Big day on the plaza
The Santa Fe History Museum has put on display a stunning newly acquired artwork that documents what happened on our city’s Plaza on a remarkable afternoon exactly 90 years ago. Pasatiempo Parade Santa Fe 1926 is a large painting by Gustave Baumann, the central figure of the Santa Fe art community from his arrival in 1918 until his death in 1971. Many identifiable personages from the city’s history populate his depiction of the parade around the Plaza, an event that local artists devised as a riotous response to what they considered an overly staid celebration of Fiesta a month earlier. One of their inventions that weekend was Zozobra, but the Pasatiempo Parade pictured by Baumann also has a living descendant in the form of the annual Historical/Hysterical Parade. On the cover is a detail of Baumann’s oil-on-board painting, photographed by John Eddy.
tom Leech could hardly believe his eyes. One day last winter, returning from lunch to his place of work, he happened to cross paths with his old acquaintance John Eddy, a filmmaker and a member of the board of the Old Santa Fe Association. Eddy said that his mother had passed away three years earlier and that he and his brothers had been going through various belongings since then. They had a painting that they felt ought to be given to a museum. In fact, the family had been thinking about donating it just when his mother died and … well, maybe Tom would like to take a look at it.
Probably nobody is on more intimate terms with the work of legendary Santa Fe artist Gustave Baumann than Leech, who is the director of the Palace Press at the New Mexico History Museum. His office in the Palace of the Governors abuts the room that houses the printing press Baumann used to create his acclaimed color woodblock prints. Bottles of Baumann’s own ink stand on shelves next to it. Leech, who is a printer himself, walks past these artifacts a dozen times a day. He has used that very press to make new impressions from the blocks the artist carved, retracing the physical act of Baumann’s own printmaking. Now here he was, looking at a large Baumann painting practically unknown to anyone outside the Eddy household. And yes, he knew of a museum that would be happy to have it.
The donation was arranged, and the painting went on display at the end of August, occupying a wall all its own at the apex of the New Mexico History Museum’s entrance hall. It will remain there until around the end of the year, after which it will be installed as part of the museum’s permanent exhibition Telling New
Mexico. Baumann paintings are uncommon to begin with, but this one is exceptional in that it qualifies as both a work of art and a historical document. A large oil-on-board painting measuring 35 inches wide and 27½ inches high and encased in an intricate frame carved by the artist himself, it is titled Pasatiempo
Parade Santa Fe 1926, and it is a playful depiction of that event, which took place exactly 90 years ago, on Saturday, Sept. 4, 1926.
Baumann, who was born in Magdeburg, Germany, in 1881, moved with his family to Chicago when he was ten. He took evening drawing classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, but most of his formal art instruction took place when he returned to Germany in 1905 for a year’s study at the Königliche Kunstgewerbeschule (Royal Arts and Crafts School) in Munich. Back in Chicago, he found work as a commercial artist and gained notice when the Art Institute mounted an exhibit of his woodcarvings in late 1906. Wrote one critic of the show: “The whole thing suggests the work of some highly trained old German toymaker, with a real German naivete and enjoyment of homely fun. It was almost a disappointment to find that it came from the hand of a young American who was studying in the Vaterland.” In 1910, Baumann took up part-time residence in Brown County, Indiana, a magnet for writers and artists. In 1917, he began a period of travel, spending time in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts (making memorable prints of Provincetown) before finally arriving in Santa Fe in 1918. He became acknowledged as the central figure of the lively Santa Fe art scene, and he remained both loved and revered in his adopted city until his death in 1971.
When he moved to Santa Fe, he was naturally fascinated by its distinctive cultural make-up. In an essay published posthumously (in 1972) in the magazine
El Palacio, he recalls: “The town as a whole gave one the feeling of a fairly well adjusted mixture of Spanish and Anglo culture, with the Indians as an uninterrupted civilization still pervading it all. It made for a unique situation not likely to be found anywhere else. … Unconsciously I gravitated to the plaza. It was a happy mixture of past and present with an incongruous obelisk sitting in the middle that made you wonder who it was that was buried there. You could sit on comfortable benches shaded by a roof of trees and look around. While three sides of the plaza were preempted by stores the other side was occupied by a low building extending the entire length with a portal, that somehow overshadowed the three commercial sides and looked as if our Indians from Taos Pueblo might have had something to do with it.”
The most imposing event that took place on or around the Plaza was the Fiesta, which is advertised as the oldest community festival in the country. The event got a shot in the arm after a pause during World War I thanks to archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett and especially Colonel Ralph E. Twitchell, a historian, who set about infusing the proceedings with accuracy. “[W]e got along famously until the colonel was reviving the annual Santa Fe Fiesta about 1919,” writes Baumann. “Being a stickler for historical exactitude, he had talked the Indians into consenting to be shot at — with blank cartridges, of course, but forgetting that the paper wad in a cartridge does not always burn up. So it made for considerable friction between art in fact and art in theory.”
Although such efforts did reinvigorate the celebration of Fiesta for a while, they also ended up somewhat paralyzing it through annual repetitiveness. In 1926, the Archaeological Institute of America published a 133-page volume titled The Fiesta Book as part of its Papers of the School of American Research (which was directed by Hewett). It included the lengthy play-script of the historical pageant that was reenacted annually, eked out with detailed descriptions of all the Indian dances presented during that performance. Printed inside the front cover is Hewett’s terse preface: “The purpose of the Fiesta Book is to assemble for future use the material that is prepared
for the celebration of the Santa Fe Fiesta from year to year. The compilation includes only the essential historical and ethnological material.” One senses that the event was already becoming calcified.
Among Baumann’s effects when he died were three documents he had written — 18 pages in all — in which he reminisces about what happened just then. These documents have been donated to the New Mexico History Museum by the Ann Baumann Trust, named after the artist’s now-departed daughter. The three texts parallel one another to some degree, and we reprint one of them here (see page 34). In one of the others, Baumann writes:
“About that time the artists and writers were becoming a part of Santa Fe life. To them the Fiesta aside from its religious significance seemed a little tedious. As one of the group we all chafed under what we thought was scholastic dullness and in 1925, or was it ’26, we decided to have a Fiesta of our own after the official version had taken place. Somehow everybody concerned in this venture seemed to have the necessary time and enthusiasm. It took four weeks of conspiring in the storeroom of the old Spanish and Indian Trading Company and to work out the ideas that sprouted spontaneously. What it resulted in mainly was the Pasatiempo Parade and a gaily decorated plaza. Of this I did a fairly accurate record in a painting now owned by the Walter Barkers in Pojoaque.”
It was 1926, in fact. The painting had remained in the family, John Eddy and his brothers being the grandsons of “the Walter Barkers.” It is telling that Baumann referred to the event as “a Fiesta of our own.” The official Fiesta had been held a month earlier, running from Aug. 4 through Aug. 7, 1926. It had included not only the religious celebrations and the historical pageant, but also various performances, one of which was a concert featuring two Native American singers — the Creek-Cherokee Tsianina (a Fiesta mainstay) and the “Mohawk soloist” Oskenonton. The printed Fiesta program includes this observation: “El Pasatiempo is the name given to the pastime feature of the Fiesta. On Sunday nights the people of Santa Fe unite in an evening of music in the old plaza. This is a regular feature of Santa Fe life that has come down without interruption through the centuries.”
The Fiesta therefore had a Pasatiempo already, and the artists co-opted it. Baumann writes, “Pasatiempo proved to be the right name for what we had in mind — not educational uplift or historical glory, but like a cup of coffee in the afternoon of a busy day why not a Pasatiempo in the afternoon of a busy year.” This was an anti-Fiesta, a fringe festival that charted its own chaotic path in immediate response to the dullness of the official Fiesta a month earlier. On Aug. 28, 1926, the Santa Fe New
ran a story that included a schedule that was “rounding into final shape.” “While El Pasatiempo de la Gente has been organized on the spur of the
“After the burning of Zozobra ... the town will be dedicated to jolly fun,” The New Mexican proclaimed. “Any Santa Fean who is suspected of harboring dull care after that hour, or even of thinking a serious thought, will be liable to a fine.”
moment this year, … there is every reason to be encouraged over the prospect,” it stated, encouraging interested parties not to delay in signaling their intention to participate in what it called the Hysterical Pageant, an obvious parody of the official Fiesta’s “historical pageant.”
The event took on a vibrant life all its own, quickly occupying the two-day span of Friday, Sept. 3, and Saturday, Sept. 4. The Friday proceedings began directly after the vespers service at the cathedral, and the evening included a novelty that would prove popular. Again, to Baumann’s reminiscence:
“After the Padres had done their part, it seemed to me that some dramatic spot like a bonfire was necessary. But bonfires are old stuff, so not why a figure? ‘Call him Old Man Gloom,’ I said, ‘and let him burn up and from then on let joy be unconfined.’ … As only one incident of many in an ambitious program no one at that time foresaw when Will Shuster was asked to officiate that the first version of Old Man Gloom would evolve into the present Zozobra. I did have time to do a head for him out of corrugated board box which was jammed on a pole draped with cheesecloth and stuffed to the shoulders with tumbleweeds. Not very convincing, but it did make a hot fire to jump through after the pole had collapsed. … Having grown out of the cooperative origin of the Pasatiempo Parade days, Zozobra is proving to be a tough old gentleman who holds the secret of how to die every year and with a true spirit of cooperation manages to outnumber the many lives of innumerable cats.” “El Pasatiempo is here,” proclaimed
when the hotly anticipated Friday arrived. “After the burning of Zozobra this evening at 8 p.m., the town will be dedicated to jolly fun. Any Santa Fean who is suspected of harboring dull care after that hour, or even of thinking a serious thought, will be liable to a fine, not to exceed five hundred dollars, same to be paid to the Pasatiempo committee.”
The annual appearance of Shuster’s and Baumann’s Zozobra is a vibrant legacy of that Pasatiempo of 1926. Now Baumann’s painting is available to Santa Feans as witness to what went on the succeeding afternoon. The scene is depicted from a raised position, not a dramatically high bird’s-eye view, but elevated nonetheless. We view the Plaza from its southwest corner. “That,” said Leech, “was the location of the Claire Hotel. It was three stories high, so it afforded the highest possible perspective on the Plaza.”
A gap in the Plaza’s trees reveals a band, its members bedecked with sombreros. The Pasatiempo Parade encircles the square: a series of fanciful homemade floats populated by imaginatively garbed participants. Onlookers are ranged mostly on logs that serve as benches, although Indians sit on the ground instead, beneath the portal of the Palace of the Governors. The color scheme emphasizes the foliage of the Plaza’s trees (echoed in costume details) and the browns, oranges, and ochres of the participants. The ground is silver — silver foil, in fact. This unusual background was a late alteration. There exists a black-and-white photograph of this very painting in which those areas were pitch black. This caused some head-scratching when Leech got in touch with Gala Chamberlain, an art historian and gallerist who is trustee of the Ann Baumann Trust and who knew of the painting only through the photograph of its black-background state, which was in the archives she oversees. Curiously, the title and the artist’s signature on the photograph were in different places from where they stood on the silver-foil image Leech sent her. They figured it out quickly enough. In 1938, long after he had finished the painting, Baumann decided to change the background. He surrounded every figure with an outline
“The bizarre, the comic, the grotesque, the beautiful, had full sway and there were more laughs to the lineal foot in the long and colorful procession than one could imagine possible,” reported The New Mexican the ensuing Tuesday.
of beige paint and then applied a thin layer of silver foil over every bit of the black background. In so doing, he covered up his original title and signature, and so he re-inscribed them over the newly affixed foil in different places, now dating his work 1938.
Chamberlain is working on a catalogue raisonné of Baumann’s prints. She is struck that, strange though Baumann’s revision to the painting may seem, it is not out of line with what printmakers are known to do, sometimes refining prints through multiple alterations to printing plates. “Remember that when he went to Germany,” she told Pasatiempo, “he studied at a school for arts and crafts rather than fine arts. He was not really learning the technique of painting. That being the case, I am astounded by the quality of his paintings. Some are a little folkish, like
Pasatiempo Parade.” Leech finds that its style reminds him of the boisterous crowd scenes of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. “The bizarre, the comic, the grotesque, the beautiful, had full sway and there were more laughs to the lineal foot in the long and colorful procession than one could imagine possible,” reported The New Mexican the ensuing Tuesday. For this painting, we know that the artist worked to some extent from photographs he snapped with a Brownie camera while the parade was going on. The photos captured the floats and the participants in action, some of them in the very poses Baumann would use in his painting. The Ann Baumann Trust has also transferred the photographs to the museum, so the complete collection of preparatory photographs, final painting, and prose descriptions will remain together.
Just as an image, Pasatiempo Parade would be a fascinating historical document; but it gets better. A card affixed to the reverse serves as a key to the painting. Baumann has sketched the principal floats and participants and has identified the players. Many are names of legendary artists and writers in Santa Fe history, including poet Witter Bynner and artists Will Shuster, John Sloan, and Sheldon Parsons. Cultural grandee Leonora Curtin appears with a group of dancers modeled after Isadora Duncan. A black-robed figure watches from the sidelines. The card identifies him as “Pitival”; it must be John Baptist Pitaval, who had retired as Archbishop of Santa Fe eight years earlier. Baumann seems not to have painted himself in the picture, but he did include his wife, Jane. She appears as half of an “act” with screenwriter Ted Stevenson, portraying the Indian singers Tsianina and Oskenonton. One of Baumann’s prose reminiscences states that “Jane and Ted” inevitably sang the faux-Indian parlor classic “From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water” as they made their way around the Plaza.
“I view this almost as a 20th-century equivalent to the Segesser Hides,” said Leech, alluding to the two paintings (on leather hides) carried out in perhaps the early 18th century and now among the history museum’s chief treasures. “Like them, this is an eyewitness account of a great moment in our history.”
Like the original Zozobra, the Pasatiempo Parade of 1926 also had descendants. To this day, the Historical/Hysterical Parade continues as an element in the official Fiesta proceedings. As an independent incentive, however, it could not really be repeated. “I still remember the uproar of laughter as the parade circled the plaza,” wrote Baumann. “What Col. Twitchell and Dr. Hewitt [sic] thought about that uproar we don’t know. I think Dr. Hewitt resigned from any further Fiesta responsibility and organized business interests took over. Pasatiempo in name was incorporated in the Fiesta and gradually died there — it was an intangible that had no cash value.” But it was great for the couple of hours it lasted.
Above: the reverse of Gustave Baumann’s
Pasatiempo Parade Santa Fe 1926 (1938); left, black-and-white photo of the original painting; far left, Pasatiempo Parade Santa Fe
1926; images courtesy New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors