February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway grew in a cloud of violence that quickly became legendary. Wherever the fledgling railroad went in the 1870’s, it left a raw and brawling cow town in its wake. At the Colorado ranges gunplay broke out between the work crews of the Santa Fe and the rival Denver & Rio Grande. By the 1890’s this inaugural roughhousing had subsided, leaving the Santa Fe with a right-of-way that passed through some of the most beautiful landscape in creation, and a nation full of potential customers who, having heard the stories, were afraid to go and see it. This was the problem confronting W. H. Simpson when he established the railroad’s advertising department in 1896. His job was to alert people to the thundering scenery of the Santa Fe route, and it is not surprising that he lit on the idea of having artists paint it and then using their works in colorful promotion calendars and posters. What is surprising is the scope and success of the project. A few artists had already established themselves in New Mexico, drawn to the highly picturesque town of Taos at the base of a mountain that rose up five thousand feet through air clear as gin. The railroad approached them and soon began to supply transportation and lodgings for other painters who would journey to the Southwest. The Santa Fe printed its first advertising calendar in 1907 and thereafter was chief among the very few early patrons of western art. In time the collection grew to a total of 553 paintings. Of these, more than two hundred feature the Indians of the Southwest. The one above, by Lon Megargee, is entitled Navajos Watching Santa Fe Train . It and its fellows provide an impressive glimpse of ancient cultures that were disappearing even as the artists recorded them. We herewith present the first published portfolio of the Santa Fe Collection of Southwestern Art.