Sunday, June 15, 2014

Southwestern Allure

 “Southwestern Allure:  The Art of the Santa Fe Art Colony”, currently at the New Mexico Museum of Art, would be an obvious exhibition to have  originated somewhere in the Southwest, but it did not.  Instead it comes out of the Southeast, --Boca Raton, Florida.  The Director of the Boca Museum of Art, Steven Maklansky explains in the introduction to the catalog for the show, “Here in Boca Raton we understand how a warm climate, attractive natural resources and a bit of optimistic city planning can make all the difference.”  I guess it is a choice do you prefer the mountains or the sea?

The show is guest curated by an art historian and independent curator, Valerie Ann Leeds, out of New York.  Her field of expertise is American art and she-has written several books on the artist Robert Henri (1865-1929), who, it turns out, had a strong Santa Fe connection.

New Mexico only became a State in the 20th century, 1912 to be exact.  Edgar Lee Hewett (1865-1946) who was an anthropologist and archeologist by training turned into the guru of all things art at that time.  He felt that the historic Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, where he established the Museum of New Mexico in 1909 was not enough to exhibit the work of all the artists who were coming to Santa Fe, so he campaigned for the construction of a separate art gallery, now the New Mexico Museum of Art, that opened in 1917.  It’s architecture was the model for what is now known as “the  Santa Fe Style”.

Robert Henri was a great influence on Hewett who convinced him to come to Santa Fe where a group of artists was already in residence in 1916.  Henri had trained in the academic tradition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and in Paris. but became one of the leaders of the Ashcan School, and the organizer of "The Eight", a group of artists who objected to the restrictive exhibition practices of the conservative National Academy of Design in New York.  In Santa Fe, Henri could do something about it, He convinced Hewett to adopt a policy of open non-juried exhibitions. Although Henri continued to work in a number of locations including Philadelphia and Paris and Ireland, but he also enjoyed working in Santa Fe and became fascinated with Indian culture. “Macedonia”, 1917, from the Ray and Kay Harvey Collection, is one of his many portraits of Native American subjects.

The first exhibition specifically of the Santa Fe Artists’ Colony was in 1915 in the Palace of the Governors, and a few more artists joined in 1916, but it all came together in 1917 at the Art Museum’s inaugural show that Hewett asked Henri to organize.  He amplified the representation of regional artists with names well known to Easterners such as Leon Kroll and George Bellows.  By 1918 Marsden Hartley came to New Mexico and John Sloan soon thereafter.  Even Georgia O’Keeffe visited New Mexico in 1917 though she did come not here regularly until the 1930’s and it became her permanent home only in 1949 when she was already in her 60’s.

I had always thought of John French Sloan as a New York artist for his city genre scenes are so well known.  He came to visit Henri, however, in Santa Fe in 1918 and from then on came out for four months a year for the next thirty years .  In “The New Homestead” 1930, courtesy of the Kaushaar Gallery in New York and the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, he depicted himself, (with pipe) in a gathering in the home of the local artist Will Shuster.

Not all the artists who followed Henri’s lead stayed for a long time but he did bring out some of the best.  Edward Hopper, for instance, came for just one summer in 1925, but recorded his impressions in a series of watercolors.  George Bellows came a few times in order to get together with his teacher Henri and friend Leon Kroll who also paid periodic visits.  In 1917 Bellows painted one of the landmarks of the area, the “Santuario de Chimayo”, collection of Judy and Lee Dirks.

The German-born Gustave Baumann (1881-1971), planning to move to Taos, New Mexico, did not find it to his liking, but he had heard of the new art museum which was welcoming to local artists in 1918 so he came down to Santa Fe. This  master of the color woodcut made Santa Fe his home until his death.  Frank Applegate (1881-1931), who is one of my personal favorites, was another East Coast artist who decided to move to California in 1920 but on his way stopped in Santa Fe and stayed.  His untitled "Indian Village" from the collection of Gerald and Kathleen Peters, shows a pueblo feast day.

The story of the artists’ colony would not be complete, however, without mentioning the “Lungers”.  Between 1880 and 1940 there was a great influx of individuals seeking a cure from tuberculosis, which then killed more people in the U.S. than any other disease.   One of the better known "Lungers” was Will Shuster and one of his best paintings, “Corn Dance” done in 1920, from the collection of Gerald & Kathleen Peters is in the exhibition.

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