Friday, December 8, 2017
Ila McAfee Born in Sargents CO, October 21, 1897-April 18, 1995, Dies in Pueblo, CO
Oil Painting by Ila McAfee
This oil painting by Ila McAfee is 5” x 7” on canvas board is full of dynamic energy, reminiscent of Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and John Marin. Ila in her own words, preferred to “paint action and emotion from imagination”. The painting at lower left is clearly signed in the fresh paint (inscribed), “Ila Mcafee” and is currently in the original ca. 30’s champagne silver frame. The painting depicts the ‘Snow Covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ of Taos from the point of view of the El Salto area meadows ca. mid-1930. The small scale of the painting is not in any way a deterrent to its powerful presence. Taos artists often painted what was commonly known as “suitcase” paintings, small format paintings which were easily packed into visitors’ suitcases to immediately take home with them, (no need for shipping).
Taos Mountain View Covered in Snow
McAfee studied art at the Haz Studio School, Los Angeles, CA, the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, National Academy of Design and Art Students League, New York, NY. McAfee was an artist of the WPW New Deal Art project with work included in many museums across the US, including the Harwood Museum of Art (Taos), Millicent Rogers Museum (Taos), Albuquerque Museum of Art & History and the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe. She was also a Black & White graphic illustrator and illustrator of Children’s books. In her later years she adopted cats which she named Sanka (every one of them) and trained them to perform ‘tricks’ which she filmed and are available to view online on such websites as Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAKfrJiBKg4
Map location of the White Horse (Turner) Studio
In 1926 Ila married Elmer Page Turner (also an artist) when they visited Taos for the first time. In 1928 they settled in Taos and became actively involved in the newly formed and gaining in popularity Taos Art Colony. The two story McAfee/Turner home on Civic Plaza Drive in downtown Taos is easily noticeable by its carvings of simplified horses carved into lintels over the front door and windows. Their home and studio was known as the ‘White Horse Studio’. She became known for her pueblo paintings and her depictions of horses and landscapes. In 1981, McAfee was voted Taos Artist of the Year. “Indians, Horses, Hills, Et Cetera” was published in both hardcover and paperback editions in 1982, a book of her poetry, illustrations and paintings. Two Graces Plaza Gallery currently has copies of bot Hard & son available. Of the hardcovers it is common to find them with her signature and a drawing of a horse at the front piece. “All the Year ‘round With the Furry Folk” 1968 is a book which she illustrated for author Jane R. Mason. In 1993 McAfee moved to Pueblo, Co to be close to family members where she passed away in 1995.
The Lintel over the window of the White Horse Home & Studio
Ila was asked her first impression of Taos during an interview with Rita Simmons for Southwestern Art Magazine she answered: "[Taos] was so different then, the village was small and the Indians remained uninfluenced by the invaders. Once I asked one of them, "What did you call this country before the Europeans came?" 'Ours,' he told me."
An advertisement for the McAfee/Turner Studio
In 1929 McAfee began showing her paintings at Millicent Bailey’s “Taos Art Shop” on Pueblo Road, where she was shown alongside Taos Society of Artist painters Bert Geer Phillips & E. Irving Couse. In 1939 she was one of the few women artists of Taos to become a member of the Taos Artist Association which then went on to organize a gallery inside the La Fonda Hotel on Taos Plaza, the La Fonda de Taos Gallery. The La Fonda Gallery became the most successful art gallery in Taos featuring “old time Taos artists, with a few others ability”, was Joseph Sharp’s take on the newly formed gallery. Through the years the McAfee/Turner White Horse Studio was open to the public. McAfee also exhibited at the Sagebrush Hotel and at the Taos Blue Door Gallery.
Snowy Peak woodcut by McAfee
Snowy peak lifting high
Is white-bright, a point of light,
Symbol of uplift in the sky.
Better aims of man to guide,
Pointing his way to strive
The spirit of wisdom at his side.
Great snowy peak
Pointing up to high ideals
White purity you silently speak.
Ila McAfee “Indians, Horses, Hills, etc.” 1982
The influence of the poet T.S. Eliot is evident here particularly “Ash Wednesday” 1930.
An Advertisement for White Horse Studio
Ila McAfee is one of the many women artists who found her place and inspiration in Taos, a place which allowed her (and others) to flourish as an artist. She was one of the best trained artists to arrive in Taos. This untitled work of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains covered in snow stands among some of the best painters of the time period. Whether compared to the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe’s love of her pedernal, the fresh eye and spirit of Arthur Dove, or the hauntingly beautiful New Mexico landscape paintings of Marsden Hartley, this painting is a jewel among its peers.
A drawn Map of Taos by Ila McAfee
Two Graces Plaza Gallery has from time to time had paintings by Ila McAfee available, please check with us of what is currently in stock. The Snow Covered Mountains painting has found a loving home that looks out onto the Taos landscape.
Saturday, December 2, 2017
“When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection” at the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History
The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History currently features: "When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection”, September 20-December 31, 2017. The exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum is the fifth and last stop of the touring exhibit from the Neuberger Collection.
Georgia O'Keeffe "Lake George by Early Moonrise" 1930
As a devoted art lover Roy R. Neuberger was actively involved in supporting ways in which learning can occur by looking at art. Beginning in 1969 and continuing throughout the years, Neuberger donated works from his collection to found this Museum in his name forming the core of its collection. Today, the Neuberger Museum of Art on the campus of Purchase College in Purchase, NY has grown to more than 7,000 artworks.
Entryway to the exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History
This exhibition brings a unique opportunity for artists and lovers of art to see for themselves, here in New Mexico, some of the masterworks of Modern Art. There are 56 works of art from the Neuberger Museum of Art in this exhibit. As you enter the gallery three significant paintings from the Alfred Stieglitz “Core of Three” artists (O’Keeffe, Dove & Marin) are presented. These modernist landscape paintings include, ‘Lake George by Early Moonrise’ (1930) Georgia O’Keeffe, ‘Holbrook’s Bridge to the Northwest’ (1938) Arthur Dove & ‘Sea and Rocks, Mount Desert’ (1948) John Marin. They create an engaging prelude of what’s to come in the exhibit. Of the three, Dove was the one to have never visited Taos. Another of the artists who had visited and painted in Taos was Marsden Hartley, who’s “Fishermen’s Last Supper, Nova Scotia” (1940) hangs directly across from the Stieglitz modernists. There’s a temptation to straighten the picture as it hangs on the wall, the entire scene disconcertingly slides to the left.
Marsden Hartley "Fishermen's Last Supper, Nova Scotia" 1940
Photograph of Marsden Hartley, Maine 1941 (from a Taos Archive)
“Give the canvas a chance
Give the paint a chance
Give the brush a chance
Give the pencil a chance”
excerpt from the John Marin archives, 1951
John Marin "Sea and Rocks, Mount Desert, Maine" 1948
Receiving the most attention from visitors is Jackson Pollock’s painting ‘No. 8’ (1949) full of automatic rhythmic energy. Pollock’s iconic drip paintings are recognized as the cornerstones of American Abstraction. With the recent post-war art auction results once again setting records, the Pollock may be the most valuable painting here.
Lee Krasner "Burning Candles" 1955 & Jackson Pollock "Number 8" 1949
An Alexander Calder hanging mobile sculpture ‘The Red Ear’ (1957) is also a favorite of visitors. Calder had thoughtfully described hismobiles as ‘Visual Poetry’. The casting of shimmery shadows on the museums walls creates the illusion of a much larger mobile. With ever-so-slight movement, it is indeed poetry in motion.
Alexander Calder "The Red Ear" 1957
Located centrally on the back wall of the gallery, the glowing Mark Rothko ‘Old Gold Over White’ (1956) will completely draw you into it. Stunningly beautiful, this is the painting you’ll want to sit and gaze at, it is the sun and the moon on the surface of a canvas. “Rothko said he wanted a presence, so when you turned your back to the painting, you would feel the presence the way you feel the sun on your back.” as told by one of Rothko’s students Murray Israel from “Mark Rothko a Biography” 1993 by J.E.B. Breslin. While working on the Rothko Chapel for the Menil’s, he was drawn to Taos, here Rothko could see the pure light of this high desert mountain village and the inspirational San Francisco de Asis Church.
Mark Rothko "Old Gold Over White" 1956
Ann Temkin, writing about Abstract Expressionism, states: “…art that its makers felt to be profoundly linked to private spiritual and physical experience, it provided a polar opposite to the mass culture represented by the comedy and variety shows on TV. In the half century since, television has given way to the ubiquity of electronic screens in daily life. But for the Abstract Expressionist art to operate fully, the experience must be firsthand - there is no virtual substitute for the encounter between the viewer’s body and the canvas or object.” from “Abstract Expressionism in the Museum of Modern Art”, 2010.
Room with a view of Willem DeKooning "Marilyn Monroe" 1954
The Willem DeKooning painting ‘Marilyn Monroe’ (1954), from the artist’s ‘Women’ series, is a highlight by one of the masters of the Abstract movement. DeKooning describes his process this way: “I used to cut out a lot of mouths and then I painted those figures and then I put the mouth more or less in the place where it was supposed to be. It always turned out to be very beautiful and it helped me immensely to have this real thing. I don’t know why I did it with the mouth. Maybe the grin… That I was very conscious of - the smile was something to hang onto.” taken from an interview with David Sylvester for “Content is a Glimpse” 1963. “Marilyn” is a classically gestural action painting, sexy and splashy, it’s about DeKooning’s body and movement, and perhaps, that of Marilyn’s as well.
Detail "Marilyn Monroe" DeKooning
One of the primary art critics of the period, Harold Rosenberg wrote in a 1952 article “The American Action Painters” for Art News: “…what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. …act(ion) painting is of the same metaphysical substance as the artist’s existence. The new painting has broken down every distinction between art and life.”
Mark Tobey "Lyric" 1957 in foreground
Many of the artists collected by Mr. Neuberger were new and upcoming artists, before they were famous, and he believed that purchasing their work could help artists who needed money now, and this financial support would then help them stay on their career tract. Neuberger in his own words, stated: “The contemporary world should buy the work of contemporary artists.” When asked about the thread that ties the collection together Albuquerque Museum Curator Andrew L Connors stated: “(This), quote sums it up for me. Mr. Neuberger was completely committed to supporting living artists and to make sure that none of them died penniless as Van Gogh had done. He was not collecting to satisfy his own aesthetic priorities, he was collecting to allow artists to satisfy their own vision.” A topic for many artists through the years, Grace Hartigan spells it out in her own words quite clearly: “It was a nice crowd, all seemed to admire, etc., but I feel let down and fatigued… What I really want above all this time is to sell, so that I can be relieved of financial worry for a few months.” from “The Journals of Grace Hartigan 1951-1955”, written after her solo exhibition in 1954.
Grace Hartigan "Giftwares" 1955
Much of the art will make you pause to look a bit longer in this ‘best of’ modern art exhibition in America. In 2007, The Harwood Museum, Taos showcased the work of “Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico, 1950-1952”. His large scale ‘Girl on a Terrace’ (1956) here gives a pleasant reminder of just how vital a painter he was. Paintings that will capture your imagination and hold your attention include: Nathan Oliveira ‘Standing Woman with Hat’ (1958), Adolph Gottlieb ‘Evil Omen’ (1946), William Baziotes ‘Dying Bird’ (1950), Milton Avery ‘Walker by the Sea’ (1961), and Rufino Tamayo ‘Woman Spinning’ (1943). This list doesn’t cover half of it. Rounding the collection out even further are paintings by Philip Guston, Romare Beardon, Lionel Feininger, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Roberto Matta & Mark Tobey. Artists you may have never heard of will leave you wondering why you weren’t aware of them; they include: Grace Hartigan, Ilse Getz, Anne Ryan, Morton Schamberg, Lee Gatch, and Kenzo Okada. Luscious paint, form and color is everywhere in this exhibition you’ll find it inspiring and worth the trip to the Albuquerque Museum.
Richard Diebenkorn "Girl on a Terrace" 1956 in foreground
Thank you to everyone of the staff members at the Albuquerque Museum, your guidance, patience and time was invaluable to me. I'd originally written this on my own initiative in speculation to have it shared with readers of Tempo, the Arts & Entertainment section of the Taos News. With the Holiday Season upon us Tempo has had more stories than it needs at this time of year, thus this piece had been bumped two weeks in a row. I'm certainly glad I took the time to take a trip to Albuquerque to see this exhibit for myself. There's still time to enjoy it, the exhibit is up until the end of the year. thank you for reading. Here it is in it's entirety for readers to share from this blog.
When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection
Sept. 30 to Dec. 31, 2017
Albuquerque Museum of Art and History
200 Mountain Rd. NW, Albuquerque, NM 505-243-7255
Adolph Gotlieb "Evil Omen" 1946 with a work on paper "Untitled, Abstraction" 1953
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Otellie Loloma Sequafnehma (Hopi, Second Mesa Shipolovi) b. 1922-1992
Two Graces Plaza Gallery acquired this unique Hopi Pueblo Pottery piece by Otellie Loloma from the estate of Navajo artist and supporter of southwest regional artists, R.C. Gorman. The pot is embellished with face masks of the Long Beard Kachina in profile around the entire circumference to the piece. The pottery is enhanced with a woven handle of willow which includes bits of Coral beads. The pot height not including the handle is 6” the width of the mouth of the pot is 4”. Ottellie’s familiar signature ‘O Loloma’ on the bottom of the pot is strong and bold. Estimate of a date on this piece would be circa early 1980, it is believed that Mr. Gorman would have purchased this directly from Otellie at that time period. This is a unique opportunity to acquire a rare Otellie Loloma pot. Priced at $2,400.
Otellie Loloma Pot
“When I start making a piece of pottery or a ceramic sculpture, I begin with an idea drawn from Hopi life and legends. As the piece progresses, the idea becomes part of the clay, subordinated to the overall design. In the finished piece the symbols may not be obvious, but they are there. They are like the seed; they have given their strength to make the plant grow.” a quote by Otellie Loloma, ‘Art and Indian Indiviualists’, Guy & Doris Montana 1975
Photo of Otellie Loloma by Guy Monthan
In 1945 Otellie Loloma received a scholarship to Alfred University, New York, where she began her studies over a 3 years time period. There she met Charles Loloma whom she married in 1947. After this she returned to Arizona where she continued her studies at Northern Arizona University and later the College of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In Scottsdale the Lolomas opened the Kiva Craft Center where they sold art by other Native American Artists of the southwest region along with their own ceramics known as ‘Lolomaware’. In 1962 at the invitation of Lloyd Kiva New she became a faculty member of the newly formed Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), which she retired from in 1988. The classes she taught included Ceramics/Sculpture, Painting, Design and occasionally a Hopi Dance course. In 1968 she performed at the Olympics in Mexico City and around this time at the White House. Otellie was a beloved teacher to her students, nurturing them to bring them to their full potential.
“When I teach… I try to instill belief in my students, whether Indian or Non-Indian. When that belief is alive, their work is alive… This belief and aliveness gives the students strength in what they do in any art form or life work… It is what makes me the artist I am… It is what I am all about.” Otellie Loloma interview with James McGrath for Santa Fe Reporter, 1991
Lola Pot from above
“The subject matter is subtly Hopi. There are human female forms with characteristic maiden whorls or buns above the ears, and bowls with masks or faces, but Loloma’s manipulation of the clay is anything but Hopi. Some pieces are wheel thrown, whereas others, especially the sculptures, are constructed… However modern the treatment of the clay, Loloma’s heritage infuses it…” Laura Graves “Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary”
A Song for Otellie
-in memory of Otellie Loloma
Her hands were clay.
With clay fingers,
she made portraits of her miwi,
With clay fingers
she made bowls for her piki,
her blue-corn paper bread.
I think of her pots,
of the fullness inside
where the treasures are held,
secure and loved in silence.
She gave me her secret,
her Hopi name, Sequafnehma.
“the place in the valley
where the squash blossoms bloom.”
With her clay fingers,
she gave me the bowl for the bear.
In the valley of my eye
I see her now,
her pollen covered face
in the chamois by the roadside,
in the last sunflower of my garden.
With her clays,
she lies under stones
near Corn Rock
even now in winter,
with the broken brown fringes
her clay fingers melting in my tears.
Hopi Reservation, Arizona
‘At the Edgelessness of Light: Poems’ by James McGrath
“Arts Faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts at 4:15 pm” (1968), by Fritz Scholder. Detail of Otellie
(Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Art)
“It must have been fate that made me take a class taught by Otellie. It was like I returned home; clay became my expression. Otellie taught me that each pot has its own life, personality, character and form - and that is what set me free. Pottery is like people, every one is different and not perfect. I thought about this and decided it was an important idea. So I developed a new way, an unconventional way of looking at form.” Jacquie Stevens, ‘Women Artists of the American West’ 2003
Longbeard Kachina Tihu ca. 1965, w Loloma Pot depicting Longbeard
a few Collections which include the work of Otellie Loloma:
National Museum of American Indian
Cooper Hewitt Museum
Philbrook Indian Art Center
Otellie Loloma Pot reverse side
R.C. Gorman Estate
Two Graces Plaza Gallery
Longbeard Kachina Doll ca. 1950
“In general and, perhaps, hopefully, it can be said that in some quarters there appears to be a growing understanding of the fact that evolving Indian styles are reflective of the changes occurring within Indian culture, itself.” Lloyd Kiva New from the foreword to ‘Art and Indian Individualists’ G & D Montana 1975
If you are interested in purchasing this pot, please visit us in Ranchos de Taos at Two Graces Plaza Gallery, we are located by the San Francisco de Asis Church. An out of town purchase can be made by phone 575-758-4101 we will ship to you for a minor fee.
This post is dedicated to all teachers out there in the world who devote their thoughtful knowledge and love to their students.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
José Rafael Aragón (ca. 1783/96-1862)
Retablo of the Archangel St. Michael/San Miguel Arcangel
by Jose Rafael Aragon, dated to 1840
San Miguel Retablo by Rafael Aragon
San Miguel is the Leader of the Heavenly Host. He is Patron Saint of Brussels, Germany, Papua New Guinea, Basques, police, bankers, grocers, radiologists, paratroopers, the dying, cemeteries, doctors, mariners, protector against peril at sea, protection against robbers, guardian of high treacherous places and guardian against illness. Feast Day September 29.
Two Versions of San Miguel by Rafael Aragon from the Barnes Foundation Collection
St. Michael is depicted ready to fight or to judge. Holding a sword used to battle Satan who is depicted as the serpent (or dragon) and holding scales which he uses to assist with Judgement Day and weigh the souls of the dead. Satan is always trying to alter the balance of St. Michael’s scales. Michael is an Angel of the Lord. He is God’s commander-in-chief in the war against the Devil, he is “the Great Captain”. Along with Gabriel and Rafael, he is the central figure of one of three archangels: the princely seraph, angel of supreme power and leader of God’s army. At God’s command he will reprise his role against the Antichrist in the End of Times. The Archangel Michael figures prominently in Judaism and Islam. He first appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush, discoursed with Abraham and inspired Joan of Arc. The Koran states that his tears formed the cherubim, protectors of the Garden of Eden. In Persia, originating as a god of light and battling the forces of evil, Michael became popular when he appeared on the battlefields in Italy, France and England during various wars.
San Miguel by Molleno Harwood Museum, Mabel Dodge Luhan Collection
It should be considered that due to the range of strong positive attributes for this Patron Saint that he would be an extremely popular one in northern New Mexico, thus the many versions of San Miguel especially the many attributed to Rafael Aragon. In this particular retablo Aragon depicts San Miguel battling a snake-like serpent, in others the serpent is more beast or dragon-like, sometimes with human facial features. The snake here is not quite an Oroboros, or snake eating its tail, known to symbolize the cyclic nature of the universe, i.e. creation out of destruction or life out of death.
San Miguel by Rafael Aragon in the Palace of the Governors Collection
José Rafael Aragón’s work is considered the pinnacle of the art of the santero in northern New Mexico. He was active for over forty years, from 1820 to 1862 during the Golden Age of Spanish Colonial Art in New Mexico.
Rafael Aragon Retablos & Bultos at the Palace of the Governors from the Larry Frank Collection
Rafael Aragón was responsible for numerous monumental altar screens and carved images throughout northern New Mexico, many of which suggest the help of other hands. It is probable that he worked with family members and other artists, as in an atelier or informal guild/workshop with apprentices. One of his apprentices is thought to be his son Jose Miguel Aragon born 1842. Jose Manuel Benavides was also considered to be an apprentice of Rafael at one time. He was listed as a resident of the barrio de San Francisco, which was considered the woodworkers' district of Santa Fe, in 1821 and 1823, Sometime around 1835, Aragon moved the village of Quemado (Córdova), New Mexico. His work is evident in most of the churches of the area including Santa Cruz, El Valle, Truchas, Chimayó, Hernández, Pojoaque and the Taos area. He is considered the most prolific and popular santero artist of the mid nineteenth-century.
Rafael Aragon Reredo Altar Screen at the Palace of the Governors formerly of the Llano Quemado Capilla
José Rafael Aragón’s style has been defined by a small sampling of signed pieces. His sculptural figures are noted for his creative decorative motifs, color contrasts, elongated and graceful proportions, delicate features and a distinctive bump on the nose. This retablo of San Miguel Arcangel would be placed in the period of Aragon’s ‘Fine Style’. Jose Rafael Aragon’s retablo characteristics include careful attention to facial expression, heavy and arched eyebrows, a tilted head with delicate features, a shaded eyelid, high prominent forehead, nose connected to eyebrow by a continuous line, a light colored background, bright colors, simple depictions of fingers and toes. All of these attributes are included in this San Miguel retablo. Lastly, the image with raised right arm holding a sword is in a classic ‘action’ pose which is also another classic format of Aragon’s.
The Rafael Aragon Retablo before cleaning
“In New Mexican Folk Art, as in the work of the masters, it is not always possible to identify an image by a single symbol or attribute, but a combination of two or more usually gives the necessary clues. Considering that the saunter did not always use as many symbols and attributes as artists of academic tradition, the problems of identification are sometimes, but not often, bothersome.” Saints in the Valley, Jose Espinosa 1960
San Rafael Archangel by Rafael Aragon in the collection of the Barnes Foundation
The retablo panel itself is most likely made from ponderosa pine which was cut, hand-adzed and chiseled until smooth enough on the front surface to apply a gesso of white clay from the region, mixed with a wheat paste as binder. Pigments were made of plant and minerals mostly from the region, occasionally imported and these then mixed with a binder which could often be a pine sap thinned with a white alcohol. This particular piece also includes a semi-circular lunette/shell added as a decorative element to the top.
Close up of the Lunette on the San Miguel Retablo
“These mostly self-taught santeros used local woods such as pine, aspen and cottonwood root to develop a unique regional style of santos based on popular Spanish and Mexican saints. Early New Mexican santos reflect the same subjects and iconography as their colonial counterparts, while expressing a distinct local character and style.
In addition to the santeros’ use of native woods, their constant innovation and skilled craftsmanship resulted in a new kind of new World santo. For example, their practice of combining imported oil paints and gold leaf with mineral and vegetal paints and pigments that the Pueblo Indians taught them to use brought a thoroughly original look to their age-old art.” Conexiones, Connections in Spanish Colonial Art, Carmella Padilla 2002
Retablos & Bultos from the Millicent Rogers Museum Collection
“Aragon produced miniature carvings, massive altar screens for area Churches, and retablos depicting popular saints of the era; all were strong and sensitively rendered, with careful attention to detail. His works embody a more individual style than those of other santeros, who were often heavily influenced by orthodox religious iconography. Aragon is considered by many to be the premier santero of his time, because of his lengthy working period (forty years or longer) and his versatility.” Santos, Enduring Images of Northern New Mexican Village Churches, Marie Romero Cash, 1999.
Altar Screen Reredo from a northern New Mexico area Church
“Rafael Aragon developed an individual style with more freedom of form and less reliance on print sources. The lithe proportions, delicate gestures, innocent expressions, and soft clear color of the rococo reached an exquisitely stylized manifestation in the painting and sculpture of Rafael Aragon. Rafael Aragon’s style is characterized by figures with tilted heads, delicately shaded eyelids, and rosy cheeks.” Spanish New Mexico, the Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection Vol. 1, D. Pierce & M Weigle 1996
Holy Family by Rafael Aragon from the Mabel Dodge Luhan Collection in the Harwood Museum
In Popular Arts of Spanish New Mexico, (1974), E. Boyd sites “There is no relationship between this santero (Jose Rafael Aragon) and Jose Aragon, who signed and dated many of his works and moved to the El Paso region about 1835. Jose Rafael Aragon lived for much of his life at Pueblo Quemado (now Cordova), New Mexico…He was a prolific santero; his work was much in demand, as it is today. His gracefully elongated figures, their large pensive eyes and fresh, clear coloring are elegant yet spiritual. In the literature Aragon’s work has been referred to as the ‘Santa Cruz School’ or of the Cordova style because many santos and altar screens by him were found in those places. However, they were also located in several other villages and valleys and in number around Taos. Four examples with more or less complete signatures are known.” Please note in some citings Jose Aragon is thought to be Rafael’s older brother.
San Raphael partial retablo by Rafael Aragon in the Millicent Rogers Museum Collection
Collecting of northern New Mexico Santos of retablos and bultos began pre-1928 and continues to this day. Early collectors were a competitive group which included Andrew Dasburg, E.I. Couse, Dorothy Benrimo, E. Boyd, Frank Applegate, Mabel Dodge Luhan, the Fred Harvey Company, Mary Wheelwright, John Gaw Meem, Ralph Meyers, Cady Wells, and Dr. Albert C. Barnes, along with others. Today most santos are retained in museum collections, once every so often they are sold or traded privately. It is rare to find outstanding examples in the marketplace or even at auction.
Our Lady by Rafael Aragon in the Couse-Sharp Foundation Collection
“The artist’s attraction to Spanish Colonial art was ‘part of a universal revaluation of popular and primitive arts… proclaimed as the most original American Folk Art. Their ingenious qualities which happily ignored academic conventions immediately appealed to the newly emerging aesthetic of the 1920’s.’ Applegate’s interest in the religious art was due in part to this realization. ‘To me they are the only really primitive paintings ever done in America,’ he wrote, referring to the retablos. ‘They are very beautiful and interesting. The only thing that amazes me is that they have not been exploited long ago.’ He and other artists and writers found a spiritual force in the emotional intensity of the works… ‘Here was an abundance of emotion made visible in vivid ritual, and here was a powerful metaphor for creativity held before artists who had left genteel traditions in the East and Europe to create an art of Spiritual strength.’” Frank Applegate of Santa Fe Artist & Preservationist, d. Labinsky & S. Hieronymus 2001
Retablos in the collection of the Denver Art Museum
“Perhaps the great appeal of the santos for many of us is just that very thing that others would discredit—that is, the element of romance. They have become surrounded by a nimbus of conjecture, legend and wonder. The santos, for many artists, occupy something of the same position as a folk-tale or a myth that is capable of infinite expansion and embellishment in the imaginative retelling.” Santos: a Primitive Modern Art, William Hougland, 1946.
San Santiago retablo by Jose Aragon, note stylistic differences, in the collection of the Taos Historic Museums
“It has been asserted that the entire production of New Mexican art was the work of perhaps a dozen men. Their fewness was recently confirmed by careful statistical reassessments, establishing the stylistic identities of twelve painters since 1750 and ten carvers. New Mexico after 1750 and until about 1900 was not only the end of the geographic line but it was also the last recipient of the accumulated traditions of Christian imagery. In the twentieth century, another art has taken form to clothe the old meanings of Christianity, and it is likely that the santeros of New Mexico were the last exponents of the prior tradition(s).” Santos, George Kubler, 1999
Selection of Retablos from the Couse-Sharp Foundation Collection
“I discovered in one valley a belief that the burning of the old santos helped to alleviate disaster. This valley was peculiarly subject to violent storms and every time a storm developed, santos were burned by the devout to avoid dire consequences.” William Hoagland.
Retablo of San Francisco de Asis by Fresquis at the Mabel Dodge Luhan B&B
This may be one of the two she refers to in Edge of Taos Desert .
“Be that as it may, the tradition of the New Mexico saunter is one of great invention and originality - one of which Spanish New Mexicans may well be proud.” The New Mexico Santero E. Boyd, 1969.
San Ramon ratable by Rafael Aragon in the collection of the Spanish Colonial Museum
“What makes Rafael Aragon so commanding in his field is that he produced some of the finest bultos as well as retablos.” A Land So Remote, Volume II, Larry Frank, 2001.
The Holy Family by Rafael Aragon at the Harwood Museum from the collection of Mabel Dodge Luhan
From Edge of Taos Desert, Mabel Dodge Luhan, 1937 is this comprehensive account of collecting santos.
"…Andrew had started hunting…He hunted the old Santos painted on hand-hewn boards that we had discovered soon after we came to Taos. No one had ever noticed them…but here was an authentic primitive art, quite unexploited. We were, I do believe, the first people who ever bought them from the (New) Mexicans, and they were so used to them and valued them so little, they sold them to us for small sums, varying from a quarter to a dollar; on a rare occasion, a finer specimen brought a dollar and a half, but this was infrequent.
They were hanging in every (New) Mexican house and Chapel when we came here; and even in Manby’s house, two or three of them hung on the wall. The naivete of the Santos was of the most genuine kind, their wistfulness utterly touching. They were pressed out of nowhere by inarticulate and untutored men in their extreme need for something to answer their religious needs, something to hang their love upon, something tangible that would picture the inner image.
“We started collecting them whenever we saw them. It was not long before the little population knew we bought them, and they began to bring them to our house. One night two (New) Mexican boys of fourteen or fifteen years came knocking on our thick door. We let them come in and show us a package wrapped in paper. Two beautiful Santos!
Do you really buy these old Santos?” one of them asked his eyes sparkling with wonder and hope. We did. I bought them for a dollar apiece, and they are set in the doors of the back cupboard in our kitchen to this very day.
Andrew was soon absorbed in Saint-hunting. He managed to hire an old horse and buggy, and he went all round the valley looking for them.
At night, at our round table under the lamp, he washed them in kerosene oil,…and to remove the top layer of dirt—the dirt and grease of a century or more, in some cases. The colors emerged, rich and real and true, colors made out of vegetables and weeds by people who had no paints: the yellow of sage, the lovely brown extracted from Brazilian nuts that came up with the traders from the South, red from cochineal, and beautiful greens, too.
He grew more and more excited by the chase, so that the hunt thrilled him more than what he found; and he always needed more money to buy new Santos. I usually bought from him each night some of the ones he did not care for, so those and the ones I found for myself made a real collection before long. I had them in our house for years, until I gave them to the Harwood (Museum of Art) Foundation, for I finally came to feel they should be kept together and never leave this country where they were born.
It was Andrew (Dasburg) who started a market for them, and people began to want them and buy them; and I was always giving one or two away to friends who took them east where they looked forlorn and insignificant in sophisticated houses. People always thought they wanted them, though, and soon the stores had a demand for them.
Stephen Bourgeois finally had a fine exhibition of them in his gallery. All this makes them cost seventy-five, a hundred, or two hundred dollars today.
When Albert Barnes ran through our house like a madman, he ended up in the kitchen and saw my two Santos in the cupboard doors. He had already bought all the best silver and turquoise he had seen, and serapes out of vaults, and many Saints in curio shops; but he felt he had to have just those two of mine. He begged me to sell them, but I refused. They had been there so long. After he left, he wrote from his house about them. He said he simply had to have them. He said I must not be egotistical about them, but I must take an objective attitude.
“They belong here with my primitives,” he wrote. “They will fit in perfectly. Think of how many more people will enjoy them in my gallery than where they are.” (In my kitchen!) But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t let them go. He never wrote to me again, and dropped me from his acquaintance."
San Jose by Rafael Aragon at the Harwood Museum from the Mabel Dodge Luhan collection
The San Miguel retablo has been compared first-hand to other retablos by Jose Rafael Aragon in the collections of the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, the Harwood Museum of Art, the Couse-Sharp Foundation, and the Denver Art Museum. Quite importantly The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia owns a retablo of the Arcangel San Rafael which could be considered a companion piece to this San Miguel. Virginia Couse-Leavitt of the Couse-Sharp Foundation, Charlene Tamayo, co-author of The Couse Collection of Santos, Ross Frank, son of collector Larry Frank, Ray Trotter of RB Ravens Gallery, santero Gustavo Victor Goler, along with others, have all agreed this is a masterwork by the santero Jose Rafael Aragon.
Close up of the face of San Miguel
Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879-1962) acquired early to mid 1930’s
Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879-1962) acquired early to mid 1930’s
Tony Lujan (1879-1963) inherited upon the demise of Mable Dodge Luhan
Two Graces Plaza Gallery 2017, acquired through a Taos estate.
Detail of the Serpent on the Aragon retablo
A master Santero of Taos, Gustavo Victor Goler completed a cleaning and a light restoration on September 20, 2017.
Backside of the retablo before restoration, showing adze marks
Size 16 3/4” tall with Lunette x 10 1/2” wide
Painted on an adzed pine board with a shaped backside to the lunette
“Este retablo pinto por mano de maestro Rafael Aragon, el ano de 1840”
This Retablo was painted by the hand of the master Santero Rafael Aragon, in the year 1840.
Top of Lunette Backside showing the carved shaping of the shell
Museum Collections of Santos include the following:
Millicent Rogers Museum, Taos, NM
Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM
La Hacienda de los Martinez, Taos, NM
Couse-Sharp Foundation, Taos, NM
Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Santa Fe, NM
Palace of the Governors New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe, NM
Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA
Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
Wall of retablos in an alcove at the Palace of the Governors Museum
Definition of a Retablo:
A retablo is a wooden board, sometimes hand adzed with a hatchet type tool, chiseled smooth on one side. The board is cut into a rectangle, sizes vary between 4”x6” to 16”x20”. One side of the board is smoothed and surfaced with a layer of gesso. The figure of a popular Saint or commissioned image of a Saint is painted using natural pigments of earthen minerals and plant material. Retablos are purely a northern New Mexico art form, although some of the early santeros were thought to arrive here from various regions of Mexico. Here in Northern New Mexico is where the art form flourished. These were primarily displayed in the Mission Churches, outlier Capillas (small community Churches), Pueblo Churches, Penitente Moradas of the Brotherhood and occasionally Family Chapels. Retablos are considered to be a unique and original American art form. Many of the best examples are now in museum collections, due to scarcity they are rarely sold in the marketplace today, they have become valued treasures.
Our Lady retablo by Rafael Aragon in the Millicent Rogers Museum Collection
In conclusion to this information; the retablo has been acquired by a longtime admirer of Rafael Aragon’s work. We are grateful to this family who we know will care for the painting and honor it. We feel that although we did not own the painting for very long, that we too have become a part of the journey of this historic treasure. Recently the family allowed me to visit the retablo and see where they have displayed it, in a nicho at their family home surrounded by the work of contemporary santeros of northern New Mexico. They have a stunning collection, the San Miguel Retablo holds a place of honor in a loving home.
Two Graces Plaza Gallery wall display of Santos
Two Graces Plaza Gallery, Ranchos de Taos, established 2003
Robert Cafazzo & Holly Sievers, proprietors
October 20, 2017