Knees moved into the former home of Los Cinco Pintores member Walter Mruk on Camino del Monte Sol at the epicenter of the Santa Fe Art Colony. By 1934 Knee began basing her watercolors less on literal transcription than on "forms arranged without regard to conventional spatial relationships" and began exhibiting at the Art Institute of Chicago.[viii] Sadly, her own attractiveness created a tension in her life wherein "what Gina Knee did was somehow less important than how she looked."[ix] This would also be a problem with several Santa Fe women artists.
The Knees moved to Tesuque in the late 1930s, designing their own house. Tesuque also boasted artists Albert Schmidt and husband and wife artists Wilfred and Myrtle Stedman. By this time Gina began winning prizes for her work, in California and New Mexico and exhibiting at the World's Fair at New York in 1939. She also joined the Taos modernist painting group, Heptagon. Gina left New Mexico permanently in December 1942, but in an interview in her seventies she remembered: "I never got over New Mexico-the landscape, the mesas, mountains, the green and tan."[x] Gina Knee was one of the most daring artists to work in Santa Fe in the 1930s and her work stands as testimony to the barriers against abstract painting she demolished with her paintings.
Myrtle Stedman (b. 1908) moved with her architect-painter husband Wilfred Stedman (1892-1950) from Houston to Tesuque in 1934. An integral part of the Houston art colony, which was established almost entirely by women, Stedman brought her fluid painting style to New Mexico and applied it to Santa Fe area subjects. She also became heavily involved in the design and construction of adobe buildings. Later in life, Stedman focused almost all her energies on writing, with particular emphasis on the construction and preservation of adobe architecture. Her A House Not Made with Hands is a memoir of her early days in New Mexico with her husband and should be a part of any New Mexico reading list. Today, Stedman lives in a Santa Fe nursing home, where her artist son, Wilfred Jr., attends her.
Hella Broeske Shattuck arrived in Santa Fe on the back of a motorcycle during her honeymoon in 1934. The child of Finnish immigrants from South Dakota, she became a trained concert pianist. Armed with some art training in Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, she also studied with Santa Fe painter Odon Hullenkremer (1888-1978) and quickly became involved in the Santa Fe art scene. Following her 1946 divorce she lived all over New Mexico and became fascinated with Hispanic and American Indian life, particularly ceremonials and fiestas. Shattuck became "artist in residence" at Isleta and Laguna pueblos by 1949. She later moved to Taos for a time and later Albuquerque where she died.
Polish native Polia Sunockin Pillin (1909-1992) lived and worked in Santa Fe during the 1930s. She produced a number of watercolors under the New Deal which reflect the American Scene sensibility prevalent in the United States during the 1930s. Pillin immigrated to Chicago in 1924 where she studied at Hull House, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Jewish Peoples Institute. Maintaining Chicago as a base in the late 1940s, she moved permanently to Los Angeles in 1948.
An accomplished pianist who had studied at the Northeast Conservatory of Music in Boston and taught and soloed in Maine, Dorothy Alden Morang (1906-1995) came to Santa Fe with her husband, painter Alfred Morang (1901-1958) by 1939, and possibly earlier.[xi] Dorothy was a pupil of her husband, Santa Fe's Raymond Jonson, and Taos's Emil Bisttram, Modernists all. She even became an unofficial member of Bisttram's Transcendental Painting Group, which lasted from 1938 to 1941, "but is considered one of the best painters to come out of that tradition. [xii] Dorothy Morang became very active in the New Deal, not only in easel painting but also as a music teacher. By 1942 she was employed by the Museum of New Mexico and help several curatorial positions there until 1963. During that time "she was a most prominent and visible force in Santa Fe's art community." [xiii]
Morang's musical expertise and her adherence to the theories of Kandinsky thoroughly infused her non-objective paintings with an energy and dynamism entirely new to Santa Fe in the 1940s. She even strongly defended her position on non-objective in the Santa Fe media by asking: "What could be more natural than the growth of painting towards the abstract? What could be a more natural growth than the growth from [an] abstraction which leaned somewhat on nature, to a complete and pure non-objectivism depending on nothing but pure painting values?" [xiv]
Dorothy Morang was far and away one of the most consistently progressive artists ever seen in New Mexico and was certainly a leader in broadening the horizons of the Santa Fe art colony. She helped found in 1949 the Santa Fe Women Artists Exhibiting Group, which included several of the artists in this exhibition, including Olive Rush, Agnes Sims, Eugenie Shonnard, and Agnes Tait. Dorothy Morang exhibited all over New Mexico and at the Panoras Gallery in New York and the Contemporary Art Gallery in Philadelphia, as well as at the Guggenheim in 1944 and 1945.
Known for her so-called "sun paintings," Pansy Stockton (1894-1972) may have been one of Santa Fe's most unique artists. Using only organic materials such as bark, moss, seeds, leaves, and feathers, Stockton built assemblages unlike anything ever seen in Santa Fe. "My palette is composed of some two hundred and fifty types of colorful wild growing things from everywhere," she said.[xv] Her hermetically sealed environments are amazing exercises in the creation of the illusion of three-dimensional space using found materials. Stockton's themes always included recognizable New Mexican subjects: the gate at Chimayo, aspen trees in the mountains, and carretas in a plaza, for example.
Clyde Beedle Gartner (1900-1967), along with her husband, James Gartner, founded the Arsuna School and Gallery in Santa Fe in 1937. The school, first located on Canyon Road, then moved to the former home of writer Mary Austin, offered courses in "painting; drawing; modeling and crafts; music; short story and feature writing."[xvi] Among its instructors were Raymond Jonson and Alfred Morang.[xvii] Gartner was a pupil of Nicholas Roerich and of the instructors at the Arsuna School. She closed the school during World War II and lived in Santa Fe until her death.
Art professor at Eastern New Mexico College (now Eastern New Mexico University) at Portales, Anna Keener (1895-1982) also maintained a studio in Santa Fe. A disciple of the Lindsborg, Kansas, painter Birger Sandzen (1871-1954) and a student of Santa Fe artist Randall Davey (1887-1964), Keener also studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Kansas City Art Institute. In 1969 Keener said: "I am stimulated by everything. Using new media (which in itself is exciting), each day challenges me to create something fresh and meaningful and of interest to others. I hope." [xviii]
Raised in Dalhart, Texas, there she befriended painter Lloyd Albright, who painted at Taos every chance he could, and future Taos writer Regina Tatum Cooke, both of whom may have encouraged Keener to paint in New Mexico. She applied the dynamic brushwork and vivid colors learned from Sandzen to landscapes in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, and occasionally painted genre scenes. Keener retired from ENMC in 1953 and moved full time to Santa Fe where she died.
Like Eugenie Shonnard, Agnes Tait (1894-1981) already had an impressive exhibition record when she moved to Santa Fe in 1941. This Greenwich Village native began exhibiting at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1915, and then continued in the annuals at the National Academy of Design, the Corcoran, and the Pennsylvania Academy in the early 1930s. She studied under Leon Kroll at the NAD and modeled for Frank Tenney Johnson and George Bellows in the 1920s.[xix] By 1933, she had had a solo exhibition at Ferargil Galleries in New York.
The New Deal brought even more notoriety to Tait as she produced not only easel paintings, but murals and lithographs. Her murals at Bellevue Hospital in New York were still extant under layers of wall paint and her mural at the Laurinburg, North Carolina, post office is a tribute to American Scene painting so prevalent during this time in the United States. Tait's experiments with lithography during the New Deal armed her to be one of the few women artists in Santa Fe to produce them after her move there.
However, her New Deal easel painting, Skating in Central Park, proved so popular that Hallmark Cards eventually reproduced on a Christmas card. Previously a disciple of the Pre-Raphaelites, by the 1930s Tait brought an American Scene crossed with neo-primitivism aesthetic to New Mexico, where she lived for most of the rest of her life. Still she maintained her place in New York with a solo exhibition at Ferargil Galleries in 1945, from which exhibition Art News reproduced her Canyon Corral. [xx] During the 1950s and 1960s, Tait turned to portrait painting and her easel work often included cats. [xxi]
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Berlin Margaret Lefranc (1907-1998) studied in Berlin and Paris. She lived in Paris until 1932, then moved back to New York where she founded the Guild Art Gallery, the launch site for the work of Arshile Gorky in the United States. Two years later, disgruntled with the commercial side of art, she traveled the states and first visited Santa Fe, moving there permanently in 1945. Lefranc shared a house with writer Alice Marriott at Nambe, between Santa Fe and Espanola.[xxii] In 1954 Lefranc designed and built a "piece of sculpture" home near sacred Atalaya Mountain on Santa Fe's east side. She also maintained a Florida home.
Beginning with more traditional paintings of New Mexico, Lefranc moved steadily toward more and more. She began exhibiting in Paris in the late 1920s, including the Salon d'Automne. In the United States she exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Corcoran Gallery, as well as the New York World's Fair. Never a self-promoter, Lefranc's inclusion in a series of exhibitions in the early 1990s brought her work back before the public eye. In 1996 she received the Governor's Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts from state of New Mexico.
Pennsylvanian Agnes Sims (1910-1990) became fascinated with prehistoric petroglyphs and pictographs and eventually became an honorary associate of the School of American Research in Santa Fe for her work researching and recording these works of art in the late 1940s. She published San Cristobal Petroglyphs in 1950. She arrived in Santa Fe around 1945 and had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts that year.
Trained at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Sims own work reflected her fascination with "rock art" in multiple media, particularly in painting, sculpture, and textiles. She said: "No matter what the surface subject appears to be . I hope to convey to the viewer something of my feeling of the endless chain of time." [xxiii]
Women have been integral to the Santa Fe Art Colony since 1914. From the late 'teens and into the early 1960s, women artists made their presence felt in Santa Fe, not only through the visual arts, but also in literature. While scholars recognize the Modernist tendencies of the Santa Fe Art Colony during this period, and have studied at length the contributions of male artists to the colony. The works of women artists have been under-researched and under-exhibited when, in fact, in numerous ways, women artists were far more willing to take risks than their male counterparts. Experimentation almost became de rigeur for women artists in Santa Fe as they fought their way out from under the shadows of not only their male counterpoints, but from the sexist strictures applied to them due to their own physical beauty. Ironically, several of them were taken more seriously in their own time than they are in our own "enlightened" time today. Hopefully this exhibition will allow us to examine the contributions of these artists on the merit of the work and decide for ourselves their place in the Santa Fe Art Colony.
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