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