Native artists have been working and creating in a variety of media here in Taos for more than a thousand years. In that long timeline of history, the early-20th-century influx of artists and collectors from other parts of the world can be viewed as a recent development.
“Community Dialogue: Reflections of Three Generations of Taos Artists and Patrons” will be exploring the interplay of these influences Sunday (July 17), 2-4 p.m., in the Arthur Bell Auditorium at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. Admission is free, thanks to the New Mexico Humanities Council. Early arrivals can enjoy a docent tour of the museum at 1 p.m.
The event will feature Taos Pueblo artist and writer Jonathan Warm Day Coming, author of “Taos Pueblo: Painted Stories” and many other books for adults and children. He will be co-hosting a visual presentation and dialogue with Lois Rudnick, author of several books about Mabel Dodge Luhan, including “Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds.” After the dialogue, the conversation will be opened up for audience participation.
The program coincides with the Harwood’s major exhibition, “Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company.” Juniper Manley, the museum’s director of development, explained how the collaboration came into being. “So many of these stories that Mabel brings up are still contentious and still relevant to our time. We wanted to be sure we weren’t just telling the white settler story and wanted to honor all the voices in the conversation.”
A unifying point arose in the form of a bronze bust carved by artist Maurice Sterne, Mabel’s third husband. The model for the bust was Warm Day Coming’s grandfather, Pedro Mirabal — also the subject of works by painters Nicolai Fechin and Joseph Imhof.
Both Warm Day Coming and Rudnick had independently made inquiries to the Art Institute of Chicago, where the bust had been sitting in a vault since the 1940s. It was nameless, as were so many Anglo renderings of Native American models at that time, and the institute had no idea of the model’s identity.
“We want to name the models in the paintings that we have and figure this out,” Manley said. “With this, we know it’s Pedro Mirabal.”
After persistent effort by all parties, the Harwood was able to acquire the piece for its permanent collection.
Rudnick is a retired professor of American studies (at the University of Massachusetts in Boston), an author and a scholar. “I’m very excited about it because parts of this story are known to a few, but most of it has never bean heard in the Taos community in general. We can look forward to revelations and new perspectives on Native art.”
The “three generations” in the presentation’s title are Warm Day Coming himself; his mother, artist Eah-Ha-Wa (Eva Mirabal); and his grandfather. A fourth generation will also be showcased, with samples of drawings, clay and glasswork by Warm Day Coming’s daughter, artist Carly Gomez.
Eah-Ha-Wa had many extraordinary accomplishments in her 48 years on earth. She was given her first paints by Imhof and Fechin and quickly developed artistic style and virtuosity. During World War II, she put her skills to work in commissions for the Women’s Army Corp. She painted the corp’s war bonds posters and worked on a building-length mural called “A Bridge of Wings,” illustrating the improving relations between North and South America during the war. Her original creation, “G.I. Gertie,” was the first syndicated cartoon column by a Native American woman.
Warm Day Coming will show slides of rare images of his mother’s artwork. “Much of her work was done for the military, so a lot was never seen.”
“It’s a family thing,” he said. “My family has connections to this art in this valley. Other tribal members have their own connections. A lot of this happened before our time. Since I like to paint and do research, that’s what led me this far. I think as families, we all have photos of our past, so it’s kind of important that we put names and titles to a lot of these mementos that families are left with, and that’s what I’m trying to do. Now, because after a certain generation goes, they could be lost.
“That the Harwood is doing this is allowing me to tell my story. Because I think in many instances, the Native person hasn’t been given an opportunity to be an active participant in his own life in history. A lot of decisions have been made without our input, and that is still happening to this day.”
For more information, call the museum at (575) 758-9826 or visit harwoodmuseum.org.