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Early Printmakers of
New Mexico

by Artist, Victoria Chick


Even limiting this topic to early printmakers working in New Mexico is overwhelming. The clear light, scenic beauty, and richly varied cultures were a romantic attraction for artists who visited from the eastern United States and had a hard time tearing themselves away. Some stayed permanently. Many European - born artists also came to live or spend long periods of time in the New Mexican towns of Taos and Santa Fe.  By the 1930s, many west coast artists also became New Mexico transplants. Most were painters with a good number of printmakers among them.


All these arrivals were additions to the well - developed art of indigenous tribes for whom the designing of utilitarian pots, weavings, jewelry, clothing, and ritual objects was an integral part of life.  The Indian art and activity provided subject matter for many of the incoming artists. And there was a mutual respect between Indian artists and classically trained artists as each recognized the authenticity in the others’ work.


One of the first printmakers to visit New Mexico was Peter Moran who made his initial trip to New Mexico in 1864. He made many more art trips, some with one of his artist brothers, to New Mexico as well as other western states, recording the landscape, the frontier activity, and the Indians. Moran was a classically trained artist who did many etchings from his drawings after he returned to the east coast from these trips. His good relationships with the Indian tribes and his skills as an artist resulted in his appointment as the official artist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1890.


Another early printmaker, and one whose work is still very much sought after, was Gustave Baumann, who arrived in the United States from Germany, as a child. He received some art education at the Chicago Art Institute but, in his early twenties, went back to Germany for a short period to learn woodblock printing.  On his return to the U.S., he spent time in Indiana where he began perfecting his technique of color woodcuts. He heard from friends who had visited Taos what a wonderful area it was for artists. By the early 1920s he made a trip there. Taos had quite number of artists by then and he felt he wanted a quieter place for his work so he chose Santa Fe where he  was given an art studio in the recently completed New Mexico Fine Art  Museum. He became an important member of the Santa Fe art community and nationally renowned for his color woodcuts and books. His ability in wood working enabled him to carve numerous marionettes. He formed a puppet theatre which has carried on a tradition of performances to the present time still using Baumann’s carved marionettes.


Birger Sandzen, well known for his lithographs and woodcuts as well as his paintings, is more closely associated with the state of Kansas where he taught art at Bethany College for 52 years.  However, he visited frequently in New Mexico starting in 1921 and was invited to be an associate member of the Taos Society of Artists. Sandzen focused on landscape as subject matter.  His art education began in Sweden and continued in Paris prior to his immigrating to the United States.


Lloyd Albright, with no formal training, spent many summers in New Mexico in the 1920s, where his natural talent was encouraged by members of the Taos Society of Artists. He, like Baumann, was a woodcarver and began making woodcut prints of adobe buildings in the Taos/Santa Fe area.


There were two main groups or waves of incoming artists in the early years. The first has already been alluded to in that the training of very early artists was based on the classic European model of the mid 19th century. Some artists were slightly influenced by late 19th century French styles, using looser brushwork and Impressionist color theory. The artists that began arriving in the 1930’s were more inclined to be ‘Modernists’ experimenting with angular Cubist forms or the rounded, stylized shapes of art Deco. The earliest artists  recorded the romance of the West and Pueblo life in a naturalistic way.  The second group of artists interpreted some of the same themes, but in modernist styles or used Indian and landscape motifs to express personal beliefs.  Some wanted to elicit an emotional response from the viewer.  Although not a printmaker, Georgia O’Keefe is an artist familiar to most who would be an example of the latter group of artists. Those artists who were printmakers followed a similar pattern of style as the painters.


Between the 1930s and 1950s Taos began to gain a world reputation among artists as a great place to find inspiration. Interestingly, many artists heard about Taos in Paris at the Academie Julian. However, it had not yet become a great art market.  In fact, the Taos Society of Artists was formed in 1915 to promote exhibitions and sales of their work elsewhere around the United States because there was not enough population in the Taos area for them to sustain an income from selling art.  By the 1940s there still was only one art gallery there.


Gene Kloss went to Taos from California with her husband in 1935 and is well known for her dynamic diagonal compositions and her unique etching technique in which she used a brush to “paint” directly with acid on the metal.


Other well known printmakers of the period include Howard Cook and his wife, Barbara Latham, and Doel Reed.


Peter Hurd, both a painter and lithographer, was unique as the only well known early artist to be born and have his early schooling in New Mexico. He studied art on the east coast and did not return to New Mexico to live until the 1930s with his wife, artist Henriette Wyeth.


Eric Gibberd was a painter and printmaker who helped found Gallery A in the 1950s. It was the longest, continuously running, gallery in Taos. finally closing in 2009. Gibberd was an admirer of Cezanne and adopted his angular, analytical style in woodcuts.



There were so many good artists attracted to New Mexico it would be difficult to cover them all in a book, much less this article.  I have limited my writing here to early printmakers hoping to introduce you to some names you may not have heard before and to honor art pioneers for their spirit of adventure and their drive to create. For more information, you can read their biographies at www.victoriachick.com/prints/index.htm   


Today, there are a number of New Mexico communities that thrive because of their artists and are well worth your visits to their galleries, museums, and artist studios.  Among them, Silver City, Ruidoso, Hurley, Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, Las Vegas, and Gallup have many art galleries, museums, and artist studios. Many printmakers are part of these communities.


Illustrations:

1. Peter Moran, at top

2. Gustave Baumann

3. Birger Sandzen

4. Lloyd Albright

5. Peter Hurd



Big Blend Radio ShowsArtist Victoria Chick was interviewed on Big Blend Radio to talk about printmakers of New Mexico. To listen to her interview,  please click here.

Peter Moran Gustav Baumann Birger Sandzen Lloyd Albright Peter Hurd

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio and received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. visit her website at www.artistvictoriachick.com