Sunday, February 15, 2015

Encounters: The Taos Society of Artists, Pueblo Culture, and the Hispanic Southwest


Walter Ufer, Me and Him, n.d., location unknown

On February 3 our class was introduced to The Taos Society of Artists, in John Ott's article, "Reform in Redface: The Taos Society of Artists Plays Indian." (American Art 23, no. 2 (Summer 2009): 80-107). These were educated artists that moved to the southwest and immersed themselves into the Pueblo culture. They fell in love with the people and the land that surrounded them. Through their paintings, they introduced the eastern border-states to the beauty of the land and the people that lived on it. Their paintings inspired a desire to establish a national art; art that is American and not influenced by Europe. In class, we discussed how these artists (especially by artists Walter Ufer and E. Irving Couse) were afraid of being emasculated by the supposed “feminization” of European art. Both sought to “regain” a type of “vigorous masculinity,” “rejuvenation,” and “identification with the robust men of the Pueblo.” Our discussion included analysis of the paintings by Couse and Ufer and we saw the slow transformation of the artists’ own images becoming less Anglo and more like the natives of the southwest.

Ernest L. Blumenschein, The Gift, 1922, Smithsonian American Art Museum

In Sascha Scott's article, "Unwrapping Ernest L. Blumenschein’s The Gift," (American Art 25, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 20-47) the focus was Blumenschein's efforts “to promote Pueblo culture as an important part of this country’s cultural heritage and the desire to protect or preserve Pueblo culture from the degrading influences of Anglo society.” We spent time discussing the influences behind the painting and the modernist techniques that Blumenschein used to create his image of the Pueblo culture. He was one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists, and just like his peers, he immersed himself into the culture of the Pueblo people. As a result, he had a better understanding of the culture’s spiritual connection with the land and with each other as a community. He used the modernist approach in his painting, The Gift, “to celebrate Pueblo culture while keeping their culture from being fully known to the viewer.” Blumenschein was breaking away from the stereotypical paintings of the Pueblos that his peers had succumbed to by popular demands of the east.

Santa Fe Adobe

The last essay, Julie Schimmel's chapter from the book, Art in New Mexico, 1900-1945: Paths to Taos and Santa Fe, called "The Hispanic Southwest," addressed the Hispanic culture in New Mexico. Architects came in and tried to protect the original architecture of the Hispanic people, which today we call the Santa Fe style. The opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821, however, allowed factory-made products to replace homemade handcrafted art, as well as mass-producing religious icons. As a result, over the next few generations, Hispanic culture began to rely on the industrial economy of mass produced icons. The particular interest here is that when it came to the Pueblo Indians, American artists romanticized them, but they did not show the same respect for Hispanics. As a result, “the artistic image of Hispanic culture largely stemmed from an Anglo perception of the relationship between Hispanic people and land, labor, and the Catholic Church.” Artists depicted Hispanics toiling on the land, while for the Indians the land was a source of inspiration. We analyzed The Dry Ditch by Kenneth Adams, which exemplifies the very stereotype, and which we had seen during our recent visit to the Eiteljorg Museum.

Tracy Jarrett and Kristina Powell

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