SPRINGVILLE — American film and television have done much to color our perception of the Native American — and much of that perception has been negative. However, through Oct. 24, visitors to the Springville Museum of Art may experience the simple majesty of the people and vistas of the Southwest through the eyes of 26 early Western artists.
"The Taos Masters & Western Artists Exhibit" has paintings, drawings and sculpture that depict the denizens of the desert community with documentary zeal and artistic integrity; each work is a reverie of color and composition, a hymn to the land and people before the onslaught of 20th century modernization.
Composed of three collections — Diane and Sam Stewart, Mr. and Mrs. Larry Clark and the Springville Museum of Art — the exhibit is a balanced mixture of styles and techniques.
Of the artists in their collection, Diane Stewart said: "I think they epitomize the American West. In fact the paintings of Couse, Sharp, Burninghaus, Ufer and other great masters represent the very soul of the West."
Having grown up in Arizona, Stewart said the Native American figures, desert landscapes and mountains are a part of her youth. "When I look at our Taos paintings, each one evokes such emotion and tells such a great but intimate story. I think they are masterful."
The art depicts a period of time in Taos history before the Pueblo Indians became widely known. "No one knew about these Indians," said Larry Clark. "When the people back east first heard about them it was all kind of a revelation. They were familiar with the Plains Indians and the buffalo, but these artists really introduced the Taos and Santa Fe culture to the country."
According to the exhibition's curators, Donna L. Poulton and Traci Fieldsted, one of the first artists to tour the region was Frederick Remington. He was looking for — and found — a land that had been overlooked by progress.
Taos was the first significant art colony in the American West. But it happened almost by accident: Artists Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips were on a painting expedition together when their carriage broke down in the vicinity of Taos in 1898. Taken with the beauty of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and intrigued by the mix of Pueblo Indian, Hispanic culture and Catholic religion, they spread the word to other artists.
Many of the artists who painted in Taos before 1940 had studied in Paris before 1900; some had also studied in other European academies.
"As the West that we now know only from books and paintings has vanished, our nostalgia for it grows," said Poulton and Fieldsted. Both say that the images that the Taos Masters recorded on canvas are reaching record levels of interest throughout the world. "Their images are not derivative and are indisputably authentic," they said.
Fortunately for visitors, the pieces on display in "The Taos Masters & Western Artists Exhibit" are a good representation of the artists' style and skill and should be of interest to anyone attracted to this period of the American West.
WHILE VISITING the museum, don't miss "From Bouguereau to Norman Rockwell," an exhibition of exquisite paintings by narrative artists loved by the public but denigrated by the critics. There is an entry fee for this show: $4 for adults, $2 for children and students, children under 6 free.
If you go. . .
What: The Taos Masters & Western Artists Exhibit
Where: Springville Museum of Art, 126 E. 400 South, Springville
When: Through Oct. 24
Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (Wednesday until 9 p.m.); Sunday, 3-6 p.m.; closed Monday
How much: Free