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Taos artist created a legacy in light and dark

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gene Kloss created contrasting compositions of light shards and dark shadows coalescing into mythical New Mexico landscapes.

Santa Fe’s LewAllen Modern will showcase 45 prints by the late Taos artist beginning on Friday, Dec. 7. The exhibition will hang through Jan. 5, 2019.

Alice Geneva Glasier (Kloss was her married name) was born in Oakland, Calif., and educated at the University of California at Berkeley. She married poet-composer Phillips Kloss in 1925.

Gene Kloss arrived in Taos in 1925 while on a honeymoon camping trip, bringing little with her but the 60-pound etching press she hauled across northern New Mexico. The couple camped in Taos Canyon for two weeks, the Sturges press secured with a bag of concrete to a rock.

After her marriage, Kloss shortened her middle name to Gene.

“She came to Taos in the ’20s; she was really the only woman,” Alex Gill of LewAllen Modern said.

The already well-established Taos artists included Ernest Blumenschein, Joseph Henry Sharp, Bert Phillips, E.I. Couse and Herbert “Buck” Dunton.

“They had more than I shared with them because I was younger and a woman,” Kloss said in an interview with Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. “They all had their own studios and were here summers. They all went away in winter and exhibited somewhere, New York, Chicago. You’d come in the spring and everybody would be greeting the artists when they’d come back.”

Kloss captured pueblo and Penitente ceremonies, adobe churches and homes and the endless space of New Mexico’s landscapes.

Kloss’ art earned widespread recognition in the 1930s, during which the couple rented an old adobe below the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Taos. She produced a series of prints for the Works Progress Administration, which were reproduced and distributed to public schools across the state.

Kloss often said, “In this country, everything lifts – the trees, the mountains, the sky.”

“She was one of the great printmakers in New Mexico history,” Gill said. “There’s Gus (Gustave) Baumann and Gene Kloss.”

The prints show a Spanish woman teaching a young girl how to card wool, a Comanche dance at San Ildefonso Pueblo, a feather dancer, summer fiestas and night masses of the Penitentes, as well as mountains, cliffs and peaks.

Kloss attended Native American ceremonies and dances, went home and committed her memories to paper. She’d return the next day to capture backgrounds and context.

She settled here permanently in the 1940s.

Kloss painted in acid on copper plates, an exacting and difficult technique. The prints reveal a power and simplicity making sensitive use of bold, black areas. She animated her scenes to dramatically focus on the divide between the slightness of figures and the magnitude of the Southwest.

She created scenery without sentiment.

“She was really interested in the way this place felt, like it had something that wasn’t being affected by modern society yet,” Gill said.

ArtNews magazine called Kloss “one of our most sensitive and sympathetic interpreters of the Southwest.”

Kloss was the first woman inducted into the National Academy of Design as a printmaker. Her work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Carnegie Institution, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Library of Congress and the National Academy of Design.