The Taos Art Colony: Native Americans in Works by Realist Artists

The Taos Art Colony: Native Americans in Works by Realist Artists

What would you say if you had to describe American art? Would you mention artists like Jackson Pollock or Andy Warhol? Or, maybe, traditional pottery and jewelry made by Native American people? The development of the art scene in the US has a long and complex history, so it is difficult to summarize it in a couple of words. Today, you will learn about the Taos Society of Artists, a collective of realist artists who effectively changed the way the settler-colonial society perceived Native Americans and Puebloans. Although the Taos Society of Artists only existed for 12 years, its influence on modern American art was immeasurable.

Realist Artists in Taos: History

The small isolated town of Taos in New Mexico attracted artists with its picturesque scenery and culture. Joseph Henry Sharp, Ernest Blumenschein, and Bert Phillips came to Taos for a trip in 1915 and stayed there, soon founding the Taos art colony. Of course, they were not the first to start making art in Taos. For centuries, this place was inhabited by indigenous Puebloan peoples who had a rich cultural heritage, diverse artistic practices, and crafting techniques long before Europeans came to the American continent. Hence, the Taos Society of Artists brought what they already learned as classically trained realist artists and applied their skills to a new subject.

So, what were the distinguishing characteristics of art created by the members of the Taos Society of Artists? While a bit romanticized at times, the portrayal of Native American daily life and traditions in works by the Taos Society of Artists was quite realistic. There was a huge difference between the art created by the members of that art colony and the vast majority of other art pieces depicting Native people. Through the paintings by Irving Couse and Ernest Blumenschein, the larger American society was exposed to a new perspective on the Puebloan Southwest. These realist artists depicted the local community members in everyday situations. For example, one of the most well-known paintings by Couse pictures two lovers sitting under a tree and enjoying each other’s company.

This innovative artist collective left a lasting mark on the state of the art world at the beginning and middle of the 20th century. Today, Taos is a national destination for artists and collectors who want to experience authentic Puebloan art and culture. The paintings by the Taos Society of Artists can be found in many museums in New Mexico.