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Santos and Katchinas

DATES February 03, 1940 through March 31, 1940
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  • February 3, 1940 New Mexican and Arizona santos and katchinas, paintings and sculptures of religious origin by American Indians, numbering about 60 examples will be an exhibition put on view at the Brooklyn Museum Saturday, February 3rd, to run through Sunday, March 31. It is organized by Dr. Herbert J. Spinden, Curator of American Indian Art and Primitive Cultures. Many of the objects have been lent by museums and private collectors.

    Santos, produced by Christianized Spanish communities of New Mexico, are homely paintings of saints, angels and other religious figures much simplified from the European church art brought from Spain. They are on tablets of wood covered with a gesso surface. Another form of santos, of which some outstanding examples will be shown, are santos de bulto, painted wooden sculptures, often with rawhide clothing, of the same subject matter as the paintings on wood. The making of santos flourished up to fifty or sixty years ago but is now dead in the Rio Grande valley.

    The other type of pictures to be shown are katchinas, modern paintings by Pueblo Indian youths representing their tribal dances in a formalized manner and extremely colorfully.

    In the February issue of the Brooklyn Museum Bulletin, Dr. Spinden states “the stimulating effect of fine environment on fine art is well illustrated in the exhibition. Of the four intermingled types and ranks of human society along the Rio Grande and the Little Colorado each produces its own class of painted illusion with its own aesthetic personality.”

    These four types are “the Navajo artists who use the very colors and substances of the Painted Desert in their highly conventionalized sand paintings”, the Pueblo artist whose religion is concerned with a hierarchy of benevolently inclined ancestral spirits known as katchinas, the Mexican population which is a mixture of Spanish arid Mexican Indian blood, and the modern American painters and sculptors of Santa Fe.

    The lenders are Mrs. W. Murray Crane, Charles H. Dietrich of Santa Fe, J. B., Neumann, the Spanish and Indian Trading Co. of Santa Fe, Dr. Herbert J. Spinden, The Taylor Museum at Colorado Springs, The Thunder-Bird Shop at Santa Fe, Miss Amelia E. White of Miami and the Weyhe Gallery. The group of santos de bulto lent by Mrs. Crane is one of the outstanding pieces of the exhibition as it is in the form of a shrine made of tin--American oil cans probably--with three figures in it. The example lent by Miss White has been in several of the important Indian art exhibitions and was included in the Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts a few years ago at the Grand Central Galleries. Also extensively exhibited is the example lent by Mr. Dietrich.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 01-02/1940, 028-9.
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