Click the play button to hear our in-gallery soundscape by Robert Mirabal. Learn more about this composition and its creator here.
Painted: Our Bodies, Hearts, and Village centers Pueblo perspectives on the contexts that informed the social and cultural landscape of Taos from 1915 to 1927, when the Taos Society of Artists (TSA), a group of Anglo-American painters, was active. Featuring the Colby Museum’s collection, including a key group of works from the distinguished Lunder Collection, as well as select loans, it also sheds light on issues that affect Native people today, in the Southwest and beyond.
The exhibition puts paintings by TSA artists in dialogue with works by twentieth- and twenty-first-century Native American artists to illuminate the varied, complex, and rich art histories of the United States Southwest, in particular the city of Taos and Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. Presented in six galleries spanning the lower level of the museum’s Lunder Wing, it also includes writing, sound, and artworks from the featured artists and other Native culture bearers as part of new research supported by the museum’s Lunder Institute for American Art.
Tony Abeyta, Citadel. Oil on linen. 40 x 60in.. The Lunder Collection, 2021.246
For centuries, Pueblo makers have innovated with clay and other materials. This creative inheritance has been passed down through the generations in an unbroken artistic lineage. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Pueblo artists made revolutionary advances in ceramics and developed new techniques that connected Indigenous painting traditions, symbols, and forms with Modernist painting. During this same time period, the construction of the Santa Fe Railroad brought Anglo-American settlers to the Southwest in greater numbers. Taos Pueblo, long a vibrant center for intertribal trade, quickly attracted the interest of these newly arrived settlers. Drawn to the region in pursuit of what they described as uniquely American subjects—distinct from European artistic traditions—the founding members of the TSA traveled to Pueblo homelands and encountered this thriving artistic world with a rich tradition of commerce and exchange. The TSA artists painted their impressions of Taos Pueblo and Pueblo people, their works reflect a complex network of relationships between the artists and their chosen subject matter.
During their lifetimes, the TSA garnered varying degrees of professional success and scholarly attention, though they were largely overlooked by most museums and art historians outside of the US Southwest. American art institutions gradually incorporated their work into presentations of American art history that promoted a generalized and idealized conception of Native America. More recently, scholars studying the TSA have focused primarily on the artists themselves, sometimes for broader critiques of romanticism and the Southwest as a place to fortify ideas of the nation state.
Painted: Our Bodies, Hearts, and Village includes these critiques as an important element for understanding how the TSA’s output has traditionally been exhibited, but goes beyond that framework, positioning Taos people as empowered agents within their own lives and own portraits. By centering Pueblo perspectives and worldviews, the exhibition enfolds the TSA paintings into a much longer story about Taos Pueblo. Though their representations came from an outside perspective, the TSA paintings illustrate the central role of Taos Pueblo and its people in trade relations—economic, diplomatic, artistic—within America. The TSA paintings are one snapshot of the longstanding artistic exchanges that happened in the history of Taos, and were only possible through Taos Pueblo being the epicenter of exchange for millennia.
Oscar Berninghaus, Desert Nocturne (Indian Nocturne), 1919. Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in. The Lunder Collection, 008.2011
Painted: Our Bodies, Hearts, and Village emphasizes the sovereignty of Pueblo peoples and the land they steward, inviting viewers to consider how art produced in the US Southwest reflects, or diverges from, the lived experiences of Native community members. The exhibition and its associated programs ask: What can be learned about self-representation, intertribal exchange, settler colonialism, and the causes of climate change by foregrounding Pueblo and other Native voices? And, relatedly, what enduring myths about Native people and Westward expansion might be unlearned through this multivocal approach?
Artists represented in the project include Margeaux Abeyta, Mozart Abeyta, Tony Abeyta, Oscar Berninghaus, Ernest Blumenschein, Gerald Cassidy, Pop Chalee, Berdina Charley, E. Irving Couse, Herbert Dunton, Nicolai Fechin, Jody Naranjo Folwell, Susan Folwell, Jason Garcia, Jessa Rae Growing Thunder, Marsden Hartley, Ernest Martin Hennings, Seferina Herrera, Victor Higgins, Ahkima Honyumptewa, William Robinson Leigh, Albert Looking Elk, John Marin, Patricia Michaels, Robert Mirabal, Thomas Moran, Dan Namingha, Michael Namingha, Madeline Naranjo, Clara Neptune Keezer, Theresa Neptune Gardner, Molly Neptune Parker, Virgil Ortiz, Bert Geer Phillips, Juan Pino, Cara Romero, Diego Romero, Ken Romero, Yellowbird Samora, Mary Sanipass, Joseph Sharp, Sarah Sockbeson, Roxanne Swentzell, Awa Tsireh, and Walter Ufer.
As a part of a long-term commitment to furthering collaborative methodologies, the Colby Museum is integrating and centering input from Native community partners throughout the project. The reinstallation’s co-curators are 2021–22 Lunder Institute research fellows Juan Lucero (Isleta Pueblo) and Jill Ahlberg Yohe, who are working in collaboration with Siera Hyte, the Colby Museum’s assistant curator of modern and contemporary art. Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo) is the project’s exhibition designer. A curatorial advisory council made up of Pueblo and Wabanaki artists and stakeholders is providing essential guidance on the installation and interpretation. The council members are Ron Martinez Looking Elk (Isleta Pueblo/Taos Pueblo), Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), Theresa Secord (Penobscot), Sarah Sockbeson (Penobscot), and Dr. Joseph Suina (Cochiti Pueblo). Through this project, and specifically through the advisory council, the museum seeks to facilitate opportunities for intertribal dialogue between Wabanaki and Pueblo communities.
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On November 3 and 4, 2023, the Colby College Museum of Art and its Lunder Institute for American Art hosted a two-day symposium, in conjunction with the Painted: Our Bodies, Hearts, and Village exhibition, featuring exhibition collaborators, artists, curators, and scholars of Native American art, American art, and art of the American West.
Together, participants reflected on the relationship between art, shared histories, and lived experiences, incubating new paths within art history, art practice, and the museum field. Topics included how Native artists delve into historical collections to assert visual sovereignty, how to activate museum collections in new and reparative ways, collaborations between institutions and Native communities, and more.
Painted: Our Bodies, Hearts, and Village is made possible through the support of the Terra Foundation for American Art and Colby Museum endowment funds provided by the Lunder Foundation and the Mellon Foundation, which supported the 2021–22 Lunder Institute Research Fellows Program. The installation will be accompanied by a robust series of public programs, including a symposium in fall 2023; a publication documenting the installation and including additional reflections, interviews, and research is also planned.
A generative project grounded in the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition will inform ongoing research, exploration, and presentations of American art at the Colby Museum while it is on view and in the years ahead.
Banner image: Pueblo motif from the exhibition design by Virgil Ortiz.