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Women’s works: Harwood exhibit showcases significant female artists

“A Century of Art by Women Viewed in a Year of Truth” traces the evolution of women artists in Taos in an overdue exhibition of 80 works.

Like that of most American museums, the Harwood’s exhibition history is solidly anchored by men. But women were essential to the living legacy of Taos artists. The show features works by Catharine Critcher, the only woman to be invited into the male bastion of the Taos Society of Artists. It embraces colcha embroidery revivalist Frances Varos Graves, Rio Grande weavers and contemporary artists such as Erin Currier, art quilter Terrie Mangat and a recently donated white grid painting by the legendary Agnes Martin. The show encompasses the confluence of Hispanic, Native American and Anglo cultures within Taos’ staggering landscape.

The exhibition marks the first time the Harwood has highlighted works by all-female artists in its collection.

“We were both quite familiar with the female artists in Taos,” said Janet Webb, co-curator of the exhibit with Judith Kendall. “But when we opened these archives, it was thrilling.”

A vivid colorist, Critcher spent several summers in Taos. She was invited into the Taos Society of Artists unanimously in 1924.

“She lived in Virginia,” Webb said. “She studied in Paris, like they did. She had a real connection with Washington, D.C.; she started art schools there.”

Critcher studied at and later joined the faculty of the Corcoran School of Art. She never married.

“(The men) had a lot of respect for her because she had a lot of artistic credentials,” Webb said.

Contemporary artist Erin Currier’s “La Frontera” presents her comic book-inspired vision of a land of dismantled borders anchored by people of color. The series occupies the museum’s Peter and Madeleine Martin Gallery.

“Erin started living in Taos 15-20 years ago,” Webb said. “She worked in a coffee shop and did charming paintings using recycled materials. She lives in Santa Fe and shows at Blue Rain Gallery.”

Currier uses recycled materials such as bits of poster in her art, although she paints the faces.

“It’s about the border,” Kendall said. “It’s a lot of people who look like they’ve lived hard lives.”

Navajo artist Jolene Nenibah Yazzie completed a floor-to-ceiling mural for her “Sisters of War.”

The exhibit features a colcha piece by Frances Varos Graves, who helped revive the diminishing Hispanic wool embroidery technique in the 1930s.

“Frances was born in Arroyo Seco,” Webb said. “She and her sister married Mormon brothers. They put her to work repairing Navajo rugs. The colchas were kind of a folk art where they took used blankets and embroidered them.”

Jennifer Lynch’s multifaceted “Iridium,” (2011) a byproduct of an asteroid hitting the earth, is a mammoth canvas of light, shape and abstraction created using printer’s ink. Lynch is a master printmaker at the University of New Mexico-Taos.

Terrie Mangat’s “Taos Mountain Fireworks” is a quilt embellished with embroidery and beads.

One of the few female artists who gained recognition in the male-dominated art world of the 1950s and ’60s, Agnes Martin was a pivotal figure between two of that era’s dominant movements: abstract expressionism and minimalism. “Tundra” was the last painting she completed in New York before traveling and eventually settling in Taos and later Galisteo.

“It was this mythical piece that scholars knew about and nobody knew where it went,” Webb said. “It’s a significant, important painting.”

Photographer Zoe Zimmerman perhaps summed up the exhibition with her “Bare,” a photograph of a bald woman sitting naked on a pedestal.

“She’s kind of a signature view of this show,” Webb said. “She feels like to show a woman bare of everything exposes her as the quintessential woman of today.”

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