Ernest L. Blumenschein: The Life of an American Artist | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library http://coloradowest.staging.auraria.edu/book-review/ernest-l-blumenschein-life-american-artist[12/7/2015 3:29:03 PM] Home Ernest L. Blumenschein: The Life of an American ArtistErnest L. Blumenschein: The Life of an American ArtistSubmitted by CLEAVITT on 7-12-2014 02:44 PMAuthor: Robert W. Larson and Carole B. Larson Publishing: Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. Volume 28 in the Oklahoma Western Biographies series, 2013. 344 pages. 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 Sixteen color photos and sixteen black-and-white illustrations, source notes, index. $29.95, clothbound. Reviewer: Kimberly Field Reviewer Affiliation: Spoiler Alert: Ernest L. Blumenschein: The Life of an American Artist received a well-deserved Colorado Book Award in June 2014. This is the first biography of the worldrenowned American artist and co-founder of the Taos Society of Artists, and authors Robert W. Larson and Carole B. Larson have honored him with an excellent book. Comprehensive in its detail of Blumenscheins life and work, it takes readers through the artists long life and productive career, placing it all in the context of his times. Blumenscheins life (1874-1960) straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in both Europe and America. We begin with Blumenscheins Ohio childhood, study with him in the art schools of Cincinnati, New York City, and Paris, and ultimately travel to Taos, New Mexico, where he and fellow artists Bert Geer Phillips, Joseph Henry Sharp, and E. Irving Couse nurture a budding art colony. While Blumenschein arguably is the most well-known Taos artist, he did not move to Taos and concentrate on fine art painting until he was forty years old, more than two decades after a broken wagon wheel on a painting trip with Phillips led the artists to look carefully at the light and scenery of the Rio Grande Valley and deem it the place where they might spend a lifetime developing a uniquely American art. That fateful journey began in Denver in 1898, where the two greenhorns were schooled by local wranglers in dealing with horses and wagons. They camped and painted at Red Rocks, where they may (or may not) have been robbed, and began to appreciate the openness of the West. The authors include a brief encounter with a young ranch girl whose riding skills greatly impressed the young Blumenschein. I found myself wondering who she might have been, and whether her family remains in the area. After the two had exhausted their financial resources, Phillips remained in Taos while Blumenschein was lured by the siren song of lucrative illustration work in New York for the premier magazines of the era, including Century, Harpers, McClures and Scribners. EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanWe were most agreeably surprised to find him a polished gentleman. Description of James P. Beckwourth, African American mountain man, fur trader and explorer.
Ernest L. Blumenschein: The Life of an American Artist | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library http://coloradowest.staging.auraria.edu/book-review/ernest-l-blumenschein-life-american-artist[12/7/2015 3:29:03 PM] This is a biography, not an art book, so the authors offer brief but helpful explanations of artistic movements such as the Hudson River School and the French Barbizon School. They also paint a picture of publishing and the world of a successful illustrator such as Blumenschein at the turn of the twentieth century. The authors probe Blumenscheins personality and work ethic by exploring his swings between classical art training in fine art painting and his very commercial illustration work. One gets the impression that Blumenschein lacked the confidence to commit to a chancy career as a fine artist. Not that Blumenschein was a tortured artist, nor could he be described as bohemian. Blumy, as he was called, was an avid baseball player who earned his disapproving mother-in-laws ire when he injured himself on his wedding day in a baseball game with Indians visiting Paris with Buffalo Bills Wild West show. Throughout his life, he used athletics to form connections, first through baseball (he played shortstop) with Hispano residents in New Mexico and later with competitive tennis. Ironically, it was his wifes inheritance that enabled Blumenschein to move to Taos full-time and devote himself to fine art painting in 1919. Surprisingly, the move doesnt occur until the last third of the book. The authors plunge into a vivid account of art and community in Taos, where Blumenschein enjoyed a creative florescence in the 1920s. Ever the businessman, his interests, as well as the commercial interests of his fellow Taos Society artists, may have influenced Blumenscheins attitudes toward patriotism during World War I (he painted and encouraged others to paint range-finding paintings for the army) as well as government Indian policies. The book chronicles the ups and downs of Blumenscheins finances, especially during the dark days of the Great Depression, when the art market dried up. In 1935, Blumenschein accepted a commission from the Treasury Departments Section of Painting and Sculpture to paint a mural in the post office in Walsenburg, Colorado. The artist was unhappy with the project from the start, unsatisfied with his fee, and preferring to work on his more interesting projects, including his masterful figure painting, Jury for a Trial of a Sheepherder for Murder He requested an extension and was denied, so he grudgingly sped through the mural, complaining that he was regarded simply as just some boob from a small town in New Mexico (256). He groused to his New Deal patron: You took all the joy out of life, and turned me into a driving mechanical machine (263). Indeed, the finished product, which still graces the walls of the Walsenburg post office, looks like a Taos landscape with the Spanish Peaks plopped in the middle. Blumenschein was well-liked and respected among the Taos arts community. One of his finest works is Ourselves and Our Neighbors, a painting of the Blumenschein family and their Taos friends and community members. He never entered the orbit of arts patron and perhaps the most famous Taos resident of the time, Mabel Dodge Luhan, describing her as a big, spoiled baby according to his daughter, artist Helen Blumenschein. Toward the end of his life, Blumenschein felt eclipsed by the art worlds predilection for abstract art (301). The authors muse that the Taos Society artists were marginalized in 1931 when Virgil Barker of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York categorized Blumenschein and others as painters of western art, while calling Georgia OKeeffe a contemporary artist. I came away from Ernest L. Blumenschein: The Life of an American Artist with a deep respect for both the artist and the man. I liked Blumenschein, as I suspect the authors did, and would have enjoyed meeting him. Happily, I can enjoy many of his best works here in Denver. The American Museum of Western Art, the Philip Anschutz Collection housed in the historic Navarre building, displays the evocative Church at Ranchos de Taos his 1916 painting commenting on the complex relationship of the Indians and the Catholic Church, as well as two of Blumenscheins best landscapes Sangre de Cristo Mountains (1925) and the 1941 Bend in the River that Bert Phillipss son Ralph called a self-portrait of the avid fisherman Blumenschein. The Denver Art Museum, which in 2009 hosted In Contemporary Rhythm, a traveling exhibit
Ernest L. Blumenschein: The Life of an American Artist | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library http://coloradowest.staging.auraria.edu/book-review/ernest-l-blumenschein-life-american-artist[12/7/2015 3:29:03 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us of sixty-six works, holds several Blumenschein pieces in its collection. Lively writing and interesting forays into societal and cultural issues of the time provide appreciated context while not becoming distractions. However, I found that I longed for footnotes and would have preferred a more user-friendly bibliography over the eleven-page narrative Notes on Sources. This exceptional work has a place in the libraries of both serious art scholars and admirers of the truly American art form that Blumenschein helped create. Reviewer Info: Kimberly Field writes about the West. Art, culture, history, and the people shaping todays West are among the topics she explores in magazine journalism and essays. She is the author of Gangsters, Gold, and Ghosts: One Hundred Years of the Denver Mint She serves on the board of directors of the Littleton Museum.