Tahoma Illustrations

Post by Vera Marie

Last week Charnell wrote about Tahoma’s illustrations for Elizabeth Willis DeHuff. Although we were delighted to find Tahoma’s  charming pictures at the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections at the University of New Mexico library, we were disappointed that these lovely little pictures of Navajo family life would not be available to the public. Since the book was never published, you cannot see the work that he did for DeHuff outside of the archives.

I Am a Pueblo Indian Girl

Original Book Cover

However, you can own illustrations that Tahoma created for another children’s book.  I Am a Pueblo Indian Girl  holds a unique position in the collection of children’s literature that Rebecca Benes documented in Native American Picture Books of Change.

A young Isleta Pueblo woman known in English as Louise Abeita, and in her native tongue as E-Yeh-Shure (Blue Corn) wrote I Am a Pueblo Indian Girl when she was only 13 years old. Her father pulled together the Apache and Navajo artists and put together the book. That makes this perhaps the first totally American Indian publication for the general public.

The book’s introduction, written in 1939 by noted ethnologist Oliver LaFarge, points out that it had only been twenty years since an ethnologist introduced water-color painting  to Pueblo Indian artists.

Although copies are now rare, an Internet search uncovers a few copies of the 72-year-old book in various conditions.  I found a very good copy on Amazon a few years ago. I treasure it for the paintings of young artists that would one day become famous and for the beauty of the words.

One unsigned painting with a deer peering out of a formalized forest at the edge of a cliff certainly looks like the work of Tahoma. Two swallows fly overhead, and those birds were to become Tahoma’s trademark. The far away mountains and buttes definitely look like Tahoma’s landscape, and the pleasing combination of browns, turquoise, and orange resemble Tahoma’s use of color.

Quincy Tahoma painting of three deer (1937)

Quincy Tahoma painting of three deer (1937)

But the painting I love most shows three deer under a feathery tree with ducks swimming in a pond in the foreground. Again, two swallows balance the top. He signed the painting of deer “Tohoma ’37, ” spelling his name “To” instead of “Ta” as he did a few years later.  This painting closely resembles one that you can find in Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist.

The painting in the children’s book  illustrates a poem called Beauty, written by the young Pueblo girl author.

The poem says in part: “Beauty is in yourself, Good deeds, happy thoughts That repeat themselves In your dreams, In your work, And even in your rest.

If you have read what we wrote in Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy, you may recognize the same concept as Hózhó–the all-important Navajo quality of harmony and beauty in one’s life.

Gerald Nailor (Navajo, 1917-1952) and Allan Houser (Apache, 1914-1994), the other two budding artists in this book, like Tahoma (Navajo, 1917-1956), painted their offerings in the late 1930’s. All three were very young and went on to become very famous.  You can see the natural genius of all three of these American Indian painters already shining through the illustrations for this unique children’s book.

Have you ever collected books just because of the illustrations? Do you know of other books illustrated by American Indians that you could share here?


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3 Responses to Tahoma Illustrations

  1. Sounds like such a cool book. The only book I’ve collected b/c of the illustrations was Holly Hobbie’s autobiography. It’s such a beautiful book, with full color paintings. It’s no longer in print. I own a copy. I’m very proud of having it!

  2. Casey says:

    As a dreamy, artistic kid, many of the books I read had illustrations that I can vividly remember to this day (the works of Robert McCloskey, Maurice Sendak and Beatrix Potter, especially!). Tahoma’s art is so perfectly suited to a children’s book – what a good match!

  3. Kristen says:

    My father had a collection of Native American books that illustrated their customs and beliefs. It wasn’t a children’s book per se but as a kid I loved looking through it. It was about Hopi Indians.

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