Sunday, June 6, 2021

Ila McAfee Miniature Portrait Taos Pueblo Man

 Ila McAfee (Turner) 1897-1995

Studied in Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, New York, NY, moved to Taos, NM in 1928. She remained in Taos for twenty-five years before moving back to Colorado. She is noted for her paintings of animals, horses in particular.



A 3”x3” in a 4 5/8”x5 1/8” frame, an oil painting portrait on canvas of a Taos Pueblo gentleman. Sgrafitto signature on the front and her written signature on the back brown paper.



Note the earring and braids tied in red (denoting a particular society group that this man belonged to), with Taos Pueblo and blue mountain in background. Dated to 1930, signed on front and notation on back. The man wears a robe (an indication of stature) of green, the color of life, renewal, nature and energy, associated with growth, harmony, safety and the environment and around him. 



Portraits and the portrait miniatures of the people in Taos are some of Ila’s best work, yet still she was known as the painter of horses. Most portraits are on simple backgrounds. This rare Portrait of a Taos Pueblo Man by Ila McAfee includes views of the Taos Blue Mountain and the Taos Pueblo in the background. 



From Ila's book "Indians, Horses, Hills, et cetera..." : 'Sun Lightning' was his indian name. I would meet him out in the sage and sun and there, wrapped in a bright colorful blanket, he sat on his horse. I painted him with a mountain or prairie as a background in the center of a beautiful setting. People from Taos Pueblo have identified him as Joe ‘Sunhawk’ Sandoval, along with pointing out the hoop earring and red colored ribbon wrapping his braids. The book includes this illustration of the man she refers to.


In a sketch by Ernest Blumenschein a similar looking Pueblo Man is depicted.


Ila met her husband to be Elmer Page Turner (yes, read it again ‘Elmer page turner’) through art classes at the Chicago Art Institute in 1920, whom she married in 1926. Ila and Elmer designed and helped build their home on what was then known as Armory Street, now Civic Plaza Drive, which was finished by the end of 1928. Named the “White Horse Studio” it is an assuming two story house nestled into now a busy street. It is thought that Ila carved the animal figures into the lintels over the exterior door and windows. A viewing of the videos Ila McAfee’s Trained Cats in particular Sanka the Siamese, will give you an inside look into their home.



Little known and seemingly forgotten about McAfee is that she designed fabrics, wrapping paper, dishes, calendars and illustrated the cover of “How to Draw Horses” by Walter Foster



Ila McAfee is included in the book “Taos and its Artists” Mabel Dodge Luhan 1947. As one of the earliest painters in Taos, she is considered today one of the very best. Voted Taos Artist of the Year in 1981.


The painting can be found on the twograces.com website, it is priced at $3,600.
https://www.twograces.com/taos-art-1/p/ila-mcafee-portrait-of-a-taos-pueblo-man


Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Friendship Christmas Trees of Taos created by Dorothy Benrimo (1903–1977)

The Friendship Christmas Trees of Taos created by Dorothy Benrimo (1903–1977)


Dorothy Benrimo & Claire Morrill admiring their Friendship Tree, photo by Regina Cooke

I first discovered the ‘Taos Friendship Trees’ in a 2013 exhibit at the Harwood Museum of Art, Taos. On display was a miniature Christmas tree covered in tiny objects including little replica ‘books’ by local authors Mabel Dodge Luhan “Winter in Taos” & “Edge of Taos Dessert”, D.H. Lawrence “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” & “Women in Love”, Frank Waters “The Man Who Killed the Deer”, and Dorothy Brett “Lawrence & Brett” among many others. The tree was labeled as being made by Dorothy Brett or at least once had been owned by Brett and gifted to Lucy & Burt Harwood. The tree, which is the most highly decorated of the few I’ve seen, stood out in a special way and I wanted to know more about it. Through further research we now know these as the Friendship Trees created by Dorothy Benrimo. I’m also told that a now long gone shop once on Kit Carson Road in Taos may have sold the Friendship trees to the public.

Once owned by Dorothy Brett, this friendship tree is in the Harwood Museum Collection

A few years went by, then one day I discovered a similar tree in a random box in a garage, the box was full of bits and pieces that had fallen off the tree but I recognized it as being similar to the ‘Brett’ tree in the Harwood Collection. It makes sense that through the many years the two Dorothy B’s of Taos (Benrimo & Brett) would become interchanged with one another. The music box the tree had been attached to had been smashed due to poor packing, it could not be saved, but with all the little bits and pieces that had fallen off I proceeded to glue them into place. Remounted anew onto a vintage round base the tree once again came to life. The fragility of these trees keeps me from storing ours away after each Christmas season.

The Benrimo Friendship Christmas Tree in our personal collection

The trees are covered sometimes quite fully, sometimes sparsely with little toys and mementos collected during a years time, Cracker Jack toys, Tinykins Hannah-Barbera cartoon characters, birds, Santas, Reindeer, tiny Christmas balls and gift wrapped packages all in place. 

Not as ornate but with working Music Box, Friendship Christmas Tree by Dorothy Benrimo


Recently another of these friendship trees became available (I’ve had three different ones, I always keep my eyes open for them) which I purchased immediately. This one was little off kilter as it sat on the music box, but the music box actually worked, it is mesmerizing to behold while it spins and plays Jingle Bells. Soon afterwards we discovered a piece written by longtime Taos bookshop owner Claire Morrill in her must read masterpiece tribute “A Taos Mosaic” of 1973. 

"A Taos Mosaic" these Hardcover books are currently available at Two Graces, 

without dust jacket $20., with dust jacket $30., with dust jacket signed by Claire Morrill $40.,

with dust jacket in broadart protective cover signed by Claire Morrill $45.,

with dust jacket in broadart protective cover signed by both Claire Morrill and photographer Laura Gilpin $50.


In the book she describes the tree and how it came to be, I have included excerpts here:

“A Taos Mosaic, Portrait of a New Mexico Village” Claire Morrill with photographs by Laura Gilpin, University of New Mexico Press, 1973

(excerpts from pages 104-105)

“…I guess the thing that will best show the special flavor of Taos happenings is my own little Christmas Tree, which I have only because I happened to be standing in the right place to be struck by this benevolent streak of lightning. It came about… through an instinctive and typical Taos response to what Lawrence Clark Powell would call ‘an act of enchantment’.

I am the eighth Taoseno who… has been the recipient of one of these jewel-like miniature trees inspired and engineered by Dorothy Benrimo. Dorothy, whose late husband was the artist Thomas Benrimo, is a Taos designer and silversmith of such distinction that her work has toured the country in month long showings at galleries and museums under the sponsorship of the Smithsonian Institution.

At a friend’s house I was engrossed in admiration of the latest miniature tree she had done when Dorothy came by.


“It’s enchanting,” I said.

She gave me a quick look, “Well”, she said, “I think it’s your turn next year.”

“How do you decide it?” I asked.

“I don’t,” she said. “It just happens. It’s a happening.”


I was enchanted all over again and equally appalled. For where did all these exquisite miniatures and marvelous little decorations come from? How many would there have to be?


She was quite casual about it. “Oh, there have to be six or seven hundred. You pick them up yourself all year and I will, too, and then before Christmas I’ll send out postcards to your friends, people you know well, to anyone we think would like to bring in some little thing. And then some day in December a few of us will get together and have dinner and trim the tree.”

“Six or seven hundred things,” I said, faintly.

“Oh, sure,” she said, “don’t worry about it.”


But I did worry about it. All year I hunted for miniatures, a half inch to three-quarter inch in size, and they seemed to elude me. I began to alert close friends and my sister Anne, who came up with wonderful little treasures, tiny mushrooms and ladybugs, ducks, chickens, and geese.


…eleven of us who gathered to trim the tree included a friend of Lib White’s from Norway who, though a complete stranger to me, had spent most of the past week mounting tiny sequins onto the tips of small weed sprigs and with paints transforming dime-store angels into little celestial musicians.

Dorothy had brought the fifteen-inch artificial tree, which she had mounted on a round tray revolving above a music box. With tinsel and glue the trimming began. There seemed no end to the wonderful miniatures coming out of their boxes: tiny original Taos paintings, sculptures, ink drawings, weavings, and santos; animals, birds, flowers, and insects; miniature train and painted Sicilian cart; bells and musical instruments; typewriters, midget dictionary, and replica of the front page of the New York Times; stereo records and books (one of them entitled Inside Taos by Claire Morrill); and dozens of other things. kenny Anderson, who was seven, had parted with one of his real treasures, a tiny hot dog, and my great-niece, Barbara, had written a distinguished little poem on a tree-shaped paper.


We eight Taosenos who have these exquisite trees don’t wait until Christmas to bring them out, admire them, and show them off.”

Photograph of a Cow Skull on a shed at the Benrimo Estate

The following is most likely a newspaper clipping from the Taos News of which is a photograph and report by Regina Cooke:

Dorothy Benrimo and Claire Morrill stand beside the friendship Christmas Tree made for Miss Morrill by Mrs. Benrimo and trimmers, Spud Johnson, Milford Greer, Robert D. Ray, R.C. Van Arsdel, Otto Pitcher, Elizabeth White, Vera Simonsson and Genevieve Janssen. Mrs. Benrimo began working with friendship trees some years ago when living in New York, and since then has made thirty or forty. The trees are mounted over a music box and are trimmed with tiny items from over the world given by friends of the recipient. Mis Morrill’s tree contains countless gifts from seventy-five persons, among these paintings by Milford Greer, Robert Ray, and Lib White, and a book of sketches by Spud Johnson. Jewelry, Angels, creche figures, Santas and animals are of the varied items decorating the green artificial tree covered over with yards of tinsel.

Camposanto de Santa Rita Bernal, Serafina


Camposanto Viejo de Costilla

A Straw Inlay Cross made by Dorothy Benrimo in the Spanish Colonial style, Harwood Museum Collection
Part of the Benrimo collection of retablos once on the wall of her home
Interior of the Benrimo Home as it once was


Camposanto Cemetery posts which were once at the Benrimo home


Camposanto Cross once at the Benrimo home


A group of Camposanto Ornamental Wooden Cemetery Spades purchased from the Benrimo home

Dorothy Benrimo was known as a pioneering figure in the fine art of jewelry making. Some of her designs are thought to include theological references, but they also make use of her knowledge and inspiration from Mayan and Aztec cultures and of course her deep understanding of the Tiffany studio. She would refer to her jewelry as having an emphatic depth. Benrimo studied at Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh, graduating in 1925. She received Tiffany Foundation Fellowships in 1924, 1925 & 1928 and worked at the Tiffany estate to further her knowledge and research. She taught at Carnegie Melon and later at Pratt University up until she and her husband moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1939. Benrimo was a collector of northern New Mexico Spanish Colonial Santos (Retablos & Bultos) and documented the crosses of the Camposantos though her photographs which were published in book form with a forward by Rebecca Salsbury James and notes from E. Boyd the curator of the Spanish Colonial department of the Museum of New Mexico. The photographs were exhibited in 1966 at the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art. She was one of the few women artists active before 1950 to enjoy a successful career in the arts. Jewelry by Benrimo is difficult to come by, we have had one necklace by her and I've seen one other.

Dorothy & Thomas Benrimo at their home in Ranchos de Taos


Dorothy and Thomas Benrimo must have been true assets to the Taos arts community, their spirit shines to this day through their acts of enchantment. 

As Freida Lawrence once wrote to Dorothy: "Your letter was one of the gayest I ever had in my long life.”

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Dearly Loved Alex Krutsky

 Alex Krutsky 1950-2020, a Tribute

Alex Krutsky with his cabinetry work in background

Alex Krutsky was an extraordinary craftsman of furniture and cabinetry who could pick up a twig and show you the potential it had to becoming something wonderful and useful. He got it, he had the vision of an alchemist to recognize the potential of simple objects and an appreciation for those objects. Whether he took a sheet of thinly sliced veneer and used it to accent the face of a wood working project or take the slice of a branch and turn it into a coat hook, he saw the potential. He saw the uniqueness and beauty in all of us and all around us.


Alex with his wife/life partner Maggie McNally

As a teacher, (at the North Bennet Street School 1985-2017 in Boston's North End) and I only saw him in the 'Little Italy' neighborhood  where I resided, from time to time leaving his class workshop, he must have seen this potential in his students as well. The ones who ‘got it’ and the ones who would carry on traditions that go back before all of us. 

Many have been touched by Alex, through his eyes he showed us the potential, again there's that word. Anytime I pick something up on my journeys, whether it be a piece of driftwood to transform into a ‘bird’ or a piece of rusty metal to add to an assemblage, there’s Alex looking over my shoulder and smiling. Those simple hooks he’d made of discarded branches that hang in his home where we all at one time or another hung our coats or hats from, they speak volumes about him.


A night out with Alex & Maggie fancy dinner party hosted by Bob White

Alex showed me that beauty isn’t just in the eye of the beholder, but that it’s up to the beholder to bring out that beauty and share it with the world.


Alex & Maggie at our wedding in Gloucester, MA

A Visionary, an Alchemist, a Master craftsman he created beautiful useful objects from scratch. He saw the potential in his friends and family, never judging, just listening to our own thoughts and ideas. 

We have much to live up to, thank you Alex Krutsky. 

On October 9, 2020 Alex Krutsky passed into the light, may he shine among the stars, he will forever be with us. 


Alex & Maggie enjoying a wonderful day together

For more about Alex this link is from the Boston Globe: https://www.legacy.com/amp/obituaries/bostonglobe/196982179?fbclid=IwAR3qAhGuQ2iwCsRdg90hPRIWtOI5yJXfOwdPAVBSiMqeiasFdMDZ78r0n0g 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Navajo Folk Art Mud Toys Mamie Deschillie aka Mamie Deschellie & Elsie Benally at Two Graces

Navajo Mud Toys

Mamie Deschillie (Deschellie) & Elsie Benally

ca. 1980-90’s


This is our current inventory of Navajo Folk Art Mud Toys (10/20/20)

Navajo Folk Art Toys, specifically unfired clay animal figures painted with tempera paint were made by Mamie Deschillie (of Fruitland near Farmington, NM) and Elsie Benally (of Sweetwater, AZ), (Rose Herbert is another mud toy artist), starting around 1983. 


Large Tiger with Turquoise Eyes Mamie Deschillie

This has been acquired, thank you.


Second View of Tiger Close-up N/A

Lion with beaded forehead and Mane, Mamie Deschillie (the lion has been acquired, thank you)


Santa Riding Chicken $50. (signed MD) Mamie Deschillie


Santa Riding Cow (signed MD) Mamie Deschillie

(Santa Riding a Cow has been acquired, thank you)


Gray Panther Tiger SOLD (signed MD) Mamie Deschillie


Small Tiger (signed MD) Mamie Deschillie

This has been acquired, thank you


Elephant SOLD (signed MD) Mamie Deschillie


M.D. signature of Mamie Deschillie

Cowboy on Horseback SOLD Mamie Deschillie


Zebra $50. Mamie Deschillie


Big Shabby Lion w Teeth Mamie Deschillie

(The Shabby Lion has been acquired, thank you)


Second View of Big Shabby Lion w Teeth (NA)

Alligator SOLD Mamie Deschillie


Navajo Woman w Chicken $50. Mamie Deschillie SOLD


Navajo Folk Artist Mamie Deschillie (1920-2010) aka Deschellie

2020 is her 100th anniversary year, we celebrate her unique talent through this collection.


White Buffalo SOLD Elsie Benally


Santa Riding Alligator SOLD Elsie Benally


Donkey Pack Animal $50. Elsie Benally


Sheep, Elsie Benally (the sheep has been acquired, thank you)


Sandstone Pickup Truck w 2 Pigs $30.

(attributed to Benally's son in law Homer Warren)


Sandstone Spotted Horse (this horse has been acquired, thank you)


Cardboard & Velvet Navajo Woman Riding Horse SOLD Mamie Deschillie


Second View of Cardboard Navajo Woman Riding Horse 

Mud Toy availability is quite limited, the mud toys are quite fragile and susceptible to damage, perhaps this makes them rare and more and more difficult to come by. Mud Toys are dried in the sun, they are not fired to harden the clay, then painted with flat bright tempera paints. 


Inspiration for these artists comes from Children’s Books, Circus Animals and animals on the Navajo Reservation. Occasionally Mamie would make up a magical animal out of her imagination. Deschillie would travel 18-20 miles to her source of 'mud' in order to seek out just the right type of earth for her creations. The Navajo People are believed to have used the toys as early as 1880. Mud Toys have similar characteristics to clay animal fetish figures used by the people of nearby Pueblos in Arizona and New Mexico, often they were left at shrine sites, later to wear away in the wind and elements where they would melt back into Mother Earth.


Deschellie is also known for her Cardboard Animal Figures she called ‘Cutouts’ of the same topics as her mud toys. We have one listed here of a Navajo Woman on Horseback.


For me these figures are reminiscent of the figures of wire and found objects by Alexander Calder for his “Calder’s Circus” in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Every bit as whimsical and filled with wonder, in particular the circus animals, these are now desirable to collectors everywhere.

In 1990 I came upon the cutout cardboard figures created by Mamie Deschellie in a Trading Post shop in Aztec, NM (near Farmington), there I purchased as many cutouts as they had giving them as gifts for friends who still cherish them (as I do) to this day.

Works by both Deschellie and Benally are in the permanent collections of major American Museums.


True Folk Art is rarely signed, pressure in the market place has forced many artists to include their signature. When looking at these figures you begin to notice significant differences between the two women artists. Folk Art styles are unique to the individual artists who make them.


Both Deschellie and Benally are listed in the book “Navajo Folk Art; the People Speak”, by Chuck and Jan Rosenak.


Mud Toy Sizes range from 2.5” - 6’ in length


Mamie Deschellie with a pair of large cardboard figures

Calling us with your order request and payment information is the best and fastest way to receive a response of what is available. 

575-770-5580 (between 10-5 Mountain Time)


or email your request to 

r2c2graces@gmail.com

or

hollynrosie@gmail.com


We will get back to you asap and ask that you then call with shipping and payment information.

We ship throughout the United States.


A side note: from time to time I do restoration on Mud Toys, if you have a cherished figure please reach out about my restoration service. It's best to send an email that includes a photo of the damage or what might be missing such as a leg or an ear.