Original Painting of Five Turtles


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Gerónima Cruz Montoya (1915 – 2015) P’otsúnú – White Shell

Photo source: Picture of Gerónima Cruz Montoya from the website of University of Arizona/Arizona State Museum.Gerónima Cruz Montoya (1915 – 2015) P’otsúnú – White Shell was a painter and educator from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.  Montoya attended the Santa Fe Indian School, where she studied under the tutelage of Dorothy Dunn. She would eventually succeed Dunn as the head of the Indian School’s art program. Like Dunn, and perhaps because of Dunn’s encouragement of her own development, Montoya taught students to paint the images with which they were familiar.  For these young Native Americans, that meant ceremonial dance scenes, mostly, as well as the occasional hunt or daily ritual image. Montoya’s influence was significant, and many of her young students went on to become successful artists. A 1940 El Palacio exhibit review by Alfred Morang praised Montoya’s skills as an instructor: “the teacher has a rare grasp of the problems involved.  She does not force the work into any preconceived pattern. She obviously allows the student to project his own ideas on paper, and simply guides him into a more rounded development of his initial creative impulse.”

Montoya also attended the University of New Mexico, Claremont College, and the University of Albuquerque.  Alfredo Martinez, Jean Ames, and Kenneth Chapman were some of her notable instructors. She was an excellent painter, of course, though her educational efforts occupied most of her time.  Clara Lee Tanner’s Southwest Indian Painting: A Changing Art describes Montoya as a “now and again” painter who was most active and successful during the 1960s. Tanner describes Montoya’s skillful dance figure portrayal and Mimbres animal imagery and praises the “simplicity but strength of line” that is characteristic of her work.  Montoya passed away in 2015. She remains highly regarded for her efforts as both an artist and educator.

This untitled watercolor painting of five turtles is charming and unique.  Montoya’s turtles, arranged in an upside-down “V” shape, each face different directions.  They swim within a sea of winding geometric shapes and wide blocks of color. Some of these forms, as well as some of the lines that define them, emerge from the turtles’ heads and limbs.  This makes it appear as though the turtles are creating the environment through which they are passing and interacting with one another as they head in different directions. Montoya’s minimal color palette—earthy browns and tans with two different shades of green—serves the image well.  Montoya had a way with creating very appealing animals, and this unusual arrangement of turtles is no exception.

Artist Signature - Gerónima Cruz Montoya (1915 – 2015) P’otsúnú – White ShellThe painting is signed P'otsúnú and dated ‘90 in lower right.

Condition: this Original Painting of Five Turtles is in very good condition

Provenance: private collection

Recommended Reading: Southwest Indian Painting: A Changing Art, Clara Lee Tanner

Relative Links: Gerónima Cruz Montoya, Native American Painting, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo – San Juan Pueblo

Photo source: Picture of Gerónima Cruz Montoya from the website of University of Arizona/Arizona State Museum.

Close up view of 3 of the 5 turtles.



Gerónima Cruz Montoya (1915 – 2015) P’otsúnú – White Shell
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