Untitled Painting of Snow Bird Dance by J.D. Roybal

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J.D. Roybal, San Ildefonso Pueblo Painter

This watercolor painting of a pueblo ceremonial dance was created by San Ildefonso artist J.D. Roybal.  Roybal—a nephew of early San Ildefonso painter Awa Tsireh—is known for completing works that could be classified as traditional “flat style” images.  He expanded on the style, however, by adding depth and dimension through carefully detailed color and shading. He also frequently added abstract or symbolic elements around his otherwise naturalistic subjects.  This particular piece is a classic J.D. Roybal in that regard, as it features a dance scene framed by imaginative designs. What’s notably unique to this image is the way the figures are arranged. We have handled many multi-figure Roybal paintings over the years, and they’ve all been arranged horizontally.  With this piece, the rectangular paper’s long side runs vertically; the dancers cross the image’s shorter edge.

A San Ildefonso artist wrote in to inform us that this piece depicts a "Snow Bird" dance—a social dance that is performed on the North Kiva.

Roybal’s work here is of his typically high quality.  The influence of his predecessors—Awa Tsireh and Tonita Peña, in particular—is apparent in the dancers’ faces and remarkably detailed clothing.  Roybal’s dancers are impeccably outlined and carefully shaded with an impressive variety of colors. Each of their faces has unique qualities, and each of their dance outfits has unique characteristics.  These personal touches give the image a strong energy and reward the viewer who chooses to study it closely. Below the dancers is an elaborate design band. Above them is a wonderful rain cloud formation, made of five linked circles with vertical lines pouring down towards the earth.  This is an excellent dance scene from one of the best of the second-generation pueblo painters.

José Disiderio (J.D.) Roybal, Oquwa - Rain GodThe painting is signed J.D. Roybal in lower right.  It is framed underneath black matting in a simple metal frame.

José Disiderio “J. D.” Roybal (1922-1978) Oquwa - Rain God was a talented and accomplished painter from San Ildefonso Pueblo.  He is best known for his colorful and detailed depictions of San Ildefonso ceremonial rituals. He was a prolific artist, producing many small, single-figure pieces for sale.  The majority of these works—in keeping with the “flat” style favored by Pueblo painters of the time—contain no background or ground plane. Roybal painted a bit during his youth, but became much more productive during the 1950s.  He exhibited and sold his works most frequently and successfully during the 1960s.

Clara Lee Tanner’s book Southwest Indian Painting: A Changing Art praises Roybal’s skill and highlights a few notable accomplishments: “Obviously influenced by his famous uncle, J. D. Roybal has used water-based paints.  In most of his work there prevail fine color, excellent detail, small and fine outlines, gesturing figures, and a pleasing combination of heavy conventional themes with realistic subjects....Roybal placed in the 1968 Scottsdale show, and received an honorable mention in the 1971 Red Cloud Indian Art Show in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.” 


Condition: this Untitled Painting of Snow Bird Dance by J.D. Roybal is in excellent condition

Provenance: private Florida collection

Recommended Reading:

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

Clara Lee Tanner’s book Southwest Indian Painting: A Changing Art

Relative Links: San Ildefonso PuebloTonita and Juan Cruz RoybalAlfonso Roybal - Awa TsirehpaintingTewaJ.D. Roybal

Close up view of a section of this painting.

J.D. Roybal, San Ildefonso Pueblo Painter
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