Artist: Ernest L. Blumenschein

In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein

On now until June 14th 2009 at the Phoenix Art Museum is the first major exhibition of Blumenschein’s work since his death in 1960. A co-founder of the famed Taos Art Colony his art is recognized for it’s predominantly Southwestern influences.
Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Blumenschein originally trained as a violinist following in his fathers footsteps. At the age of seventeen he won a scholarship to the Cincinnati College of Music and it was there where he began taking classes at the Art Academy as well. After studying in Europe, as all serious artists at the time did, Blumenschein took a momentous trip to the American Southwest in 1898. Upon a serendipitous discovery of Taos, New Mexico, Blumenschein cultivated a life-long relationship with the landscapes, native cultures and daily life in this region resulting in international recognition and numerous awards, even during his lifetime.

The exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum is magnificently arranged. Covering a large cross section of his earlier works, those commissioned by the Santa Fe Railway, works depicting the rituals of the Pueblo Indians and Hispanic populations as well as his vivid landscapes, one experiences a comprehensive summary of the artist and his work.

Among my favorite paintings in this exhibit were three displayed together on the far right hand side of the room. Titled: Green Aspen (1935), Enchanted Forest (1946) and Untitled- Decorative Landscape with Indians (1935), they depict a natural setting predominantly of trees. The information plaque described these painting as a representation of Blumenschein’s ‘mature style’ and sights the repetitious forms and ‘patterns of harmonious color’ as illustrations of this. The first painting ‘Green Aspen’ is a vertical pattern of trees with floret like foliage and a darker back drop of triangle shaped coniferous trees. The painting has an overlapping fallen tree in the forefront which, stark on its own, is further emphasized by it’s proximity to the largest of the three ‘tree’ paintings ‘Enchanted Forest’. The middle and largest painting is of trees but includes figures to represent a ‘Pueblo Deer Dance’. The plaque describes this painting as having originally been a representation of ‘The Fall of Adam and Eve’ and says that four years after first creating this work, Blumenschein chose to paint over it and change it to represent Native American culture. This painting is also linear and replicated in the painting of the trees however is less tame with its abundance of angled semi-fallen trees. The last painting made in the same year as Green Aspen and comparable in its size is the most columned having both the trees trunks and foliage in a straight stroke.

I was particularly drawn to the railway yard painting which Blumenschein exhibited in 1956 in an exhibition titled: 'The Chief Goes Through'. Commissioned by the Santa Fe Railway to created advertisements promising tourists ‘a peaceful and scenic destination’ Blumenschein also painted many canvases of the Albuquerque Railway. The lines and color that are used are similar in all the railway painting and the color pallet is emphasized by contrasting bright colors in representations of buildings, human forms and parts of the trains. ‘Railroad Yard- Meeting Called’ is a beautiful example of Blumenschein’s ability to create brilliant paintings. Using lines formed in similar tones with minimal organic forms, in this case smoke plums, and unassuming accentuated colors, as in the case of the figures attending the meeting Blumenschein creates a style which is both classic and modern.

My very favorite paintings of Blumenschein’s are his portrayal of Native American rituals, festivals and dances. Blumenschein uses an abundance of bright colors and emphasis by detailing some parts and blurring others. In ‘Moon, Morning Star and Evening Star’ (1931) he creates a scene with mountain backdrop, pueblo village centered and forefront figures gathered in a ritual ceremony. At the center of the gathering is a robust male figure extending his arms to the heavens. At his feet lay the bounty of a harvest. Many of the figures surrounding him are faced towards him while a handful are turned towards us, the audience. The shape the gathering produces is reminiscent of female genitalia and the ceremony is female in tone due to it’s subject matter.

Blumenschein is known as a contemporary artist whose art complimented the times. He ‘was neither conservative nor radical’. His subject matter was a largely untapped theme painted in the point of view of a European trained artist. The use of patterns and color in his paintings are testament to his modern art influences thus accomplishing a secure spot ‘in the traditional stage-between movements.’
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Development of the Taos and Santa Fe Art Colonies by Keith L. Bryant, Jr.

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