New Mexico Women Artists in the National Museum of Women in the Arts

The work of many New Mexico women artists is shown in the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, including: Corn Blue, Judy Chicago, Marie Zieu Chino, Helen Cordero, Grace Medicine Flower, Dolores Lewis Garcia, Agnes Martin, Santana Royal Martinez, Maria Martinez, Emma Lewis Mitchell, Georgia O'Keeffe, Cathy Raymond, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Lu Ann Tafoya, Margaret Tafoya, and Nancy Youngblood.

Mabel Dodge Luhan
History of New Mexico Women Artists

In the early 20th century, a number of women artists, Georgia O’Keeffe among them, were attracted to New Mexico with the encouragement of the wealthy American art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879–1962), who came to Taos in 1917 and established an informal artist colony there. In addition to O’Keeffe, some of the women artists who found “something special in the air” in Taos at the time included Dorothy Brett (1883–1977), Rebecca Salsbury James (1891–1968) and Barbara Latham (1896–1989). The Santa Fe Art Colony, which thrived from 1900 to 1942, also expanded with the arrival of female artists from New York, Chicago and other cities.

Making a living as an artist in such a small community was difficult, but artists found strong support from the Museum of New Mexico, now the New Mexico Museum of Art, which exhibited their work and offered studio and exhibition space. Olive Rush (1893–1966), who came to Santa Fe in 1920, was one of the few female artists to gain recognition at that time. She was the only woman to join the 14-member group called the “New Mexico Painters”. Rush exhibited frequently at the Museum of New Mexico. Other women artists who established their reputations in the rough and isolated art centers of New Mexico in the early years include the Taos print-maker Gene Kloss (1903–1996), Santa Fe artist Agnes “Agi” Sims (1910–1990) and sculptor Eugenie Shonnard (1886–1978).

Agnes Martin 1953
 Beatrice Mandelman 1948
From the mid-1940s to early 1960s, a group of around 60 artists who became known as the “Taos Moderns” lived and worked in Taos. Beatrice Mandelman (1912–1998), who moved to Taos in the ‘40s, is notable for her abstract work. Agnes Martin (1912–2004) was born in Saskatchewan, Canada but moved to the USA in 1931 and spent many of her later adult years in New Mexico, first in Cuba, then Galisteo, and finally in Taos, where she lived for 10 years before her death. Martin’s spare, pared-down style defined by lines, grids and subtle colors established her as a minimalist artist, but she preferred to be classified as an abstract expressionist. Both Agnes Martin and Beatrice Mandelman are famous female painters who are well represented in the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos.

The Transcendental Painters Group, founded in 1938 in New Mexico, focused on non-objective approaches to art that transcended traditional approaches. Florence Miller Pierce (1918-2007) was one of two female members of the group. After a long career, she attained critical acclaim for her minimalist resin artworks. 

Laura Gilpin 1979 by E. Johansen

Noted photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979) is known for her photographs of the Southwest and its native inhabitants. Gilpin grew up in Colorado and spent time in New York and Colorado as an adult, but is associated with Santa Fe for the years she spent there after WWII and for the work she produced there that established her importance as a cultural documentarian.

Following Laura Gilpin are a significant number of New Mexico women photographers who have lived and worked in the Southwest and beyond, establishing reputations as nationally and internationally famous women artists in the medium of photography. Joan Myers, Gay Block, Meridel Rubenstein and Anne Noggle are notable examples.

Native American Women Artists 

The work of New Mexico’s Native American women artists largely remained unrecognized until Maria Martinez (1881–1980). Martinez, from San Idlefonso Pueblo, became one of the best known Native potters of the twentieth century for her black ware pottery. Throughout the twentieth century Native American women artists continued to gain recognition: Helen Cordero (1915–1994) from Cochiti Pueblo is renowned for her storyteller pottery figures; Lucy Lewis from Acoma (1880–1992) is known for her exquisite polychrome pottery designs.
The next generation of Native American women artists includes many talented artists in all art forms: Tammy Garcia (b. 1969), a Santa Clara sculptor and ceramic artist; Jaune Quick-To-See Smith (b. 1940), a painter, printmaker and artist whose work deals with social-political commentary; and Emmi Whitehorse (b. 1956) (right), a member of the Navajo nation known for her abstract drawings, prints and paintings.

Hispanic Women Artists

Vibrant communities of Spanish Colonial artists who trace their traditional art forms back over 400 years are active in New Mexico. These art forms include woodcarving, tinwork, colcha, hide painting, retablos, straw appliqué, furniture and furnishings, weaving, jewelry, filigree, pottery and ironwork.

Many successful female Spanish Colonial artists include Marie Romero Cash (left), a “santera” who creates religious carved wooden statues and devotional art, and Cleo Romero, an expert in tin work and one of the few New Mexico artists using the reverse painting technique, which involves painting everything backwards on the back of a clear glass pane.

Feminist Art

New Mexico is home to Judy Chicago (b. 1939) (right), one of the pioneers of feminist art, a movement that sought to call attention to women’s roles in society through their art. From her controversial installation, The Dinner Party, to her current work, Chicago addresses the essential issues faced by women. Chicago was in the vanguard of famous female artists considered to be part of the feminist art movement.

Other New Mexico women artists who championed a dialogue about feminist issues include Betty Hahn (b. 1940) and Harmony Hammond (b. 1944).