Lenora's Legacy: Recognizing Artistry in Native American Easel Painting

Curated by Jennifer Himmelreich, 2015-2016 Anne Ray Intern.

Exhibit, SAR Administration Hallway

Friday, January 1–Tuesday, May 31, 2016, Free

Untitled work on paper by Qincy Tahoma, Diné (Navajo), 1944.Untitled work on paper by Qincy Tahoma, Diné (Navajo), 1944.

Watercolor, acrylic, and ink on paper, 37 x 28 cm. SAR.1989-21-29.  Photograph by Addison Doty.

Untitled work on paper by Qincy Tahoma, Diné (Navajo), 1944.

Watercolor, acrylic, and ink on paper, 37 x 28 cm. SAR.1989-21-29.  Photograph by Addison Doty.

Lenora Scott Muse Curtain was part of a family of women who supported and encouraged Native artists. She was taught by her mother, Eva Scott Fényes, a prolific artist herself, to appreciate other artistic talents. As a young woman, Fényes began commissioning work from the artists she admired. A move to territorial New Mexico with 10-year old Lenora in 1889 widened Fényes’s interests, and she added pieces such as Crescencio Martinez’s Pueblo Antelope Dance to her collection.

For Curtain, the move west instilled a deep-rooted love of the landscape and the diverse people within. She developed the collection, frequenting schools such as the Santa Fe Indian School, where a roster of artists were emerging as the forebearers of Native American easel painting. Curtain magnified her and Fényes’s collection, focusing it into five major themes: Koshares, Animals, Ceremonies, Home Life, and Miscellany.

Upon Curtain's death in 1972, the collection was bequeathed to her daughter, Lenora Francis Curtain Paloheimo. Perceiving the significance of her mother’s work, Paloheimo began exhibiting the collection internationally. Pieces like J.D. Roybal’s painting of a koshare on a grey burro were part of a show dedicated to koshares at the Eiteljorg Museum. Others, such as Wilson Dewey’s watercolor, Apache Crown Dancer, were part of a traveling exhibition to Finland and Denmark. Finally, in 1989 and 1991, Paloheimo generously donated the collection to SAR, which numbers 220 paintings, four textiles, two ceramics and two pieces of jewelry.

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