Long before ancient cultures kept written records, wisdom, history, and artistic traditions have been passed from generation to generation. Even today each generation in a family often inspires the next and each strives to build upon that history to develop their own unique vision. Now Blue Rain will feature paintings by four generations of Native women painters: Pablita Velarde (1918-2006), Helen Hardin (1943-1984), Margarete Bagshaw (1964-2015), and Helen K. Tindel (b. 1987).
For the first time, viewers can see the progression through the decades as these four artists’ paintings are exhibited together, including some never before seen. Each woman builds upon the past but adds her personal interpretations to reshape traditional ideas and to capture contemporary trends and concepts.
Pablita Velarde, born at Santa Clara Pueblo and educated from a young age at the Dorothy Dunn painting studio, went on to paint a mural for the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair while still a teenager and then spent five years as the WPA artist in residence at Bandelier National Monument. Works such as Shalako (1998, casein on paper, 23 in. x 18 in.) detail important Native traditions in a traditional Santa Fe style.
Helen Hardin, Pablita’s daughter, began working in her mother’s style but then transitioned to a more personal signature as in Posing on the Plaza (intaglio print, 7.5 in. x 5.75 in.). While still in her teens she participated in the University of Arizona’s Southwest Indian Art Project and was featured in Seventeen magazine. Her more contemporary works often included geometric patterns based upon Native American symbols and motifs. In 1976 she was featured in the PBS American Indian artists series.
The heritage of this family’s artistic talent continued on with Helen’s daughter and Pablita’s granddaughter, Margarete Bagshaw. Margarete saw herself as a Modernist frequently incorporating interpretive elements of Native iconography in her compositions. Big, bold paintings became her trademark but, small or large in size, her celebration of geometric patterns and luminous color were matched only by her energy and enthusiasm, as seen in Untitled (2001, prismacolor and pastel on cotton rag paper, 15 in x 22 in.). She was a strong supporter of women artists and at the age of 24 became a founding board member of the New Mexico Women’s Foundation and, later, played an important role in the creation of the Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts.
Margarete’s daughter, Helen K. Tindel, brings the legacy of these women full circle. She grew up surrounded by her mother and grandmother’s art, her dad’s frame shop, museums, galleries, and booth shows. As the last living member of this dynasty the task of sorting through boxes of pictures, newspaper clippings, random papers, and clothing has fallen to her. Among them, she discovered a surprising treasure trove—a box of sketches and old drafting tools that had belonged to Helen Hardin:
It was so special and intimate—like the box had been waiting for me, a present from my grandma Helen, whom I never met. Sketches to me are very personal, like a diary. As I went through them one by one, I discovered 10 black-and-white images, works that to my knowledge have never been shown publicly. They are sweet, intimate, with an air of confidentiality about them—like a deep secret meant just for me.
These small pieces from an earlier period in Helen Hardin’s career will be part of the Painting Dynasty show and provide a fresh glimpse into her lifelong artistic process.
Although art was as ever present in Helen Tindel’s life in earlier years as the air she breathed, she did not start painting until 2011. Her work was expressive, but she had not yet found her personal voice. At one point following her mother’s death in 2015, Helen stepped away from painting. A few years later, she began challenging herself to channel her emotions into art. “Like my mom, I am bold and dramatic,” she states, “my artwork shows a new level of independence, maturity, and soul. My art is an expression of myself although I feel a connection to my family when I am deep in the process.” As can be seen in Como Relámpago en la Oscuridad (Like Lightening in the Dark)(oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 in. x 18 in.), Helen’s work today strikes a contemporary, audacious note. It arises from the gut and straight from her heart.