Georgia O’Keeffe is perhaps the most widely acclaimed of New Mexico’s pioneering female artists. But, she is not alone in her independent, self-determined passion to create powerful statements exulting her surroundings. O’Keeffe’s peers made indelible contributions to the art historical record of the Southwest and the spread of the American modernist movement in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Their personae led to the allure of Taos and Santa Fe as bohemian art colonies—enclaves for the sustenance of fine art, film, literature, dance, and theater in an isolated, postcard perfect world.
In large part, these were women that, like their male counterparts, forged their escape from the industrialization of the East Coast and Midwest to draw inspiration from New Mexico’s enchanting light, intoxicating landscape, and its rich spiritual character infused with cultural tradition. Some of these women left lasting tributes to the cultures they chose to investigate. Agnes Sims wove indigenous symbols into her paintings by documenting over 3,000 petroglyphs at Galisteo Basin, while Rebecca Salsbury James—who took up the Spanish Colonial needlework style of colcha— helped to resuscitate this withering cultural tradition of northern New Mexico.
These were women who wore trousers; rode horses; had grit, intelligence, and wit; and did whatever it took to keep their art alive. Many were not widely known. Some stood in the shadow of their artist-husbands. Others came from foreign royalty and aristocracy: Teresa Bakós was a countess, Lady Dorothy Eugenie Brett’s father was a close advisor to Queen Victoria, and Frieda Freiin von Richthofen Lawrence was reared in an affluent family in Germany before marrying her controversial husband, English writer D.H. Lawrence. And, then there are the ground-breaking Pueblo artists who took native expression to new levels including painter Pablita Velarde and potter Maria Montoya Martinez.
This exhibition contains the work of twenty-two of New Mexico’s most remarkable, early women artists working in the mediums of paint, sculpture, printmaking, pottery, and craft arts. They include Teresa Bakós, Helen Greene Blumenschein, Dorothy Eugenie Brett, Louise Ganthiers, Blanche Grant, Rebecca Salsbury James, Gene Kloss, Gina Knee, Barbara Latham, Frieda Lawrence, Beatrice Mandelman, Maria Montoya Martinez, Ila McAfee, Olive Rush, Amalia Schulthess, Eugenie Shonnard, Agnes Sims, Pansy Stockton, Agnes Tait, Mary Ufer, Pablita Velarde, and Henriette Wyeth.
(Image: Frieda Lawrence, Untitled, watercolor on paper; Courtesy of the artist and Roswell Museum and Art Center)