Building on sand

George de Ville with a sand painting (circa 1950), photographer unknown

Born in Appleton, Wisconsin, to Belgian parents in 1888, artist George de Ville is known for his sandpaintings, which he created using the same methods as the Navajo people. But de Ville’s sandpaintings follow a realist tradition of landscape painting, Western scenes, and portraiture.

De Ville moved with his family to Gallup in 1931. Trained as an oil painter, de Ville became fascinated by the art and culture of the Navajo, particularly the tradition of sandpainting.

“We likened it to the methods of the ancient Byzantine Mosaicisists,” he once wrote in a short autobiographical statement. “Here was a novel media for pictures, a dream perhaps, oils were not selling.” De Ville approached the medium as a novelty, but after the Depression, remained with what became his primary art form.

A major exhibition of de Ville’s sand paintings from a private collection opens on Friday, Nov. 19, and remains up through December. Masks are required.

Nedra Matteucci Galleries, 1075 Paseo de Peralta, 505-982-4631, 

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