Single Figure Male Buffalo Dancer


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Tonita Vigil Peña, Quah Ah, San Ildefonso Pueblo Painter


Tonita Peña was born at San Ildefonso Pueblo.  At twelve years old, following the death of her mother, she was sent by her father to live with an aunt at Cochiti Pueblo. She spent the remainder of her life there.  Despite living at Cochiti Pueblo, she was and is still considered an artist from San Ildefonso Pueblo.  She was the only female in the group of talented early pueblo artists referred to as The San Ildefonso Self-Taught Group, which included such noted artists as Julian MartinezAlfonso RoybalAbel SanchezCrecencio Martinez, and Encarnación PeñaThe men accepted her as an equal.

By the time Peña was 25 years old, she was a successful easel artist, and her work was being shown 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—mostly ceremonial dances and everyday events. She is still considered one of the best female Indian artists of all time and is recognized as the very first female Pueblo artist to pursue art as a career.  She was a mentor to Pablita Velarde and is credited with convincing Pablita to pursue art as a career.

Artist Signature - Tonita Vigil Peña (1893-1949) Quah AhDuring her lifetime, she used a variety of signatures on her paintings.  It is through these signature changes that it is possible to date her paintings with reasonable accuracy.  This painting is signed Quah Ah Tonita Peña.  This is a signature she used in 1921 and 1922.

Tonita was fond of color and used it profusely.  She nevertheless painted her figures accurately to the last detail and painted on a variety of materials—paper, wood, Masonite, and canvas, using oils, watercolor, casein, pen and colored ink. 


Condition: very good condition

Provenance: Charlotte G. Mittler collection, purchased in 1990 from a Santa Fe dealer, who had purchased it from a Chicago gentleman.  This gentleman purchased it in Oklahoma when he was a student there in the 1930s.

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

Close up view.