Original Painting of a Male and Female Buffalo Dancer by Tonita Peña


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Tonita Vigil Peña, Quah Ah, San Ildefonso Pueblo Painter

This painting of two ceremonial dancers was created by one of the earliest Pueblo Indian painters: Tonita Peña.  The artist is known for works that, like this example, feature detailed depictions of ceremonial dances.  She and her San Ildefonso Pueblo peers excelled at capturing the intricacies of their subjects’ regalia and paraphernalia.  Each member of the group managed to develop its own unique take on what would become known as the “flat style.”  Peña’s pieces stand out because of precise linework, strong colors, and alluring faces.

Tonita Peña, Quah Ah, San Ildefonso Pueblo ArtistThe painting is signed Quah Ah, Tonita Peña with a bird symbol hallmark in lower right.  It is framed very nicely, under two layers of matting in red and black.  The frame itself is blue, and the acrylic pane is of the glare-resistant variety.  The signature and intricate hallmark symbol above it, suggests that the painting was created in the 1930s or 1940s.  Peña’s subjects are a female and male Buffalo Dancer.  The male Buffalo Dancer leads, holding a bow and rattle.  He wears a massive headdress with a fan of feathers.  Around his waist is a belt of small bells that ring melodiously when he moves.  Additionally, the tin cones at the hem of his painted kilt will jingle.  The female dancer follows close behind, holding feathers and evergreen boughs.  As always, the detail is fine, the colors are appealing, and the dancers’ faces are imbued with personality in a very subtle manner.  This is a fine pueblo dance scene from Tonita Peña.

Tonita Peña (1893-1949) Quah Ah was born in 1893 at the small New Mexico pueblo of San Ildefonso.  The pueblo is located on the Rio Grande, just north of Santa Fe. When Peña was just twelve years old, her mother passed away. Her father, unable to raise her while tending to his responsibilities at the pueblo, took her to live with her aunt and uncle at Cochiti Pueblo.  This was where she would spend the remainder of her life. Peña was the only woman in the group of talented early pueblo artists referred to as The San Ildefonso Self-Taught Group, which included such noted artists as Julian Martinez, Alfonso Roybal, Abel Sanchez, Crescencio Martinez, and Encarnación Peña.  These artists were the earliest known pueblo painters. Today, their works are highly collectible because of both historical significance and quality.

Tonita Peña - Image Source: from the book Tonita Peña by Samuel L. Gray. Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst. Museum of New Mexico Fine Arts Collection, negative #46988.

Peña is recognized as the first Pueblo Indian woman to make a living as a painter.  By the time she was 25 years old, she was a successful easel artist. Her work was being displayed in museum exhibitions and in commercial art galleries in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. She painted what she knew best—scenes of life at the pueblo.  She mostly painted ceremonial dances, and occasionally depicted everyday events. She did so with incredible skill and sensitivity. It is apparent in her works that she truly knew and respected each of the rituals she depicted. In the years since her passing she has come to be regarded as one of the greatest Native artists of all time.  Her works are displayed in prominent public and private collections around the country.

Condition: this Original Painting of a Male and Female Buffalo Dancer by Tonita Peña is in excellent  condition

Provenance: from a private collection from a Tennessee family

Recommended Reading: 

American Indian Painting of the Southwest and Plains Areas by Dorothy Dunn

Through Their Eyes—Indian Painting in Santa Fe, 1918-1945 by Michelle McGeough, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2009

- Tonita Peña by Samuel Lewis Gray

NOTE: the Tewa Pueblos are:  San IldefonsoTesuqueSan JuanSanta Clara, Nambe, and Pojoaque.

Tonita Peña image Source: Tonita Peña by Samuel L. Gray. Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst. Museum of New Mexico Fine Arts Collection, negative #46988.

Relative Links: Tonita PeñaSan IldefonsoCochiti PuebloJulian MartinezAlfonso RoybalAbel SanchezCrecencio MartinezEncarnación Peñapainting