NEW 2016: A film of Tahoma painting is discussed below, with a link to that film.
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Navajo Artist Quincy Tahoma (1918-1956), a highly gifted painter, studied at the Santa Fe Indian School along with other well-regarded Indian artists such as Harrison Begay and Andy Tsihnahjinnie. Art teacher Dorothy Dunn encouraged her students to paint in a flat and decorative style specific to early 20th-century, studio-taught painting, but Tahoma incorporated more action and varied techniques in his work.
Born near Tuba City, Arizona, the artist spent most of his life in Santa Fe, New Mexico, producing hundreds of paintings over two decades from the mid 1930s to 1956. Due in large measure to his premature death, Tahoma’s contribution to Native American art, as well as the triumphs and tragedies in his life, have remained somewhat invisible to the generations that followed.
Following the maze of information about Quincy Tahoma’s life (1918-1956) has consumed well over ten years. At times we were tempted to abandon the biography, and instead, write the live mystery story that we were living. This blog will begin to tell that backstory.
Although his paintings are acclaimed, and people still compete at auctions to own one of the several hundred paintings he left behind, few people could answer the basic questions that Charnell started asking back in 1995.
Where was he born? When? Were there family members still living? Where did he learn to paint? What and who were the major influences on his art?
Many compendiums of information about American Indian Artists include short biographies of Tahoma. As soon as Charnell and Vera Marie were able to find people who knew Tahoma during his lifetime, they learned that very few of the “facts” published about him were correct.
For instance, a couple from Bennington College visited Santa Fe and filmed Tahoma at work. (The photo above of Tahoma painting, is from that film). They showed many things that were not true to life–Tahoma painting while wearing fine silver jewelry and velvet shirt rather than the plain jeans and shirt he wore in real life; Tahoma building a hogan, when he lived in apartments after he graduated from high school, never a hogan after he was about 8 years old. But the films do show him painting, which is priceless.
A reader in the comments below pointed us to a film that is now digitized on line. We had seen another by the same professors, but this one is longer and focuses more on the painting. The film, two reels, is too large to download to this site, but you can see it here:
This blog reveals some of the backstory of writing a biography of a Navajo artist, born before birth records were kept. To complicate matters, he invented much of the information about his origins that he shared with friends during his lifetime. We were fortunate to interview more than fifty people who either knew Tahoma personally or knew him through stories of their parents or other relatives.
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