April/may 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 3
The famous painter of Eastern city life also captured the sunny, spacious world of the Southwest
When John Sloan—one of eight Eastern painters known as the Ashcan school—first came to Santa Fe in 1919, he was looking for new subjects to paint. He found a remote mountain town of about seven thousand citizens, two-thirds of whom were Spanish-speaking. Among the “Anglos” (persons neither Spanish nor Indian) was a sizable group of artists. To respect creative work is tradition in both Indian and Spanish society, and Sloan was delighted to find himself politely left alone. Above all, he was enchanted by the look of the place. That summer he wrote his friend Robert Henri, who had first suggested he try Santa Fe, “I have thirteen canvases under way …,” adding that he was at work in one of the studios that the Fine Arts Museum made available to visiting artists. The next year, he and his wife bought property, and from then until 1950, Sloan spent all but one summer in Santa Fe.
“I like the colors out there,” he wrote in his book for students, The Gist of Art. “The ground is not covered with green mold as it is elsewhere. The pifion trees dot the surface of hills and mesas with exciting textures. When you see a green tree it is like a lettuce against the earth, a precious growing thing. Because the air is so clear you feel the reality of the things in the distance. ”
But Santa Fe was not for every artist. Stuart Davis, after a few weeks of it, declared, “I don’t think you could do much work there. … Not sufficient intellectual stimulus.” And according to Edward Hopper’s biographer, Alfred Barr, Hopper “wandered among the Indians, adobe houses and gaudy mountains, but he could find nothing much to paint. One day he came home triumphant; the spell was broken; he had done the watercolor Locomotive D & R.G. [Denver and Rio Grande] ” This work now belongs to the Metropolitan—a splendid picture of a locomotive but not of Santa Fe.
For Sloan, not only Santa Fe and its surroundings but also the life he led there was ideal. He could paint all day, either in the open air or in his quiet studio, with hollyhocks nodding at the window, and in the evenings find conviviality with his own sort. The Santa Fe artists, when in the mood, took part in community life. They helped revive the old Spanish-colonial fiesta, and Sloan designed costumes for the Historical Parade and the Hysterical Parade.
He was also fascinated by the Pueblo Indians, their ceremonials, and their art, which he thought should be considered as art and not as ethnology. When a wealthy Santa Fe woman, Amelia Elizabeth White, founded the Gallery of American Indian Art in New York in the 1930’s, Sloan’s first wife, Dolly, became its manager.
John Sloan, like William Glackens, Everett Shinn, Robert Henri, and other members of the Ashcan school, loved to paint everyday life. “Seek to express the deep-seated truths you find in the world around you,” he said once. “Draw with human kindness.” Sloan never went abroad, believing that an artist should “put down roots in his own country.” Perhaps Santa Fe was quite foreign enough for him.
The paintings shown here are part of an exhibition of John Sloan’s Santa Fe work, organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). Lent by the Kraushaar Galleries and the John Sloan Trust, these paintings, during 1982 and 1983, will be seen in the following cities: Gainesville, Florida; Lubbock, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Shreveport, Louisiana; Roswell, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Wilmington, Delaware; Little Rock, Arkansas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Wausau, Wisconsin; Tucson, Arizona; and Mobile, Alabama.