Out of the Bakground at the Blumenschein Museum

Posted on February 20, 2012 by

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A lovely and sensitive group of paintings is being presented by the Blumenschein Museum in Taos. Out of the Background: Women Artists of Early Taos is on view from February 17 – May 20, 2012, as part of the Remarkable Women of Taos being celebrated throughout town this year.

The curators have presented the argument that these women were true artists despite the fact they were creating work before they even had a right to vote. At that time, most women were encouraged to support their husbands and families without developing a voice of their own.  In fact, many of these women were trained as professional artists and the refined quality of their work demonstrates a productive influence from a community of supportive artists.  Not much is recorded about these women, and we can only imagine the hardships they were confronted with simply by living here. Perhaps the fact they were so far removed from societal norms, their work was able to blossom more than if they had stayed in mainstream America, even as they had to be creative with how to run a household in the wild west.

Even though we can only speculate on the specifics of their lives, their works speak eloquently about life in Taos at the turn of the century. They offer a refreshing angle to the repertoire of early modern Taos paintings, bringing a feminine understanding of life which is all to rare in the masculine dominance of the trade. Presenting feminine reflections offers an important experience for the viewer as it rounds out our understanding of this place a century ago.

Barbara Latham
(Howard Cooke)

Kathe Kolwitz demonstrated immense empathy for women in Germany around the same time Barbara Latham was creating these prints in Taos. Both artists demonstrate an understanding of difficulties presented to women which transcended place and culture. While the expressions of their figures suggest this turmoil, the figures also demonstrate a strength and perseverance as presented through the solid nature of their forms. Instead of presenting a romanticized image of Pueblo beauties, Latham illustrates a hard working community in an unforgiving landscape.

Barbara Latham - Taos Indians

Barbara Latham - Taos Indians - Woodblock print

Barbara Latham - Taos Indians on the Plaza

Barbara Latham - Taos Indians on the Plaza - woodblock print

Helen Campbell
(Doc Martin)

Another reflection of Pueblo life, Helen Campbell created a warm rendition of women wrapped in thick blankets. To this day one can visit the Pueblo and see lines of women wrapped in joyful blankets as they oversee traditional dances. Campbell became well known for creating haute couture scarves after learning the art of batik from the Santa Fe artist, Olive Rush. A quality that many women have mastered, she became accustomed to being productive despite frequent interruptions as she helped her husband with his patients.

Helen Campbell - Untitled

Helen Campbell - Untitled (detail) - batik

Mary Monrad Frederikson
(Walter Ufer)

The strongest portraits in the show were created by Mary Monrad Frederikson, a woman who demonstrated a great deal of perseverance to the end of her own difficult life. A painterly approach which conveys displacement and discomfort while paying tribute to the inherent beauty in both the figure and her surrounding. There is a true connection and understanding between women here. It is a connection that transcends cultural boundaries to reflect on the tremendous demands placed on the often invisible supports of community.

Mary Monrad Frederikson

Mary Monrad Frederikson - Untitled - oil on canvas

Helen Greene Blumenschein
(Ernest Blumenschein)

The daughter of Ernest Blumenschein and Mary Greene Blumenschein enjoyed a well rounded life where she was encouraged to excel in ways that went beyond the typical education of girls in her time. She was well traveled and educated both formally by her mother, while her father taught her a love for the outdoors. She returned to Taos to take care of her parents late in their lives, then ultimately gave their house to the Taos Historic Museums. During this period, she painted portraits of various Taos luminaries, including this one of another influential woman in Taos, Helene Wurlitzer. A strong patroness of the arts, Wurlitzer supported Taos artists by collecting their works, then founding what is now one of the oldest artist residency programs in the country.  To this day, her foundation hosts artists as a long lasting gift to the community.

Helen Greene Blumenschein - Helen Wurlitzer

Helen Greene Blumenschein - portrait of Helene Wurlitzer - pencil on illustration board

Mary Shepard Greene
(Ernest L Blumenschein)

An accomplished painter even before she met her husband, Helen Blumenschein’s mother was truly an extraordinary woman for her time.  She was internationally recognized for her paintings and won numerous awards in Paris and in the US. Ultimately she took on her daughter’s education and passed on the support she received from her own mother. She created work in Taos which reflected the land in a delicate and feminine manner, as in her watercolor of the church in Talpa. It is interesting how she focuses on the earth, both in the ground as well as the earthen houses which literally rise out of it, even cutting off the top of the church. Symbol of the mother, the earth makes up hearth and home here, while only catching a glimpse of lofty masculine elements.

Mary Shepard Greene - Talpa Church

Mary Shepard Greene - Talpa Church - watercolor

Much of Greene’s work looked internally to explore symbols, dream like states and ancient tales like the illustrations hanging through the house she created for the tales in the Thousand and one Nights. Included in this exhibit, Sherezade, the teller of the tales on that long string of nights, is presented in exotic light. A lovely woman gestures grandly to tell her tale to a captivating effect. One can well imagine how captivating the artist must have been throughout her well acclaimed life.

Mary Shepard Greene - Shere Zade

Mary Shepard Greene - Shere Zade - oil on canvas - c. 1944

The Blumenschein Museum is located at 222 Ledoux Street & can be reached at 575-758-0505

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