Earth, Sky, Water: Ufer & Yatsattie
Walter Ufer (1876-1936) belongs to the Taos Society of Artists, the leading exponents of figurative painting in early 20th-century America. He joined the group in 1917, specializing in portraits of Pueblo Indians and vivid landscapes fluidly painted in a high-key palette with textured brushwork. On the Rio Grande melds his sensitive portrayal of a reflective native figure (his favorite model, Jim Mirabel) with the lushly rendered New Mexico setting. A strong supporter of individual freedoms and a devout Socialist, Ufer was deeply concerned with the plight of the Pueblo Indians and what he viewed as their centuries-long oppression.
Pueblo potters were virtually all women throughout the 19th century. With the advent of the railroad and the ability of collectors to travel to remote locations in the southwest, potters were able to tap into an enthusiastic market for their wares. Ironically, traditional Pueblo pottery production almost died out at the turn of the century due to ethnographic and touristic collection of a majority of the older work that served as a tool for instruction and inspiration. By the mid-20th century, artists, both male and female, saw the opportunity to support themselves and their families with their ceramics and production once again flourished. Individual potters became known and sought after.
Cornmeal bowls, such as this one made by Eileen Yatsattie (b.1960) of the Zuni Pueblo for her mother, are used in the home and during religious ceremonials to hold sacred cornmeal and sacred water. The four terraced steps represent clouds in the four directions. Toads, tadpoles, dragonflies, and the water serpent are usually drawn on to represent prayers for rain and water. They are still being used today.
(Left) Walter Ufer, On the Rio Grande, 1927, Oil on canvas, 25 1/8″ × 30″ (unframed), J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Art, 2014.183; (Right) Eileen Yatsattie, Cornmeal Bowl, 2000, Ceramic and pigment, 5 3/8″ × 7 7/8″ (overall), Gift of Edward A. Chappell, 2018.283