Alfonso Roybal, Awa Tsireh, San Ildefonso Pueblo Painter
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Award winning San Ildefonso Pueblo artist Alfonso Roybal was quickly recognized as an outstanding Native American artist. His native name was Awa Tsireh or Cat-tail Bird.
The artist was prolific in his creation of the watercolors for which he is best known. These are paintings of ceremony, Pueblo genre, animal life, symbolic fantasy, and humorous episodes, or frequently a combination of two of these themes. "What Awa Tsireh did, by his example, among the Pueblos was simply to release a whole store of latent visual impressions not previously recorded in any purely visual way....[He]first projected the image of this new form of art among the Pueblos." - Henderson Alice Corbin, "A Boy Painter among the Pueblo Indians." The New York Times, September 6, 1925, Sec. 4, pp. 18-19.
Awa Tsireh was painting before 1917. He was the oldest of the early group of pueblo painters. His formal education had not extended beyond primary grades. He was versatile in his styles of painting. He was equally comfortable with representational or semi-realistic, representational plus conventional, and abstract. His watercolors where sent by Alice Corbin Henderson to the Arts Club of Chicago for a special exhibit in 1920. His paintings appeared in early exhibits in Santa Fe, and he was among the several artists to receive prizes at the first Santa Fe Indian Market. In 1925, the Chicago papers were generous in their acclaim for his exhibit in the Newberry Library. The Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts in New York in 1931 included Awa Tsireh paintings.
Awa Tsireh was many things to his pueblo of San Ildefonso: he was a farmer, pottery painter, museum employee, painter, weaver, and silversmith. He had many trades and skills but is remembered today as an easel art painter. His works are part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's permanent collection.
Alfonso Roybal (1898-1955) Awa Tsireh was the son of Alfoncita Martinez and Juan Estevan Roybal. His maternal grandfather, was a full-blooded Diné of the Navajo Nation, who had been adobpted as an infant into the pueblo.
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