From the Fall 1992 issue of The Messenger, the Wheelwright Museum’s former tri-annual newsletter.
Major Exhibit of Pablita Velarde’s Work to Open January 16, 1993.
The painting of Pablita Velarde are known not just in her native New Mexico, buy all over the world. Her work appeals to people on many levels, and is liked by a broad spectrum of the viewing public. Born at Santa Clara Pueblo in 1918, Velarde has played a crucial role in the local art scene for sixty years. She is one of a handful of women Peublo painters to achieve prominence. Her paintings are not solely personal expression of experience. They are interpretations of Pueblo culture that have had substantial impact on the non-Indian world. She has also fostered this intercultural understanding with her storytelling appearances.
Astoundingly, no museum has ever devoted an exhibition exclusively to her until now. “A WOMAN’S WORK”: The Art of Pablita Velarde, to be shown at the Wheelwright from January 16 through May 12, 1993, is a selection of her works. The guest curator is Sally Hyer, who has worked closely with Velarde. A few pieces by her daughter, Helen Hardin; son, Herbert Hardin; and granddaughter, Margarete Bagshaw-Tindel, will also be on view. The exhibition and catalog are partially funded by a grant from the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission, under its Community Arts Promotion program.
From the Summer 1993 issue of The Messenger, the Wheelwright Museum’s former tri-annual newsletter.
“Woman’s Work”: The Art of Pablita Velarde
Continues Through September 15 in the Klah Gallery
Museum visitors answering a survey outside the Klah Gallery have expressed their overwhelming delight after seeing the Velarde exhibit. “Very extraordinary exhibit of Pablita Velarde!” “Particularly enjoyed the Pablita Velarde exhibit.” “You’re showing a woman’s work. Great!” “The old paintings still look new.” “… that a woman of her time would be able to find her creative life and explore it until her seventies and be recognized.. to know her life and work in all its richness, pain and joy.” Many also commented on the clarity and informativeness of the text by exhibit curator Sally Hyer.
The Velarde exhibit has drawn this kind of response since it went on view January 16, 1993. Soon after the opening, which was attended by 409 people, it was decided to leave the exhibit up until September 15 rather than taking it down in May as originally scheduled. Many old friends of the artist came to the opening, and friends and strangers alike poured out their love and respect for Pablita Velarde as she circulated with her great-grandchildren, Helen (whose nickname is “Birdie”) and Forrest Tindel. Helen, who is five and a half, and Forrest, two and half, are the children of Pablita’s granddaughter Margarete Bagshaw-Tindel and her husband, Greg Tinde. Works by Velarde’s daughter Helen Hardin, son, Herbert Hardin, and granddaughter Margarete (Helen’s daughter) are also on view.
Velarde delved again and again into her large store of memories to portray Pueblo life as she knew it when she was growing up. These intricate and intimate portraits educate museum visitors about the details which make up the Pueblo lifestyle: a girl standing on a chair to have her moccasin wrappings tied; a sprinkling of corn meal on the earth beneath a baby which has just had its naming ceremony. The naming ceremony she painted is much like the one she had herself, when four days after her birth, her grandmother Qualupita named her Tse Tsan, which mean “Golden Dawn.”
Abstract designs are another favorite subject of the painter. Many viewers are fascinated by her earth pigment paintings, which often feature forms like those Velarde saw potters using (among them her sister, Legoria) as she was growing up. At the age of 75, Velarde still goes looking for the pigments, often with her grandson, Ralph Hardin. The colors are as varied as the earth materials they are made from. Ground in a metate and mixed with glue, they are applied to a hard surface, usually Masonite. A high degree of skill is required to get the surface of the painting smooth and even. Velarde’s strong sense of composition and balance draws the viewer into even the simplest design,.
The Wheelwright Museum is proud to honor Pablita Veldarde through this showing of her work. “WOMAN’S WORK”: The Art of Pablita Velarde is an exhibition that viewers will remember long after leaving the gallery.
From the Winter 1993 issue of The Messenger, the Wheelwright Museum’s former tri-annual newsletter.
IN HER OWN WORDS: An Interview with Pablita Velarde
by Yvonne Bond, Messenger Editor
PV: I’m from Santa Clara Pueblo but I live in Albuquerque, which has been my home for the last 45 years. I still come back to Santa Clara every once in a while, on special occasions, and spend a night or two up there and then go back to Albuquerque. My business is painting pictures, Indian pictures, and talking about Indians and telling stories and giving art shows, and writing. I do a little writing. I have a book out, my “Old Father” book. I guess that’s my life. I’m very honored that they’re doing this for me, because very few artists ever get a chance to show the beginning to the present time. I’m glad that they’re honoring me this way because it gives me a chance to say thank you to a lot of people.
They’ve gone to a lot of trouble, you know, borrowing pictures from buyers that have bought paintings from me throughout the years, and I’m grateful to all of them for being generous enough to let them use them. Some of them I don’t even remember doing. That was kind of a surprise when I saw some photographs that Miss Hyer had shown me, you know, what they thought they they would use for that exhibit. I said, “I don’t even remember doing this painting!”
YB: How many paintings do you think you’ve done?
PV: I don’t know. Maybe twice around the world! I never counted them. In the beginning up till about ten years ago, I didn’t even date them. So I couldn’t remember how many I had done. I know when I first started and needed the money real bad and I was very cheap with my sales, I painted almost twenty to twenty-five a month. And now I barely get that much done in a year.
YB: At what point did you decide that you really wanted to be an artist?
PV: I think that point began with Dorothy Dunn. She was very encouraging to me. I was just a beginner painter at the time. My drawings were very amateurish and childish. But she helped me. She gave me good guidance and put a lot of enthusiasm towards my thinking and encouraged me to keep it up, you know, improving myself. I’ve listened to her and I used to think of her as a kind of mother. We became very good friends throughout the years.
YB: You’ve had a long career as an Indian artist.
PV: You might say I started about 1932, the learning stage from Dorothy Dunn, and then in ’36 when I graduated I more or less went into painting on my own. I used to sit under the porch — the governor’s porch [the portal at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe] and sell my little 50-cent paintings, the little single figure ones, the little tiny ones, like that. And make maybe about ten dollars and went home happy!
YB: The Wheelwright exhibit is also going to have a few works by your daughter and son and granddaughter. How has your art influenced your family?
PV: They ate art since they were born. (Laughs) It was around them all the time, and they were getting dragged to art shows. They were among arty people most of their lives, and I guess it just rubbed off.
YB: When I was reading all the newspaper articles about you I noticed that you and your sister had been blinded by a disease as children. You couldn’t see at all?
PV: No. They had to feed us, they had to move us around. We couldn’t see a thing. Our eyes were just completely covered. It was just eye disease like a cataract covering the whole eyeball. We couldn’t see a thing. But my dad and my grandma, they concocted some kind of Indian stuff and washed our eyes out with it. I still have scars from that. I can hardly see from the left eye, but I can see real good from the right eye.
YB: How old were you when that happened?
PV: I was about three. My sister was even a baby yet.
YB: That lasted until you were how old?
PV: About four and a half.
YB: How did that affect you?
PV: How did it affect my way of life? I think it helped me more or less pay attention to detail and store it up here so that I’ll never forget. You hear things and you store that away so you won’t forget. It’s getting to a point now where I easily forget things. Now at this age I can’t remember what happened yesterday.
YB: In the painting that you’re doing now, do you still call upon memories that you haven’t ever painted before?
YB: You still have things coming out that are in your head.
PV: Yes. Sometimes I get up in the morning and it looks like I dreamed it. But it’s just my memory waking up to something that I hadn’t thought of for a long time.
YB: Your grandmother used to grind gypsum to make whitewash, and I was wondering if that might have been the tradition that got you started on grinding up the earth colors.
PV: I grind mine on the metate. They used to grind corn and wheat — well, I grind dirt and rocks.
YB: Is that how they ground the gypsum for the whitewash?
PV: Yes, they ground it on the metate. My grandma used to paint with that gypsum — paint the walls. Of course, the old Indians, they used the metate to grind their pigments for the murals. So I got my idea from there, or Dorothy Dunn got the idea. Because we tried some earth pigment paintings when I was in school. We never went into experimenting any further than just using charcoal for blacks. And I used coal. For whites we used clay. But see, we called it earth painting because I guess we thought we were using something from the earth. And then we used some sand — just brown dirt from outside. And reds from the La Bajada Hill.
YB: Do you mix white and red to get pink?
PV: I never try to mix it. I try to find the earth tone color. I’ve been pretty successful in finding earth pigments, you know, in different areas, but I have to travel a lot.
YB: The mural paintings must have been a big, big job.
PV: Yes, I’ve done a huge one that used to hand in the cafeteria in Houston, or near Houston, Texas. And then I did one of just three panels for the Western Skies. It used to be one of the nicest hotels in the mouth of the canyon in Albuquerque. I did that one with the earth pigments. The one in Houston I did with oils. The one I did for the band in Santa Fe, I did that with oils. And I did some smaller ones for Bandelier back in the ’40s. That was my first job as an artist, when Bandelier hired me to do the panels for the museum up there. It was during the WPA program. And then in ’75 I did the last one, for the Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Those are the big ones. It was hard for me to do that one at the center, because by that time I had reached my sixties. They wanted me to come back down and help them restore it a couple of years ago. I said No, you better get somebody else because I’m not about to come.
YB: I addition to being an artist, you are also a storyteller.
PV: There are quite a few storytellers now. I guess I inspired them to speak up. I used to be the only storyteller for a long time. Now every place I go there’s someone telling stories.