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Artist eschews music to paint landscapes of Southwest

Carol A. Wright

By A Contributor

Upon viewing the paintings of Ernest L. Blumenschein, one can see why this great German-American artist was so enchanted with the beauty and culture of New Mexico.

His philosophy of life and art has been well-researched by Robert W. Larson and Carole B. Larson, the authors of “Ernest L. Blumenschein: The Life of an American Artist.”

The first nine chapters were completed by Carole prior to her death in 1998. What she had started was far too valuable to toss aside, thus her husband wrote the final seven chapters and saw to it that their book would be published.

Known to his friends as “Blumy,” Ernest has often been referred to as “The Taos Painter.” He is most famous for his stunning Southwest landscapes and portraitures of Pueblo Indians and Hispanics.

Ernest supported and respected the rights of Indians, their lifestyle, spiritual beliefs and customs. The Larsons have included chapters in their book about how the Indians themselves grew quite fond of this artist.

As a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, Blumy spearheaded additional art associations. He was a student at the Art Students League and later taught classes there once becoming more established.

His childhood years in Ohio were active ones. He excelled in athletics and soon developed a fascination for art.

He started drawing at an early age and was greatly influenced by his mother, Leonora. Blumy’s wife, Mary Shepard Greene Blumenschein, was an artist and just an overall talented and creative individual.

Thus, the fine and performing arts had been a genetic trait passed on from early Blumenschein ancestors to Ernest’s father, mother, Blumy’s wife and the couple’s daughter, Helen.

The Larsons also show the Blumenschein’s outside interests. Helen was quite the sportsperson.

She bagging deer, elk and bear, then would strap them atop an antique hearse.

She would drive to shooting events and target range practice areas where her students would learn how to handle guns and ammunition.

Helen also followed in her father’s footsteps and painted Taos splendidly, then later painted with a more modern, industrial theme in mind.

The Larsons write of the conflict between Blumy and his father.

Although his father helped support his son financially, he had other high hopes for his son to become a successful professional musician.

Interestingly, Blumy picked up the violin and entertained others with his solo performances.

To please his father Blumy would, on occasion, feature a violin in his artwork.

With a few exceptions countless artists, writers, journalists, actors and a host of other creative people seemed to cling to Blumy.

The Larsons and many artist-friends believed that the Taos artist deserved more recognition for his artwork.

Blumy also was a tremendously gifted illustrator. He was fortunate to have been able to fall back on his illustrating abilities when his fine art paintings didn’t sell as quickly.

Much later, museums exhibited his paintings and still do today.

Private collectors have filled their homes with the vivid Taos atmosphere so loved by the artist the moment he set foot and eyes on this raw, unchartered territory in 1898, until right before his death in 1960.

Blumenschein’s last painting was perhaps the most haunting, “The Cormorant Attends Funeral of His Friend the Butler, “was given its name June 6, 1959, just one year prior to his death.

It was during this period that Blumy realized that many of his artist-friends had fallen and left him behind on earth.

Blumenschein understood that he would be next to die. Yet, throughout his life, Blumy never truly dwelled upon death.

However, due to failing health, toward the end of his life, he understood clearly that there was not anything he could do to stall or prevent his own death.

Even the dreadful theme in “The Cormorant…” revealed a sense of his humor, though many others who would be unfamiliar with the artist’s personality and the way he painted subjects and techniques would never seem to grasp this kind of humor.

It could be hard to feel this slight representation of humor in such a disturbing and sorrowful work of art composed by a grieving artist.

There have been a multitude of studies, publications and stories surrounding Blumenschein but his biography by the Larsons is by far one of the most in-depth and thoughtful art-biographies that I have come across.

Carol A. Wright is a freelance writer and former Manhattan resident.

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