Published: August 1, 2023
Review by W.A. Demers; Photos Courtesy Santa Fe Art Auction
SANTA FE, N.M. — “New Mexico Now,” Santa Fe Art Auction’s annual sale of artwork representing New Mexico’s diverse heritage of Pueblo, Hispanic and Native American arts, presented 291 lots on July 22, featuring the work of historic to contemporary santeros in bultos, retablos and paintings, as well as furniture, folk art, textiles and more. With a 74 percent sell-through by lot, it totaled $260,000.
Topping the event was a Mexican School portrait of a Spanish Colonial lady, which more than doubled its high estimate to sell for $13,420. Depictions of women in Spanish colonial portraiture were uncommon prior to the Eighteenth Century, becoming an increasingly popular subject for painters of the Spanish Colonial and Mexican schools during the 1700s. This painting, “Portrait of a Spanish Colonial Lady,” states the catalog notes, is a wonderful example of this style of portraiture featuring a female subject, blending conventions of European portrait painting with the bold, inventive colors and style associated with Mexican painting. The three-quarter length portrait of an elaborately dressed young woman adorned with jewels, a beaded, feathered hairstyle and a red dress with lace and ribbon embellishments does not identify the subject. Her extravagant clothing and jewelry, however, suggest that she was a part of the wealthy colonial class.
There was an abundance of crucifixions in the sale, the top selling one by Jose Rafael Aragon Aragón (1796-1862). His “Cristo Crucificado,” circa 1820-35, performing within estimate at $7,320. Of carved wood, gesso and pigments, 27 by 19 by 3½ inches, it came from the Paul Rhetts collection, New Mexico, and had a rich exhibition history. They were originally created as a way to honor and pay homage to Catholic saints and for spiritual protection. Today, they are folk art, seen as a way to celebrate Mexican culture and traditions. Aragón’s artistic stature among classic santeros in early New Mexico is one of high regard. In addition to the miniature carvings, he created massive altar screens for area churches, and retablos depicting the popular saints of the era.
A more contemporary “Cristo Cucificado” from 1984 by Horacio Valdez (1929-1992) came out of a private Arizona collection and sold for $5,124; likewise, a 1997 example by Gustavo Victor Goler (b 1963), also from the Rhetts collection, went out at $5,000.
A silk screen by American printmaker Norma Bassett Hall (1889-1957) titled “Sanctuario” and depicting an adobe village charge with two figures approaching its entrance, the 12-by-15½-inch print more than doubled its high estimate, realizing $5,124. Hall was a founding member and the sole woman member of the Prairie Printmakers, establishing a reputation exclusively with color prints.
An Eighteenth Century Spanish Colonial retablo of the apocalyptic Archangel San Miguel (Saint Michael) from central Mexico finished at $4,880, his sword held aloft amid a throng. The oil on canvas measured 59¼ by 47½ inches and had provenance to the collection of Holler and Saunders and a private New Mexico collection.
“Our Lady of Good Health” 1816, by Nineteenth Century artist Jose Reynoso was an oil on canvas from a private Spanish collection. Inscribed verso “La Pinto Jose Reynoso ano de 1816,” the 61¾-by-43-inch painting found a buyer at $3,172. The title was given to the Blessed Virgin Mary by devotees dating back to the Sixteenth Century, when Mary was said to have manifested herself three times to the faithful in India, providing healing and protection.
With seemingly prehistoric symbology, Howard Behling Schleeter’s (1903-1976) “Legendary Almanac” of 1947, a wax gouache on paper, earned $2,684. Schleeter was the son of a commercial artist who studied briefly at the Albright Art School in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., but was primarily self-taught and came to New Mexico in 1929 to pursue his career as an artist. This gouache was dated and signed lower right and came from a private Arizona collection.
Among the notable folk art was Marie Romero Cash’s (b 1952) army of felines, produced in a chess set that left the gallery at $4,636. She combined wood, metal, gesso and pigments to create opposing forces with a Red and Black Queen and a King, each inscribed “Marie / Romero Cash / 2000” and each piece approximately 5 by 1½ by 2 inches and the board 3 by 22-5/8 by 22½ inches.
“Folk Art With Deer Dancers” was a retablo and painted chest by Twentieth Century artist Lydia Garcia. The “Deer Dancers retablo,” 2003, was inscribed verso “TAos Pueblo, Deer Dancers: / we dance in payer. come / dance with us. / LydiA TAos 03” and the painted chest, 1999, was signed, dated and titled lower left. Both were from a private Texas collection and changed hands for $3,904.
An untitled carved wood sculpture of a mountain lion by Patrocino Barela (1902-1964) was from a private New Mexico collection and sold for $3,172. Three other pieces of folk art, two of them from the Rhetts collection, were notable. A bulto of Santa Librada, the patron saint of Colombia, by Horacio Valdez, 1977, garnered $2,425; Alcario Otero’s “Nuestra Senora de la Inmaculada Concepcion” bulto of 1992 brought $2,684; and from a private Arizona collection Elmer Shupe’s (Twentieth Century) “San Acacio” bulto in military attire and nailed to a cross, a row of diminutive soldiers with rifles and a drum lineup at his feet, finished at $2,318.
Furniture was included in this sale, the top selling piece, a New Mexican seven-drawer wooden desk, circa 1930-40, was bid to $3,750. An Eighteenth Century Spanish Colonial painted and gilt table from Peru with extravagantly twisty legs made $2,684. It had two drawers and gold leaf gilt work along its sides and down its legs.
Also, from Seventeenth or Eighteenth Century Peru a Spanish Colonial bench with highly detailed tooled polychrome leather on its seats and backs and with bicephalous eagle motif commanded $2,500, the same price attained for a Peruvian Spanish Colonial wood writing table from the Eighteenth Century. A crossover, perhaps, between furniture and folk art was a northern Mexican confessional booth from a private Colorado collection. It collected $3,000, while a simple Taos High School step stool from 1952 had its “Rosebud” moment, bid to $1,708 from a $300/600 estimate.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. The next sale, a three-day event, is scheduled for August 15-17. For information, www.santafeartauction.com or 505-954-5858.
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
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