PRE­SERV­ING TRA­DI­TION

The Fred Jones Jr. Mu­seum of Art show­cases the art of Tonita Peña and Joe Her­rera and other Pue­blo painters.

Native American Art - - MUSEUM EXHIBITONS - NOR­MAN, OK

The Fred Jones Jr. Mu­seum of Art show­cases the art of the art of Tonita Peña, Joe Her­rera and other Pue­blo painters.

Tonita Peña (San Ilde­fonso/co­chiti, 1893-1949) went to live with her aunt and un­cle at Co­chiti Pue­blo when she was a child af­ter the death of her mother. She lived there for the rest of her life. She had be­gun paint­ing at an early age, bucked tra­di­tion and be­came the only woman in the first group of Na­tive easel painters, the San Ilde­fonso Self-taught Group. It in­cluded Ju­lian Martinez (1897-1943), Al­fonso Roy­bal (1898-1955), Abel Sanchez (1899-1971), Cres­cen­cio Martinez (18791918), En­car­nación Peña (1902-1979) and oth­ers.

Gen­er­a­tions in Modern Pue­blo Paint­ing: The Art

of Tonita Peña and Joe Her­rera, an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Fred Jones Jr. Mu­seum of Art at the Uni­ver­sity of Ok­la­homa-nor­man, traces her and her son’s im­pact on modern art. The ex­hi­bi­tion is the first sig­nif­i­cant ex­plo­ration of her work since the 1930s. It has been cu­rated by W. Jack­son Rush­ing III, chair in Na­tive Amer­i­can Art at the uni­ver­sity. The ex­hi­bi­tion closes April 8.

“It is my con­tention,” Rush­ing says, “that Peña and Her­rera were key fig­ures in the de­vel­op­ment of modern art in the United States and that there is no sat­is­fy­ing ex­pla­na­tion for their ex­clu­sion from sur­veys on the sub­ject. On the con­trary, for sev­eral rea­sons, a critical ex­am­i­na­tion of their aes­thetic achieve­ments and legacy re­shapes our un­der­stand­ing of Amer­i­can mod­ernism.”

Peña painted the cer­e­mo­nial dancers of her tra­di­tion that were avail­able for pub­lic view­ing. She iso­lated the fig­ures against a plain back­ground, mak­ing them time­less and al­low­ing them to con­vey the spir­i­tual na­ture the dancers em­bod­ied in Pue­blo life. She painted at a time when the cer­e­mo­ni­als and all Na­tive tra­di­tions were sought out by tourists and, at the same time, un­der at­tack by the gov­ern­ment. “Pa­gan In­dian dances” were con­demned. In fact, for many years, the In­dian Bureau pro­hib­ited the teach­ing of Na­tive cus­toms in its Amer­i­can In­dian Schools.

Peña pre­served the tra­di­tions in a dif­fer­ent medium but suf­fered be­cause she was a woman in a man’s world and be­cause she painted for the tourist trade.

Her son, Sam Aquero, is quoted in an ar­ti­cle by Mar­ilee Jantzer-white in The Amer­i­can In­dian Quar­terly: “There are a lot of de­tails that the young peo­ple to­day are not fa­mil­iar with. I think she [Tonita] had a strong feel­ing for pre­serv­ing our tra­di­tional things…she was con­cerned and that was one way of pre­serv­ing those things. Un­for­tu­nately, the tribal mem­bers didn’t see it that was, at the time. And the other thing, too was that es­pe­cially the male folks take ex­cep­tion to a woman know­ing all those things…”

An­other son, Joe Hi­lario Her­rera (1923-2001), fol­lowed in his mother’s artis­tic foot­steps bas­ing his paint­ings on Pue­blo cer­e­mo­nial tra­di­tions. He was also in­flu­enced by ex­po­sure to art deco and cu­bism and stud­ied briefly with Ray­mond Jon­son, founder of the Tran­scen­den­tal Paint­ing Group.

Rush­ing com­ments, “Af­ter 1950, his ‘her­itage’ prim­i­tivism—an in­ten­tion­ally re­duc­tive aes­thetic that evokes the pre­his­toric foun­da­tions of cul­ture— in­cor­po­rated rock art im­ages and other an­cient icono­gra­phies into a hy­brid mod­ernism.” Her­rera’s paint­ing, Ger­mi­na­tion, 1982, draws from tra­di­tion and is freely ex­pressed in a mod­ernist way.

Ray­mond Jon­son (1891-1982) had be­gun work­ing with an air­brush in the ’30s to cre­ate a uni­form sur­face on his paint­ings and taught Her­rera the tech­nique. Her­rera, in turn, taught it to Helen Hardin

(Santa Clara, 1943-84), daugh­ter of Pablita Ve­larde (Santa Clara, 1918-2006) who had stud­ied with Tonita Peña.

Gil­bert Aten­cio (San Ilde­fonso, 1930-1995) was a nephew of the great Pue­blo pot­ter Maria Martinez (San Ilde­fonso, 1887-1980). His early paint­ings are in the flat style seen in Peña’s work, but his later pieces be­came more ab­stract.

In The De­light Mak­ers in the Process of Mak­ing Medicine, 1964, his fig­ures fol­low the shapes of the ab­stract forms that make up the com­po­si­tion.

Rush­ing ex­plains, “…Gen­er­a­tions in Modern Pue­blo Paint­ing demon­strates how the his­tor­i­cal tem­po­ral­ity of mod­ernism un­folds through her­itage as much as through di­alec­ti­cal progress.”

3. Joe Hi­lario Her­rera (See Ru) (Co­chiti, 1920-2001), Anasazi Gather­ing, ca. 1980s, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 31 x 41"

4. Tonita Peña (Quah Ah) (San Ilde­fonso/co­chiti, 1893-1949), Co­chiti Corn Dance, early 1930s, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 21 x 21"

1. 2. Joe Hi­lario Her­rera (See Ru) (Co­chiti, 1920-2001), Ger­mi­na­tion, 1982, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 25¼ x 30" Tonita Peña (Quah Ah) (San Ilde­fonso/co­chiti, 1893-1949), Kossa, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 15¼ x 11"

5. Gil­bert Aten­cio (Wa Peen) (San Ilde­fonso, 19301995), The De­light Mak­ers in the Process of Mak­ing Medicine, 1964, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 17¼ x 36”

6. Pablita Ve­larde (Santa Clara, 1918-2006), In­side Santa Clara Pue­blo, 1978, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 30 x 25" Fred Jones Jr. Mu­seum of Art, Uni­ver­sity of Ok­la­homa, Nor­man. James T. Bialac Na­tive Amer­i­can Art Col­lec­tion, 2010.

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