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SANTA FE OPENED THE DOOR; June/July 2016

by Stacia Lewandowski

By the early 1920s, Santa Fe and Taos were already home to a wide variety of well-established and respected artists. The Taos Society of Artists, founded in 1915, was actively exhibiting their new works in Santa Fe's art museum in addition to galleries and museums in other cities around the country. The Santa Fe Art Colony, a more loosely formed group of resident artists, regularly shared museum exhibits with their Taos counterparts. At the same time they also sought opportunities to expand their reach to the wider American public.

When these artists exhibited outside of New Mexico, they drew the attention of audiences for their distinctive artwork. Showing scenes of domestic Pueblo life, rural Hispanic villages, and the rugged New Mexico landscape, the works were representative of a burgeoning new genre, unique to American art. It was unmistakably Southwestern. Undoubtedly, these exhibits helped build interest in the art of the Southwest. They became a catalyst, drawing other artists to explore the region and challenge their own artistic aspirations. But, considering the unusually large number of artists who visited and worked in New Mexico during the first half of the twentieth century, it is important to remember another component to this story, vital to the creation of Southwestern art at this time.

The Museum of New Mexico's Art Gallery--today's New Mexico Museum of Art--was inaugurated in November of 1917. From the beginning, the museum promised to operate with an "open door" policy toward artists. The mission statement that the museum published made a very unusual pledge that acted as an enticement, offering any serious artist working in New Mexico the right to exhibit their work in this state-run museum. As a result, this policy became a highly motivating factor in encouraging artists to work in the Southwest.

In recognition of this unique circumstance, we have assembled a broad range of outstanding artworks created in New Mexico to display in our online exhibition, "Under the Radar."

As time went on, Santa Feans couldn't help but notice the influx of artists. It became a common topic of discussion. In 1934, Santa Fe author, Ruth Laughlin, posed some questions to artists and revealed their answers in "The Santa Fe New Mexican":

CONTINUED:  "Why do we come to Santa Fe? What is the fascination?" An unnamed eastern artist was quoted as saying: "'I am hypnotized with what I've heard of Santa Fe, of its charm, picturesqueness, atmosphere. What's it all about? . . . I decide that it isn't what I've heard of Santa Fe. It's something in the place itself. I don't know what it is, but it's here.'" And in September, 1935, the museum's "El Palacio" magazine included an article about the Fiesta exhibit, calling it: "Southwestern Artists Annual Show." In this exhibit, it is remarkable to see the great number of names--well over one hundred artists--on the roster. Peppered throughout are all the majors, including Blumenschein, Sharp, Dunton, Cassidy, and Sloan. Yet the list, as a whole, is a dramatic snapshot of the great number of artists working to produce art in the Southwest at that time.

As a result of such flowering efforts, comprising both established and aspiring artists, New Mexico became well known as an art center. The state's fame rested not only on its many art colonies, but also on its itinerant artists in search of inspiring subjects. Today we think of ourselves as a mobile population, but traveling has been a common thread in the careers of numerous artists throughout history. From 1920 onward, Santa Fe and Taos have witnessed the regularly revolving movement of artists working, visiting, sharing ideas, and exhibiting in the museum.

The remarkable breadth of works in our "Under the Radar" online exhibit is a testament to this fertile period of time in New Mexico.

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