A Tesuque painter known for continuing a legacy of traditional pueblo art died Jan. 17 at the age of 85.
Paul Vigil made a living from his artwork for 50 years, with sales in local shops and Native American art galleries. His watercolors often depict animals or Tewa dancers.
“He left a legacy in terms of artwork all over the world,” said Stephen Fox, a downtown Santa Fe gallery owner who met the artist and started buying Vigil’s paintings in 1981. He added that he was one of the last people to continue a traditional, now-rare pueblo art style.
Fox said his images of ceremonial dancers, which were seen as religious statements, were important to Vigil as a longtime tribal leader. His son, Virgil Vigil, said his father served on the tribal council numerous times throughout his life.
A Vigil mural featuring buffalo dancers and drummers has been on display in the Camel Rock Casino lobby since it opened in 1995.
“He did so much with those paintings and he basically represented the tribe, the village of Tesuque, (and) our traditions we’re still carrying on,” his son said.
Close family friend and well-known Taos Pueblo fashion designer Patricia Michaels remembered Vigil as someone who knew the importance of knowing oneself as a “Native first” before as an artist.
Vigil learned the traditional art form from his father, renowned early 20th-century Native painter Tomás Vigil, who died in 1960 and also went by his Tewa name Pan Yo Pin. Some of the father’s watercolors are in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Museum of the American Indian collections.
Virgil Vigil said his father continued with what he called the Santa Fe Indian School painting style, which became popular around the turn of the 20th century. Before he died, he taught many of his children, grandchildren and other family members. “In a way, he left a legacy behind,” his son said.
Vigil stopped painting four to five years ago after suffering several strokes, Fox said, though he still created pencil drawings occasionally.
Vigil is survived by his wife, Alice; sister, Teresa Tapia; seven children, Pauline, Verna, Virgil, Vera, Bobby, Fred and Sarah; 17 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Tesuque’s Governor’s Office declined to comment on his passing out of respect for his family and spirit.