Every artist working in Taos and Santa Fe is first confronted with the overwhelming, luminous skies and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
They conjured the region’s cultural exoticism and its powerful nature; its staggering mountains and mesas and its crystalline air.
The cosmopolitan residents of these remote outposts embraced a multicultural America by working with Native American and Hispano populations.
“New Beginnings: An American Story of Romantics and Modernists in the West” showcases 127 works created from the late 1800-1900s at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. This traveling exhibition from the Santa Fe-based Tia Collection runs through Sept. 25.
The exhibition pairs such pillars as E. Martin Hemmings, Ernest Blumenschein and Fremont Ellis with masterpieces by relatively unknown artists such as Carlos Vierra and Alexandre Hogue.
“Because they were peers, they were considered less-than” the more familiar names, Laura Finlay Smith, curator of the Tia Collection, said. “But to me, great art is great art.”
The exhibition follows the two major movements – the Taos Society of Artists and the Taos Modernists – broken into themes of a sense of place, the every day, still lifes/portraits and the seasons.
As news of the area’s luminescent light and big, welcoming sky spread, artists began flocking to Taos and told their fellow artists, creating 19th century telephone tag version of migration.
Chicago artist Frederic Mizen arrived at the behest of his teacher, Taos Society of Artists member Walter Ufer. Modern landscape artist Beulah Stevenson came after studying with John Sloan.
“It’s how the Taos Society of Artists started,” Smith said. “Joseph Henry Sharp met Bert Phillips and Blumenschein in France. These stories are intertwined.”
Their firelit scenes of both Taos and Santa Fe shout romance, but, at the time, there was no electricity, a single railroad and few roads.
Edgar Lee Hewett commissioned Santa Fe painter Vierra to paint three murals inside St. Francis Auditorium in the New Mexico Museum of Art. His circa 1928 oil on canvas “Autumn Arroyo” reveals an aggressive foreground brushwork as dramatic as the landscapes of the French Impressionist Paul Cézanne.
Dust Bowl eulogist Hogue painted the lyrical “Across the Valley,” a 1929 oil on canvas. Hogue began making long trips to Taos in 1926 that continued until 1942. He formed close friendships with Blumenschein, Herbert Dunton, Joseph Imhof, Higgins and Emil Bisttram, who became mentors and advisers.
The Ashcan School realist known for his gritty portrayals of pummeling boxers, George Bellows was invited to Santa Fe by Robert Henri.
“He and his wife came and he hated it,” Smith said. “They arrived on the train. They were supposed to be here for six months and they stayed six weeks. Many artists don’t like the light. At first, Bellows struggled with the light and how to do justice to the landscape.”
Bellows still managed to paint “Santuario (sic),” 1917, an oil on board.
The modernist Kenneth Adams chose an overhead perspective in painting Hopi Pueblo’s “Walpi” in 1925. He was the youngest member of the Taos Society of Artists and director of the University of New Mexico’s Summer Field School of Art for 40 years.
Russian artist Leon Gaspard came to Taos in 1918. He became known for his paintings of Indigenous culture and traditions. In 1931, he painted “Girl in Moscow,” a portrait of a woman in the snow with the city’s onion domes beckoning in the background. The pink-adobed house he built on Taos’ Canyon Road was Byzantine inside and out. His painted kitchen table and chairs swirl with scenes of Russia, China, Mongolia and North America.
The exhibition will next travel to Dayton, Ohio after its stay at the Harwood.
The Tia Collection consists of 3,600 works ranging from Impressonist paintings to works by Nick Cave.
“I’ve been working with the collection since 2012,” Smith said. “This is a global collection. More than anything, we are a lending library. Tia is the first name of the collector’s daughter.”