Fine Art - Native American Paintings

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It is generally accepted that the first Pueblo painters emerged from the very small pueblo of San Ildefonso in the year 1900. At that time, San Ildefonso had a population of 138 Tewa-speaking Indians and one non-native resident: elementary school teacher Esther Hoyt, who arrived at San Ildefonso in 1900 and departed in 1907. Hoyt provided her students with watercolor paints and paper and told them to paint pictures of pueblo ceremonial dances. At the time, the government’s policies were intended to discourage students from embracing their Native culture, and Hoyt admirably did the opposite. 

In the first few years at the elementary school, Hoyt had a class of about 18 students between the ages of 5 and 12. Her first-year class included Tonita Peña, Alfonso Roybal, Santana Roybal (later, Martinez), Abel Sanchez, and Romando Vigil. In 1919, the Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts mounted the first exhibition of pueblo art—the first of many exhibitions in and out of Santa Fe. By the 1920s, there were at least a dozen pueblo painters selling their art in Santa Fe to wealthy patrons, and exhibitions began to be held outside of New Mexico.

The Santa Fe Indian School encouraged the growth of pueblo painting in the 1930s, when Dorothy Dunn was hired to teach fifth grade and develop the school’s art department. The Studio opened in the fall of 1932. Forty students, some of which were part of the earlier group, enrolled in the first year’s class. The style she taught, which eventually became known as the “Studio Style” or “Flat Style”, was heavily influenced by Hoyt’s San Ildefonso group. This traditional style uses opaque watercolors to form carefully outlined narrative portrayals of ceremonial functions.

In 1941, the Museum of Modern Art of New York City hosted an exhibit—Indian Art of the United States—with the assistance of the Department of the Interior and the Denver Art Museum. This was the last exhibition before World War II interrupted and affected America’s economy. It was not until the late 1950s that interest in Pueblo art was revived. By then, most of these early art pioneers were deceased or no longer actively painting, but new voices began to emerge. With the founding of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe in 1962, new styles began to develop and a variety of voices emerged to expand on earlier styles. 

Adobe Gallery carries both traditional and contemporary Native American paintings, with a focus on early traditional pieces and innovative contemporary artists.