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Famous Artists Who Immortalized the American Southwest

Famous Artists Who Immortalized the American Southwest
The American Southwest encompasses a broad territory: Arizona, New Mexico, and regions in California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. In the past, 'Southwest art' referred to art produced by Native Americans indigenous to these places, but the term has since evolved to include non-Native artists who became famous while residing in the Southwest or used their abilities to explore and glorify it.

Southwestern artists include painters, photographers, architects, filmmakers, sculptors, and experts in other forms of creative media. Below is a list of four especially prominent artists who were forever changed by the Southwest, and vice-versa.

Burt Harwood

Born Elihu Burritt in 1855, Burt Harwood was a major influence on the early art community in Taos, New Mexico. He enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Design in 1873, when he was 18, and demonstrated such strong talent as a photographer that he established his own company, Harwood and Mooney, in Charles City, Iowa. A county historian wrote in 1882, "Though both are young men (Harwood and his partner), they do some of the finest work in their line in the State."1

Harwood moved to Paris in 1884 and spent years studying photography and painting. When he and his wife returned to the United States and moved to Taos in 1916, he was actually rejected for membership in the Taos Society of Artists. He didn't take it to heart, and even made a point of hosting 'salons' for local artists at his home.

Burt Harwood's photographs recorded the American Southwest that he knew and loved. Even a century later the images of daily life in Taos as well the contemporary landscape remain vivid and haunting. Today, his former home is a museum.

On August 8, 1998 a local newspaper in Lubbock, Texas reported that a copper box containing Harwood's ashes had been found at a recycling facility on Taos. The surprised security guard who discovered them donated them to the Harwood Museum. During an interview the curator said, "Burt came back.... I always wondered what had happened to him."

Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish (1870 1966) was a painter and illustrator celebrated for his imaginative neo-classical imagery and preference for rich, saturated hues. His work was especially popular with children, who loved the magical worlds he created with his pen and brush.

Parrish's signature use of a certain pure shade of cobalt blue resulted in the color being known as 'Parrish Blue.' His style was also so distinctive and recognizable that it was often said that once he illustrated a book, it became a 'Parrish' book, regardless of who actually wrote it.

He visited Arizona for the first time in 1902, and loved the scenery so much that he devoted several canvases to the Arizona landscape. One painting, Night in the Desert, depicts a brilliant desert night in Hot Spring, Yavapai County. Parrish continued to paint the spectacular views around Sedona and Phoenix; one particularly exuberant depiction of Castle Hot Springs is on display at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Known for her imaginative flower paintings and other highly creative works, Georgia O'Keeffe has been acclaimed as one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth century. Her fascination with progressive realism has resulted in titles such as "the mother of American modernism."

O'Keeffe's innate passion for art translated into a profession when she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago during the early 1900s. Later, in New York, she sharpened her skills as a member of the Art Students League. In 1924, she married gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, who was a talented photographer in his own right. The two formed a professional partnership that endured until Stieglitz died in 1946.

During the 1920s, O'Keeffe produced such memorable paintings as: The Green Apple (1922), Black Iris III (1926), Oriental Poppies (1928), and several scenes depicting New York skyscrapers. She also began visiting New Mexico with increasing frequency, and moved there permanently in 1946, after her husband died. The rugged landscape inspired such painting as Black Cross, New Mexico and Cow's Skull with Calico Roses.

Georgia O'Keeffe died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1986. Her art, which remains hugely popular, graces museums everywhere as well as the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

Fritz Scholder

Scholder originally established himself as a Native American artist specializing in Pop Art depictions of his own people. Later, he self-identified as a German painter. Technically, he could claim both heritages, as his father was half Luiseo Indian and half German. As a teacher at Santa Fe's Institute of American Indian Arts during the 1960s, Scholder inspired an entire generation of Native American artists.

In 1967, he became the focus of controversy when he painted a series dedicated to Native Americans. Calling it the 'real Indian,' he depicted his subject with beer cans, cats, and American flags. His intent was to ridicule clichés and poke at Caucasian guilt, and in both respects he succeeded.

In his later years, Scholder became fascinated with cultic imagery, and even kept a mummified cat on display in his living room. When he moved to Scottsdale, AZ, he erected an Egyptian-style obelisk to set his property apart from everyone else's.

Fritz Scholder died in 2005 at the age of 67, but his impact on modern art was so strong that in 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger announced that he would be one of 13 inductees into the California Hall of Fame. One of his sculptures, Future Clone, was even included in a scene in the 2010 film, Black Swan.

1 Chicago, Ill. History of Floyd County, Iowa. Chicago: Inter-state Pub., 1882, p. 750

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