8 Subtexts Taos Society 1

Davison Packard Koenig

In the fall of 1898, two New York artists who had studied in France set their sights on establishing an art colony in Taos. Although it would be similar to the collectives in Europe, its fundamental themes were the Southwestern landscape and light, and the region’s Native American and Spanish cultures.

Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips were joined by fellow artists E. Irving Couse, J.H. Sharp, Oscar Berninghaus, and W. Herbert Dunton. By 1915, all of them had made Taos central to their endeavors. Upon forming the Taos Society of Artists, they showed paintings across the United States that added to the allure of art from and tourism in the Southwest. By 1927, there were 12 members in the society, including one woman, portrait painter Catharine Critcher. In 1922, Critcher had declared her love for the region by saying, “Taos is unlike any place God ever made.”

Membership in the TSA had specific requirements: Participants in the colony had to have worked in Taos for three consecutive years, proven their interest and skill in painting Native Americans, and shown work in well-regarded galleries or New York exhibitions. Certain artists from Santa Fe, such as Randall Davey and Gustave Baumann, were also included in the society as associate members.

In concert with the people of Taos Pueblo and the community of San Fernando de Taos, the 12 artists made a lasting impact, said Davison Packard Koenig, executive director of the Couse-Sharp Historic Site in Taos. He will present a lecture on the subject Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe. “They achieved far more together than what they could have accomplished as individuals,” Koenig said. “Larger social and economic factors were at play that created a cultural zeitgeist with the TSA at the center. Their shared vision of creating a uniquely American art forever influenced prevailing perceptions of Native America and the West.”

Sharp, who in 1893 was the first of the group to visit Taos, wrote: “[I try] to present the Indian as he is … mentally as well as physically; not as ephemeral fiction has delighted to picture him.” All these individuals used strikingly vibrant colors in their work, an unusual approach in traditional American painting at the time.

Davison Packard Koenig lectures on “The Collective Impact of the Taos Society of Artists” at 1 p.m. Feb. 13 at the New Mexico Museum of Art (107 W. Palace Ave.).

Tour the studios of two TAS founders at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site 11 a.m-4 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays through April, or 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays from May through October. Visit couse-sharp.org/tour.