It’s a picture of Taos Pueblo that may seem romanticized.
In Jonathan Warm Day Coming’s paintings men and boys hunt and fish, families gather together around a fire to hear stories, women collect water in ollas, and pick plums amid a landscape that, in the eyes of some, merely offered an undiscovered aesthetic.
It would be easy to say this is a depiction of how things used to be. And, yet, if you examine it closer, his work actually expresses a timelessness. He captures life at Taos Pueblo as if it diverted from all the outside influence, from the pain and turmoil of history, to what it’d be like now if things hadn’t changed so much. It’s a place that is easy to inhabit.
Warm Day Coming, who today is a painter, writer and storyteller, was led to this path by his mother, Eva Mirabal, who was also a renowned artist from Taos Pueblo. Mirabal studied under Dorothy Dunn at the Santa Fe Indian School, at a time when the genesis of Indian art was forming. In a brilliant stroke, the University of New Mexico’s Harwood Museum of Art is featuring this illustrious mother and son as part of a series of exhibitions focusing on Taos portraits.
The shows — “Red Willow: Portraits of a Town,” “Eah-Ha-Wa (Eva Mirabal) and Jonathan Warm Day Coming” and “Eli Levin: Social Realism and The Harwood Suite” will open to the public Saturday (Feb. 9).
“We stagger the exhibitions at the Harwood in a pendulum type fashion — from ‘Red Willow: Portraits of a Town,’ which is home grown and local — to international and unexpected,” says Harwood Museum of Art Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Jina Brenneman in a press release. “This spring, it’s all about Northern New Mexico. Our permanent collection has a strong representation of traditional portraiture, many of which have not been out of storage. There are also some magnificent examples in local collections, and we have many generous lenders in this community. Each portrait in the exhibition is a narrative waiting to be told, both subject and artist are often important historic figures.”
Warm Day Coming is particularly proud of the museum’s spotlight on his mother’s work, which over time has largely become forgotten. He said that in addition to examples of her paintings, murals, and illustrations she did for the U.S. military, the museum will also be displaying some of her early drawings. “This part of the exhibition will span from her childhood all the way to her military career and back to Taos when she was at the Taos Valley Art School,” Warm Day Coming said.
“Eah-Ha-Wa (Eva Mirabal) and Jonathan Warm Day Coming” will be seen in the Peter and Madeleine Martin Gallery. Brenneman says Mirabal was one of the first American female cartoonists and a renowned muralist. “We are fortunate to be able to do very grassroots driven ‘research exhibitions’ such as ‘Eah-Ha-Wa (Eva Mirabal) and Jonathan Warm Day Coming,’ planting the seed for what we hope becomes a subject for a larger museum exhibition,” Brenneman says in the release. “This exhibition is an example of this, and it also ties closely to the efforts we are making to exhibit local and regional treasures during this time of the year.”
The telling of stories through storyboards and the expression of cultural history through pictures were central to Eah-Ha-Wa’s style, Brenneman explained. “Her murals would serve the same ends as her cartoons. Eah-Ha-Wa’s mural work began as early as the late 1930s. Eah-Ha-Wa received instruction in working on large murals at the Santa Fe Indian School, often working with political themes, and became a sought-after muralist.
“Eah-Ha-Wa’s art tradition is being carried on by her son Jonathan Warm Day Coming, a Taos Pueblo artist, storyteller and writer. Jonathan Warm Day Coming is considered a deeply influential voice for his family’s homeland, the Taos Pueblo. He is primarily known for his colorful acrylic paintings, which provide a visual narrative of the daily experiences and spiritual life drawn from his many childhood memories. Currently Warm Day Coming is devoting part of his time to researching and gathering a collection of his mother’s artwork, holding true to the Pueblo’s religious and cultural traditions, and looking forward to the completion of his first novel.”
“Red Willow: Portraits of a Town” in the Mandelman-Ribak Gallery presents portraits of the many compelling historic and contemporary members of the Taos community, according to a Harwood announcement. Artists from around the world have visited Taos to capture the iconic and exotic faces of the people. Portraits include both the native Tiwa people from the Taos Pueblo and the Hispanic and Anglo populations that now form the majority of Taos’ population. Taken together, these three groups have made Taos a tri-cultural and tri-lingual community.
“With Red Willow: Portraits of a Town, we celebrate the heart of Northern New Mexico and the region’s tri-cultures,” Brenneman says in the announcement. “The material for portraiture was, and is, plentiful. ‘The Man in a Green Hat: Portrait of Raymond De Puy’ by Leslie Brown is like much of the work in the exhibition because of the story the portrait tells. I want to stand in front of a painting and be able to story tell with my own imagination. This piece elicits the best of your imagination.”
Brenneman said the shows will also be enhanced by the Mandelman-Ribak Foundation Oral History Project in the Caroline Lee and Bob Ellis Gallery. It originated in 1999 as a collaboration with Douglas Dreishpoon, Chief Curator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY.
She explains that the project’s initial concept called for a series of videotaped interviews with individuals who had been associated with the Taos Moderns, a group of artists living in Taos during the 1940s and 1950s that included Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak. As the Oral History Project evolved, the objective for the interviews broadened to encompass subsequent generations, including the influx of artists and writers who came to Taos in the 1960s and 1970s, and others who have contributed to the culture and arts in Taos.
The project has recorded 44 interviews, all of which have been transcribed. For this installation, selected videotaped interviews will be looped on three flat screens. Interviewees include Larry Bell, Malcolm Brown, Ron Cooper, John DePuy, Ted Egri, Rosa Ellis Clark, Dennis Hopper, Paul O’Connor, Robert Ray, Mildred Tolbert, Jenny Vincent, and Jim Wagner.
Eli Levin was born in 1938 to Meyer Levin, the well-known author, and Mabel Schamp, scientist and dedicated communist. He was raised in New York in an intellectual milieu, went to Music and Arts High School, and was influenced by the artistic movements of Social Realism and Regionalism. He studied with several politically leftist realist painters, including Raphael Soyer and George Grosz.
The exhibit, “Eli Levin: Social Realism and the Harwood Suite,” will be installed in the George E. Foster, Jr. Gallery of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. It focuses on some of the iconic, dramatic illustrations that Levin created to depict Northern New Mexico.
Curator’s Wall installation
Works by Taos artist Deborah Rael-Buckley are featured on the museum’s Curator’s Wall. This space in the Harwood is reserved for “imagination and the creative process.” Rael-Buckley has responded to the challenge by creating an installation based on the dimensions of this wall, keeping in mind the impact on the viewer.
“Deborah took this challenge to new ‘heights’ utilizing the space with individual sculptures that span the length and height of the wall,” Brenneman says. “The pieces combine to create an individual work of art.”
Hank Saxe has been a dominant figure in the Taos clay scene, “having provided the means and technique for a better part of the anagama advent, an enigmatic process of clay that stems from a blend of wood kiln firing with erratic color and intricate texture compositions,” according to the Harwood announcement. Saxe is known for public art, primarily ceramic work that he produces for architecture. The show, titled “Taos Clay: Hank Saxe,” will be featured in the Joyce and Sherman Scott Gallery.
DePuy work on view
In a “New Acquisition Installation” works by John DePuy will be on view. “When John DePuy first moved to Taos, still under the influence of his teacher, Hans Hofmann, his painting was entirely abstract,” the release states. “Over time Hofmann’s influence receded, but his advice to paint from nature remained. For DePuy, the influence of New Mexico on his art was ‘mainly the land’ and the inspiration provided by Taos Pueblo Indians’ connection with that land.”
The Harwood Museum of Art is located at 238 Ledoux Street. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m; Sunday, 1noon until 5 p.m. General admission is $10, $8 seniors (65+) and students. Free to children age 12 and under, members of the Harwood Museum Alliance, University of New Mexico students and staff, and Taos County residents on Sundays.
A $25 Museum Association of Taos ticket is available for admission to the Harwood Museum of Art, the Taos Art Museum, the Millicent Rogers Museum, the Blumenschein Home and Museum, and La Hacienda de los Martinez.
For more information, call (575) 758-9826 or visit www.harwoodmuseum.org.