Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952)
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Born in 1874 in St. Louis, "The Gateway to the West," Berninghaus would not have been a likely candidate for laureate of an important American art movement. At 16, he began working in a printing house in St. Louis, where he learned the technical skills required to make lithographs and engravings. At the same time he was working there, he was also attending night classes at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, trying to improve his own artistic skills to a level where he could produce rather than process the commercial work handled in the printing shop. The School of Fine Arts led to the more prestigious Washington University in St. Louis and, in 1899, Berninghaus received his first major commission, a series of pieces for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad's travel literature for New Mexico and Colorado.
In 1915, Berninghaus became a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, one of the most important formal groups of American artists ever. Along with Berninghaus, Phillips, Blumenschein, Buck Dunton, Eanger Irving Couse and Joseph Henry Sharp all joined this group, whose aim was to market their artwork in traveling exhibitions, as there were no galleries in Taos to sell their work at the time.
Berninghaus lived year-round in Taos for twenty-seven years, painting hundreds of pictures of the mountains, forests and people of the area. By the end of his career, he was able to paint without visual aids, creating portraits of people long since aged or dead from memory. He died in 1952, leaving behind a body of work that is much sought-after today.
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