You would never know it, but underneath Emperor Palpatine’s hooded robes in some scenes in Star Wars: The Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was Marjorie Eaton. (Her eyes were blended with those of a chimpanzee, and her features were unrecognizable under the heavy makeup of Rick Baker.) It wasn’t the first film role for the actress, whose cinematic debut was an uncredited performance in Anna and the King of Siam in 1946, and it wouldn’t be her last. But for much of her life, it wasn’t just the stage and screen that called her. She also made a name for herself in the fields of painting and photography.

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House hosts an opening reception for Marjorie Eaton: A Life In Pictures. The exhibition is the first major show of Eaton’s work, and encompasses her painting, photography, and career as an actress. Ephemera, including never-before-seen letters, photos, and personal effects, augment the exhibition, giving insight into Eaton’s personal life.

Born in Oakland, California, in 1901, she received her art training in Europe, where she learned fresco painting and spent a year working independently in Florence, and at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Art Students League of New York. In the late ’20s, she arrived in Taos, becoming a part of the Taos art colony. She remained in New Mexico until 1932. During that time she had a relationship with artist Juan Mirabal, the son of Chief Geronimo Mirabal of Taos Pueblo. During the few years she lived in Taos, Mirabal became a frequent subject of her paintings.

After her stint in the Southwest, Eaton moved to Mexico, where she lived and worked with the muralist Diego Rivera. She gained a reputation for her Cubist-influenced modernist paintings. Finding it difficult to make a living as a painter, she turned to acting in the 1940s and launched a successful career on the stage, the silver screen, and television.

Marjorie Eaton: A Life In Pictures is on view through March 2020. Admission is $10 with discounts available. The museum is located at 227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos. Call 575-758-2690 or visit taosartmuseum.org for information. 

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