Artist Spotlight focuses on interesting artists, upcoming exhibitions, and articles about art and those who love it or create it.

Discover new ways to stretch your imagination, be introduced to new artists, their exhibits, and books to read about them. Expect to excite your mind. Comments are very welcome! -- Rosemary Carstens

Monday, June 6, 2011

Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist (Schiffer Publishing 2011)

So often throughout history accomplished artists have disappeared from sight as other artists’ popularity has risen or when no new work appears to remind us. Such might have been the case for the remarkable work of QUINCY TAHOMA, had not two women embarked on a more-than-a-decade search to uncover the mysteries of his life and work. The two, Vera Badertscher and Charnell Havens, long-time friends and colleagues, took on a gargantuan task to bring us this beautiful, annotated biography. They gathered oral histories from over 50 people, many of whom knew Tahoma personally, and spent untold hours up to their armpits in archival materials, piecing together ragged bits of information here and there, sifting fact from legend to create a record of the artist’s short life. Many of the book’s more than 260 full-color images have never before been shown publicly.

It all began with “Aunt Mary.” When Charnell Havens was 12, her aunt returned home from a visit to Santa Fe, NM, and brought with her five of Tahoma’s paintings. Charnell never grew tired of seeing “the Indian braves rounding up majestic wild horses and spearing buffalo so there would be meat,” and she “marveled at the beauty of the seemingly endless landscape and the animals that claimed it as their own.” Upon her aunt’s death many years later, her niece inherited those paintings and the earlier fascination they held for her drove her to dig into who the man was behind the art. She ultimately drew her good friend and sorority sister Vera Badertscher into the quest. The result is this very special volume about an artist whose brain raged with amazing images.

Until this publication came to my attention, I knew nothing of Quincy Tahoma or his art. As I studied the imagery in this volume, I was struck again and again by their detail and their symmetry. There are sophisticated aspects of his paintings that evoke art deco style—his repetitive use of stylized natural elements such as waves, clouds, even dust flying from the hooves of buffalo. He echoes shapes for emphasis and exaggerates or elongates figures and animals to create a distinctive personal style, and he employs perspective to show the vastness of the Western landscapes he loved.

I was amazed at the detail about the American Indian culture revealed in this artist’s body of work—clothing and adornment, the role of the hunter, the magnificence of horses and game, and groups’ communal activities. There is something about Tahoma’s art that reminds me of the famous “ledger” artists—Plains Indians who produced narrative drawings or paintings on paper or cloth. Tahoma’s work is alive, active—stories are told, and a history of a people unfolds within them. He draws the viewer into the tale. And, within each, is his unique signature with its “next chapter” of the action foretold in a few, spare lines.

Quincy Tahoma was a handsome young man, talented, swarmed after by the ladies, but ultimately tortured by his growing alcohol dependency. In his late thirties, his body gave out—but one can only image how brightly his mind would have continued to roam the hills and valleys of his compositions had he survived. Thanks to the determined efforts and persistence of Havens and Badertscher, his legacy has been revitalized.

For more information about Quincy Tahoma, the authors, the research journey, and interviewees’ personal memories: http://tahoma.info/ or Quincy Tahoma Blog: http://tahomablog.com

-- Rosemary Carstens

1 comment:

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

Thank you for introducing Quincy Tahoma and our book to your readers with this wonderful review.