On this page, we will share with you the book reviews that we are receiving.  ALL of them. (Just in case you are wondering why they are all so positive…and are we leaving out something….NOPE! Every review has been enthusiastic. “Stunning”.  “Beautiful.” “A Triumph.” “Engaging.” “Extremely Satisfying.”

April 2, 2012

Reviewed by Darlynn Dietrich, Indiana University

No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record, and to try to find one’s way to the heart of the man. –John Briley

To capture the entirety of anyone’s life story is difficult at best, if not impossible really. And to tell the story of someone who, as is the case here, “lived fast and died young” is all the more challenging. But somehow Charnell Havens and Vera Marie Badertscher have managed to masterfully piece together the story of Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma (ca. 1917–1956).

This first book-length biography about the Santa Fe Indian School artist is itself a work of art, not only for the many Tahoma paintings beautifully presented here–several of which are on public display for the first time–but also for the attentiveness to a narrative of Tahoma’s life that is convincingly “faithful in spirit to the [in this case, very sparse] record” and ardently strives to “find one’s way to the heart of the man” (Briley 1982:15). Because extant records concerning Tahoma are scant, the only way to fill in the gaps is to rely upon information provided by those who either knew Tahoma firsthand or knew someone who did.

From limited archival data and interviews with over fifty people, making the book primarily an oral history project, the authors assert that Tahoma’s life was one which “seemed to fluctuate between personal disappointment and professional validation” (92). This pervasive theme guides the narrative of Tahoma’s life, from an orphan adopted by his mother’s half-sister’s family to his untimely alcoholic death at age thirty-eight.

Organized into ten chapters, from “Beginnings” to “One Too Many,” the work also includes an epilogue which explores Tahoma’s legacy, a forward by anthropologist David Brugge, an introduction contextualizing American Indian art in the early-twentieth century, three appendices (one of which is a timeline of Tahoma’s life, a list of his prizes, medals, and awards, and one of his exhibitions and collections), in addition to endnotes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index.

Each chapter opens with a “recreated small scene to launch into the more factual material” (9). The paintings accompanying each chapter roughly correspond to the period of Tahoma’s life being treated. Havens and Badertscher are vigilant in their attendance to the social, cultural, and political times in which Tahoma lived. Examples include discussion about American Indians’ experience of boarding schools, the WW II years, and their shift from government wards to voting citizenry. The authors also include information about Navajo kinship and cultural worldview to identify Tahoma’s clan membership (which they assert Tahoma himself never knew but from which his name is derived), and explore possible reasons why he spent his early years with his mother’s half-sister’s family.. The art world, and explicitly the arena of American Indian art produced by students of the Studio School founded in 1932 by Dorothy Dunn at the Santa Fe Indian School, serves as additional important contextual information for the exploration of Tahoma’s amazing career as a painter, both private and professional.

To their credit, Havens and Badertscher adroitly handle discrepancies in Tahoma’s life history by comparing multiple sources, interviews, and records where available, as well as by adding healthy infusions of deductive reasoning.

There is no extant birth certificate to confirm Tahoma’s birth date, but from interviews and census records the authors assert that Tahoma was born in 1917, despite Tahoma’s claim “throughout his adult life that his birthday was December 25, 1920” (20). Instead of the WW II Navajo code-talker Tahoma claimed to be, Havens and Badertscher have found no evidence of his ever being enlisted in any branch of the U.S. military service. But these incongruities are handed with grace and tact: they are part of what made Tahoma the colorful personality and creative artist he was. And whereas Tahoma developed a somewhat severe drinking problem in his adult life, the authors are quick to dispel any hint of the “drunken Indian” stereotype, pointing out that the be lief that American Indians are biologically predisposed to alcoholism is “based on a bad study” (162).

While the book is clearly a triumph of orality and memory work in the rendering of a life history on one hand, on the other, it can be critiqued for the sometimes repetitive nature of the narrative. Yet, this criticism may be an empty one considering the aforementioned dearth of records as well as the fact that perhaps the narrative actually reflects the cyclic nature of Tahoma’s life, i.e., his painting productivity vis-à-vis drinking binges, and the professional accolades vis-à-vis his personal disillusionment. This work should appeal to a wide range of readers and scholars, such as cultural anthropologists, art historians, ethnohistorians, folklorists, and students of Native North America, to name a few.

As David Brugge writes in the forward, “Biographies of individual lives can give us a deeper insight into many aspects of such a life. While it is perhaps true that controlled statistical studies ill provide the valid generalizations that we need, it is in the details of diverse life stories that we can find the better questions to study” (5).

Work Cited Briley, John. 1982. Gandhi: The Screen Play. London: Duckworth.


December 9, 2011

Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist

This is not only a beautiful art book and thoroughly- researched biography of Quincy Tahoma (c. 1920-1956), but is also the complete story, told for the first time, of a gifted artist whose life reflects not only his own personal challenges but the multiple difficulties of being an American Indian trying to thrive in an Anglo American-dominated culture. The reproductions of Tahoma’s art are stunning, the text clearly organized and presented with easy to follow endnotes, helpful appendices on exhibits, collections, awards and a timeline of his life. This is a keeper.

This is the statement of Margaret Loghry, former teacher, librarian and library-administrator for Tucson Unified Schools and one of the judges for the Southwest Books of the Year.


July 2, 2011

by J.C. Martin

Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist” by Charnell Havens and Vera Marie Badertscher (Schiffer Publishing, $50).

This stunning coffee-table book has several things to recommend it, not the least of which is careful, thorough research, which, though sympathetic, is grimly honest as it unveils the tragic life of a gifted Navajo artist. Excellent reproductions of his many works are included.


 Native Peoples Magazine chose Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist for holiday gift giving!

Reviewer Debra Utaica Krol says:

“Fans of mid-20th century Native art will want this book on their shelf.  The definitive biography of one of Native America’s towering talents, Navajo painter Quincy Tahoma, contains many images of works not seen in public.  More important, it sets the record straight about Tahoma, a talented, complex man whose talent warred with a susceptibility to alcohol and his attempt to navigate the treacherous middle way between his beloved Dinétah and the wider world beyond.  A rich, textured and honest storyline deftly brings his life and era to life.”


 Tucson Weekly

by Margaret Regan

Called Pioneering Work, the article by Margaret Regan  is subtitled, The tragic life of Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma is recounted in this beautiful volume.

Feast of Books

By Rosemary Carstens

(Also at Artist’s Spotlight)

Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist
So often throughout history accomplished artists have disappeared from sight as other artists’ popularity has risen or when no new work appears to remind us. Such might have been the case for the remarkable work of Quincy Tahoma, had not two women embarked on a more-than-a-decade search to uncover the mysteries of his life and work. The two, Vera Badertscher and Charnell Havens, long-time friends and colleagues, took on a gargantuan task to bring us this beautiful, annotated biography. They gathered oral histories from over 50 people, many of whom knew Tahoma personally, and spent untold hours up to their armpits in archival materials, piecing together ragged bits of information here and there, sifting fact from legend to create a record of the artist’s short life. Many of the book’s more than 260 full-color images have never before been shown publicly.

It all began with “Aunt Mary.” When Charnell Havens was 12, her aunt returned home from a visit to Santa Fe, NM, and brought with her five of Tahoma’s paintings. Charnell never grew tired of seeing “the Indian braves rounding up majestic wild horses and spearing buffalo so there would be meat,” and she “marveled at the beauty of the seemingly endless landscape and the animals that claimed it as their own.” Upon her aunt’s death many years later, her niece inherited those paintings and the earlier fascination they held for her drove her to dig into who the man was behind the art.

She ultimately drew her good friend and sorority sister Vera Badertscher into the quest. The result is this very special volume about an artist whose brain raged with amazing images.
Until this publication came to my attention, I knew nothing of Quincy Tahoma or his art. As I studied the imagery in this volume, I was struck again and again by their detail and their symmetry. There are sophisticated aspects of his paintings that evoke art deco style—his repetitive use of stylized natural elements such as waves, clouds, even dust flying from the hooves of buffalo. He echoes shapes for emphasis and exaggerates or elongates figures and animals to create a distinctive personal style, and he employs perspective to show the vastness of the Western landscapes he loved.
I was amazed at the detail about the American Indian culture revealed in this artist’s body of work—clothing and adornment, the role of the hunter, the magnificence of horses and game, and groups’ communal activities. There is something about Tahoma’s art that reminds me of the famous “ledger” artists—Plains Indians who produced narrative drawings or paintings on paper or cloth. Tahoma’s work is alive, active—stories are told, and a history of a people unfolds within them. He draws the viewer into the tale. And, within each, is his unique signature with its “next chapter” of the action foretold in a few, spare lines.
Quincy Tahoma was a handsome young man, talented, swarmed after by the ladies, but ultimately tortured by his growing alcohol dependency. In his late thirties, his body gave out—but one can only image how brightly his mind would have continued to roam the hills and valleys of his compositions had he survived. Thanks to the determined efforts and persistence of Havens and Badertscher, his legacy has been revitalized.
Champion of My Heart
By Roxanne Hawn

Truth. Writing is hard. Greater truth. Primary research is harder, especially when the subject led an elusive, often-desperate, carousing sort of life. That’s one reason (among many)Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist is such a triumph.

The details dug from scraps. The real-life characters interviewed. The piecing together of biographical bits astound me nearly as much as Tahoma’s life story and artwork.

Authors Charnell Havens and Vera Marie Badertscher, a couple of sorority sisters going way back, weave the various narrative threads with skill I doubt I could manage on my best day.

What first seems like an “art history” book, Quincy Tahoma casts a broader biographical net — catching painful, telling insights into flawed social, legal, and educational systems in the process.

It’s no wonder Tahoma drank himself to death at such a young age.

Images of Horses, Dogs

Many of Tahoma’s paintings feature striding, epic, glorious horses, so our equine-loving friends will enjoy that aspect.

Some also include dogs, reflecting the Navajo sheep herding tradition and the ever-present coyotes and wolves. Clearly, however, Tahoma didn’t pay much attention to dogs in life because the ones in his paintings shine with only a fraction of the passion seen in his horses.
I say that both as a dog-lover and as a girl who minored in Theory and Practice of Art (art history + studio classes) in college. There are many things I like about Tahoma’s paintings, but the way he generalized dogs isn’t among them.

One untitled painting (circa 1951) depicts a young girl teaching what looks like a red border collie to sit up and beg. A few sheep graze in the background.

Girl. Dog. Sheep. What’s not to like?

Alas, the copyright issues around posting images of the paintings prevent me from being able to show you that one dog-centric example of Tahoma’s work.

Instead, please enjoy this photo of Havens and her dogs (Paisley and Yogi Bear).

Old Style Social Media

One of the funniest little tidbits the authors dug up on Tahoma is that he gave people pictures of himself, which was unusual at the time. But, the more I think about it, it isn’t that different from those of us who use photos as our online “avatars” these days. Perhaps, he was simply WAY ahead of his time when it came to name / face recognition in his social connections.


 The Examiner

By Elizabeth Rose

I’ve been looking forward to the release of this Quincy Tahoma book. Authors, Vera Badertscher and Charnell Havens have been blogging about all things Quincy for months and enticing us with tidbits from this well-researched book.

I received the book and thought I’d be able to review it within a week. But I’m still reading it and admiring the art. Why? Actually,Quincy Tahoma is three books in one. It is a beautiful coffee table book with nicely reproduced full-page pictures of Quincy’s action-filled art. Second, it’s a biography of the artist, a biography that mirrors the life histories of so many Navajo artists. And third, it’s a great reference book with thorough bibliography and index.

About Quincy Tahoma

Navajo painter, Quincy Tahoma was born in 1917 and was educated in art at the Santa Fe Indian School. He rose to fame as a Native American painter and then, sadly, met his decline through alcohol abuse. He died in 1956.

Quincy Tahoma painted in the style that is familiar to those who love the Indian art of the 30’s. He painted everyday Navajo scenes as well as thrilling depictions of events such as a buffalo hunt.

Why You Will Enjoy this Book
In this book, you will see Quincy Tahoma art never before shown. You’ll learn about the social history of the time when Tahoma painted and come away with a greater appreciation for Native American art as well as the struggles experienced by the Navajo people.

The research is thorough, the authors are careful not to mislead (stories told about Tahoma’s life are carefully labeled stories vs. facts), and the information is written in an engaging style.

It’s not a quick read. The book is jam packed with information, footnotes and references. But for visual people like me, the book is most valuable as a collection of beautiful paintings within a cultural context.


 Wandering Educators

by Dr. JessieVoigts

I have in my hands one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s a cultural study, an ethnography of an artist, a glimpse into another world, and a snapshot of a time period that is fascinating. The book? Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist, by Charnell Havens and Vera Marie Badertscher. It’s filled with Tahoma’s extraordinary paintings, and brings the artist to life with words, photos, and explorations of his cultural milieu. What draws an artist to portray his subjects? Why is one’s cultural and personal background so very critical to his art? And, why are biographies SO compelling to readers – what is it about a life explored that draws us?

Authors Havens and Badertscher spent years finding and documenting original sources, traveling where Tahoma lived and worked, speaking with people who knew him. They dug deep into American Indian culture, the art world, history, genealogy, and personal stories to discover the life of this amazing artist – and pieced together a life that is both captivating to readers, and breaks new ground in thinking about art, history, culture, and the Southwest. When you delve into the book, it’s difficult to decide where to focus first – the gorgeous art, or the irresistible story of the life of Quincy Tahoma. The authors truly have a firm comprehension of the life of Quincy Tahoma, history, place, and art – and have been able to connect them in an extremely satisfying book.


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