ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Santa Fe is beginning to enjoy preeminence in some enviable ways. It is sometimes spoken of as the intellectual capital of the Southwest … to its region what Alexandria was to its age.” – Edgar L. Hewett, 1920
A confluence of exotic landscapes, cultural medley and deep roots intertwined and bloomed Santa Fe into an art colony.
“Southwestern Allure: The Art and Early Development of the Santa Fe Art Colony, 1900-1938” surveys these connections in a traveling exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art opening Friday, April 25. The show features 40 works chosen from both public and private collections, organized by the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
It leads visitors through the artists who came to Santa Fe, what compelled them to work there and the prevailing artistic trends documented in their paintings. The style range encompasses the city’s old guard, including Carlos Vierra and Gerald Cassidy; the realism of Robert Henri, Edward Hopper and John Sloan, as well as a look at the modernist aesthetic in the Southwest through such artists as Stuart Davis, Andrew Dasburg, Marsden Hartley and Georgia O’Keeffe.
“We’ve never seen this as a group and they’re not pieces from our collection,” said Merry Scully, head of museum curatorial affairs.
Thanks to the area’s remoteness, art historians and curators sometimes muddied the Santa Fe Art Colony with a generalized assumption that the artists painted nothing but cowboys and Indians. But many were academically trained, hailing from both New York and Chicago, their résumés boasting some of the most prestigious art schools, academies and ateliers in the world.
Director Edgar L. Hewett was a key figure in establishing the New Mexico Museum of Art as the colony’s nucleus through active studio and exhibition programs. The museum provided studios for many artists in the exhibition, including Gustave Baumann, Robert Henri, John Sloan, Andrew Dasburg, Marsden Hartley and Stuart Davis.
Henri’s pastel “Tesuque Indian Dance” (1917) shows his continued interest in depicting Native Americans, a subject he first explored during a 1914 visit to California. He visited pueblos and attended ceremonies. The image bristles with energy, unlike the artist’s well-known, polished portraits. Henri encouraged other artists to come to Santa Fe, including George Bellows, Randall Davey and John Sloan.
Bellows’ “Santuario de Chimayó” (1917) shows a gnarled tree before the famous church with a mountain backdrop and grazing animals.
“There’s a lot of animation going on in every corner of this painting,” Scully said. “It’s like he’s grappling with seeing what he’s not used to seeing.”
A member of the Ashcan School, Bellows was known for his gritty depictions of urban life.
Will Shuster came to Santa Fe to recover from tuberculosis in 1920. A close friend of Sloan, he studied with the painter and emulated his style. “Corn Dance” (1920) reveals his fascination with subject matter unknown on the East Coast.
“This was like something he’d never seen before,” Scully said. “It fits into the idea of the Southwest being exotic and the emphasis on the flat roofs – quintessential New Mexico.”
Edward Hopper’s “Ranch House, Santa Fe” (1925) is startling in its simplicity, almost as if the artist had planted one of his stark, enigmatic images of East Coast architecture on a New Mexico plain. Lured by Henri and Sloan, Hopper visited Santa Fe in 1925. He painted 13 watercolors of churches and houses but did not stay long.
“It looks so much like a Hopper,” Scully said. “I don’t think there was a ‘Nighthawks’ Diner'” (Hopper’s signature image), she added with a laugh. “He did not do very much work here.”
Hartley’s “Arroyo Hondo” (1918) brims with both texture and dust. Under his brush, flat-roofed adobes become horizontal lines.
“He’s not only painting what it looks like; he’s painting what it feels like,” Scully said.
Although he only visited the area twice – in 1918 and 1919 – Hartley wrote for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs’ El Palacio magazine and viewed the landscape as both sacred and inspiring.
“You can see the transition from a representational landscape into something more abstracted,” Scully said. “It was a signal that Santa Fe was progressive; that it was broad-thinking. People were less attuned to the specificity of things.”