San Ildefonso Pueblo Painting of Buffalo Dance Participants by Tonita Peña [SOLD]


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Tonita Vigil Peña, Quah Ah, San Ildefonso Pueblo Painter

Tonita 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 Indian artists of all time.  Her works are displayed in prominent public and private collections around the country.

This untitled painting of a Buffalo Dance procession could serve as an excellent introduction to Peña’s body of work.  It’s a classic image that the artist painted many times, executed with remarkable grace. Leading the procession is a male Buffalo dancer, adorned and decorated accurately and respectfully by the artist.  A female dancer, located in the middle of the procession, is equally exceptional. The feathers and evergreen boughs in her hands, the numerous necklaces she wears, the embroidery on her skirt and the elaborately designed boots are all of the finest detail one could apply.  Following these two dancers is another subject that Peña excelled at recreating: a pueblo drummer. His headdress, drum, and ceremonial clothing provide a variety of bold, bright colors that are not used elsewhere in the composition. As per her usual—and in keeping with the traditional style that she and her peers favored—there is no background.  The dancers are all that is needed in this outstanding image.

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. Tonita 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 RoybalAbel SanchezCrecencio Martinez, and Encarnación Peña.  These artists were the earliest known pueblo painters. Today, their works are highly collectible not just because of their historical significance but because of their quality. 

Artist Signatre - Tonita Vigil Peña (1893-1949) Quah AhPeña’s signature evolved over the course of her career.  Today, these variations inform collectors as they determine dates for her pieces.  The signature used in this piece—”Quah Ah” above “Tonita Peña”, with each name underlined—suggests that this piece was completed in the 1920s.

Condition: this San Ildefonso Pueblo Painting of Buffalo Dance Participants by Tonita Peña is in excellent condition

Provenance: from the private collection of a Washington resident

Recommended Reading: Tonita Peña by Samuel Lewis Gray

Relative Links: Tonita PeñaSan Ildefonso Pueblo, Cochiti PuebloJulian MartinezAlfonso RoybalAbel SanchezCrecencio MartinezEncarnación Peñanecklacesdrumceremonial clothing