DAI features art of the American West

Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico art colonies are featured.

One of the wonderful things about art is that it can transport us to other times and places. That’s the case with the current exhibition at the Dayton Art Institute. It’s a terrific opportunity to travel to the American Southwest with its bright sunny skies, magnificent mountains and canyons, and the blend of interesting people and cultures.

The traveling exhibit, “New Beginnings: An American Story of Romantics and Modernists in the West,” features more than 155 works by 85 artists. Most are paintings but there’s also sculpture, photography and prints. Twenty-one women artists are among those represented in the show and it’s also an opportunity to view the evolution of art in America – from Romanticism to Modernism.

Expect to see gorgeous landscapes, beautiful still-lifes and striking portraits of Native American and Hispanic people. There are touching scenes of everyday life – street scenes, rodeos, religious observances, hunting on horseback. You’ll see images of pueblos, adobe homes, churches. And there’s dancing – from corn dances to a strikingly dramatic “Woman’s Dance.”

About the artist colonies

Most of the artwork on display was created between 1910 through the 1940s derived from the artist colonies of Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico. “From humble beginnings, both Taos and Santa Fe are highly regarded as thriving artists colonies today and we see that growth really happening in the first decades of the 20th century,” DAI chief curator Jerry Smith explains. Artists, he says, traveled to New Mexico for various reasons: to escape crowded, polluted cities of the East Coast; for their health, warmth and clean, dry air; for adventure; and out of curiosity. Some visited just once, while others either made New Mexico a part of their annual travels or moved there permanently.

In Taos, there were artists who trained in Europe’s finest art academies and painted highly naturalistic paintings. Six individuals are credited with creating the Taos Society of Artists which existed from 1915–1927 and later added six more members and eight associate members. “The Society created exhibitions which traveled around the country and helped establish in people’s minds what the Southwest looked like,” Smith says.

In Santa Fe, The Museum of New Mexico — now New Mexico Museum of Art — opened in 1917. “It was more experimental in its display practices and had a ‘first-come, first-served’ approach to exhibition,” Smith says. “For this reason, artists working in more modern or abstract styles tended to settle in Santa Fe, in part because they had somewhere to display their art. "

In both towns, he says, the artists who either settled there permanently or traveled there for short periods of time became part of a blend of cultures composed of Native American, Hispanic and Anglos.

The artists

If you’re familiar with art of the American West, you’ll recognize names such as E. Martin Hennings, Victor Higgins, Joseph Henry Sharp, Bert Phillips, Catherine Critcher and more.



Although they aren’t especially known for their Western American art, other famous artists featured in the exhibit include George Bellows, John Sloan, John Marin, Stuart Davis and Agnes Peltin, who was recently featured in a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Smith, along with former curator Katherine Siegwarth, contributed an essay to the colorful 300-page catalog that accompanies the exhibit. The two wrote about the DAI’s history of displaying Southwestern art. It turns out some of these artists had Ohio connections, including Ernest Blumenschein, who grew up in Dayton where his father served as director of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus. Blumenschein attended Central High School in Dayton and was one of the founders of the Taos artist colony.

The Tia Collection

The exhibit comes to town after an extended four-year tour. It’s the biggest show our museum has hosted in recent years and the DAI is the exclusive Midwest venue.

This is also the largest and most extensive traveling exhibition from the Sante-Fe based Tia Collection, a collection which now numbers more than 3,800 works of art amassed by a family that prefers to remain anonymous. “There are two different types of collectors, those who set on the path to be a collector and those who, over time, develop a sophistication and passion for art and art history,” says Tia Collection curator Laura Finlay Smith. “This collection represents one family that didn’t start out to become collectors.”

It began when the family members were traveling, meeting artists, going to museums and collecting work here and there. “It’s very broad in its collecting areas and it’s named for the collector’s daughter, Tia, who is getting ready to graduate from college,” notes Smith.

The collector remains anonymous, she says, because he wants the focus to be on the artists and their work. “He didn’t want to create a museum, so we have a storage facility in Sante Fe and work with more than 60 museums. Sometimes we loan them a single work or multiple pieces.” Among those fortunate institutions is our Dayton museum which has benefited from the loan of a number of works from the Tia Collection’s French Impressionist collection.

The Museum Shop

Thanks to DAI museum shop manager Diane Haskell, you’ll always find new items in the shop related to special exhibitions. In this case, the color catalog is available in both hardcover ($65) and softcover ($45) editions. You can buy prints of selected images from the exhibition ($9.95.) Among the other items are a Gustav Baumann puzzle, Baumann notecards, Native Northwest ceramics and a Hummingbird Serving Bowl and salad servers.

The work of well-loved artists working in New Mexico at around the same time — Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe — can be spotted on coffee mugs, in coloring books, in children’s books, stationery and postcards. You can further immerse yourself in this historical time and place with Knowledge Decks about Mexican and Native Americans and art kits featuring desert landscapes.




What: “New Beginnings: An American Story of Romantics and Modernists in the West”

Where: Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park, North

When: Through May 21. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Admission: $15 for adults; $10 for seniors 60 and up, active military and groups of 10 or more. College students and youth ages 7-17 are $5. Admission discounts including Blue Star Museums, Museums on Us and Museums for All may also be available and you can also check out family passes at some area libraries.

Related programming:

  • Curatorial Conversation – Online: Chief curator Jerry N. Smith via Zoom, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Thursday April 14. (free, pre-registration required)
  • Community Studio Workshops: Painting En Plein Air: 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturday April 22; 12:30–2 p.m. Sunday May 7 (best for ages 16 and up, limited openings and advanced reservation required, $10 members; $20 non-members)
  • Gallery Experiences: In-Person Guided Visit: Tour and discussions, 1:30–2:30 p.m. on select Saturdays, April 15 and 29, May 20 (free with admission)
  • Gallery Experiences: Online Guided Visit: via Zoom, 6–7 p.m. select Thursdays, April 20 and May 18 (free, pre-registration required, capacity: 20)

For more information on programming: https://www.daytonartinstitute.org/art/special-exhibitions/new-beginnings-an-american-story-of-romantics-and-modernists-in-the-west/

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