When Esther Hoyt arrived at San Ildefonso Pueblo in 1900 to work as an elementary school teacher, there were 138 Tewa-speaking Native American members of the community. Hoyt, going against U.S. governmental policy of discouraging children from artistic expression of their culture, provided the approximately 18 students in her class with watercolor paints and paper and asked them paint pictures of Pueblo ceremonial dances. She taught at the school until 1907.
Many of Hoyt’s students grew up to become artists and inspired subsequent generations of San Ildefonso painters. “These students were producing a new art for a new market based on what had, until that time, been a Pueblo tradition of painting for ceremonial purposes, such as on kiva walls, and not for public use,” explains Adobe Gallery owner Alexander E. Anthony, Jr.
A selection of their work, and paintings by other San Ildefonso artists working in the 20th century, are on display and for sale in a special exhibit at Adobe Gallery titled “A Century of Pueblo Painters: San Ildefonso Pueblo 1900-1999.” Pueblo ceremonial dances are the subject of most of the artworks.
More than 50 paintings are on exhibit by artists including Awa Tsireh (1898-1955) and Tonita Peña (1893-1949), who were in Hoyt’s class during her first academic year, Gilbert Atencio (1930-1995), who was the nephew of the famous San Ildefonso potter Maria Martinez, and Tony Da (1940-2008), the grandson of Martinez.
A large portion of the paintings in the show come from the Charlotte Greenleaf Mittler Collection, which was displayed in a 2009 exhibit at Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Other works were acquired from individual collectors around the country.
“Adobe Gallery is proud to present this amazing collection of paintings by the very first Pueblo painters and the artists whose work they influenced,” says Anthony. “We are grateful for another opportunity to both educate and be educated by our friends and clients.”