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The 1940s was an important transition period for the Taos art community. A group of modernist artists arrived who would set a new artistic course for a generation. Following World War II, Taos became an important crossroads in contemporary American art, a place where the influences of European and American modernism came together. Artists from New York and San Francisco, the cradles of post-war abstract painting, found in Taos a conducive place to work devoid of the distractions of the big cities. Many of the modernist artists arrived in Taos with little if any knowledge of the earlier artists, as if inexplicably drawn to the Town's inherently creative atmosphere. Many came to study under the G.I. bill.

Joining Andrew Dasburg as mentor to these new artists in 1939 was Thomas Benrimo, another early American modernist. New York artist Louis Ribak arrived in Taos in 1944 with his wife, painter Beatrice Mandelman, and emerged as a leader of the younger generation. Agnes Martin, now an internationally acclaimed artist came to Taos a few years later as a student with the University of New Mexico's summer Field School of Art. In the early 1950s, Clay Spohn, an abstract expressionist, and Edward Corbett, an artist with a growing reputation as a modernist, arrived from San Francisco. Their colleague, Richard Diebenkorn, although not a Taos resident, showed at the Town's premier art gallery, Galeria Escondida, as well as the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he received a Masters Degree in Art in 1951. In the same way that the Taos Art Colony in earlier decades attracted other artists to the area, these new artists were visited by their friends and associates, including such major figures as Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Clyfford Still and Morris Graves.

The influx of dozens of artists by the 1950s had established Taos as one of the centers of modernist artistic activity in the United States. In the middle part of the decade, a number of them began showing together in art galleries and museums and were collectively known as the Taos Moderns. Although they never created a formal group such as the Taos Society of Artists had done, they changed the artistic direction of the community.

Their paintings were either abstract, using subject matter, or non-objective compositions of pure form. The stark New Mexico landscape brightened their palettes just as it had that of earlier artists. Cultural influences continued to be important as well. The timelessness they perceived in Pueblo Indian culture and the deep connection to the land they noted in the everyday life of both Indians and Hispanics influence experimentation and innovation in their own art.

If there was any one guiding philosophy during this period, it was a commitment by artists to seek 'the new' in their visual imagery. Many of them were not content with depicting the surface beauty of the landscape or the figurative portraits done by earlier artists. Instead, they wanted to capture the underlying structure of a subject to reveal its true meaning.

Artist: Barbara Latham
Title: Decoration Day
Date: c.1940
Medium: painting tempera
Dimensions: 24 x 29 15/16 in. (61 x 76 cm) Framed: 29 1/4 × 35 1/4 × 1 1/4 in. (74.3 × 89.5 × 3.2 cm)
Barbara Latham United States (1896 - 1989)
“I had lived under the brilliant western sky all summer, but I had never experienced such brilliance, contrasted with such fragrant desert. … I loved Taos from the moment I stepped off the train.” "I’ve been very happy here." "And I’m still having fun with my art."

Known as an accomplished painter, printmaker, and children’s book illustrator, Barbara Latham had idea of her life’s creative trajectory from an early age. At eight years old Barbara Latham won a scholarship to attend a weekend drawing class, and it sparked the young girl’s innate love of art. Shortly after high school, Latham began her more serious artistic studies at the Norwich Academy and Pratt Institute in New York City, as well as summer workshops with Anderw Dasburg at the Students League Summer School in Woodstock, New York. After a corporate stint on Madison Avenue making greeting cards, Latham relocated to the art colony of Taos, New Mexico.

It was in Taos that Latham would meet her eventual husband and fellow artist, Howard Cook. The two were introduced through Victor Higgins, and enjoyed a nurturing partnership spanning more than fifty years. The two traveled extensively through South America, Mexico, and Europe, largely the result of Cook’s Guggenheim Fellowship awards in 1932, and again in 1934. It was from these new, exotic vistas that the couple gathered unfamiliar subject matter and expanded their techniques. Much of what went into Latham’s first children’s book, “Pedro, Nina, and Perrito,” was cultivated during these travels.

In 1938, Latham and her husband purchased a home in Talpa, New Mexico. It was to become the base for a prolific artistic output, featuring everything from playful community scenes to wildlife, and landscapes in her signature stop-action style. Some of Latham’s most notable works include: “View from Our House in Talpa,” “Decoration Day,” “Tourist Town, Taos,” “Getting Ready for the Rabbit Hunt,” and “Rio Grande in the Spring.”

In 1967 the couple lived seasonally in Roswell, New Mexico, after Cook was awarded with the first artist-in-residence at the newly conceived Roswell Museum. By 1976, Howard Cook’s health was failing to the point where the couple relocated once more to a retirement home in Santa Fe. After her husband’s passing in 1980, Latham continued to travel and paint until her own passing in 1989.
Barbara Latham
Artist: Clay Spohn
Title: Elements of Spring: The Rains
Date: 1952
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Overall: 27 15/16 x 32 5/16 in. (71 x 82 cm)
Clay Spohn (1898-1977)
Clay Spohn
Artist: Robert C. Ellis
Title: From The Elements
Date: 1979
Medium: Lithograph
Dimensions: Overall: 22 1/16 x 30 in. (56 x 76.2 cm)
Robert C. Ellis United States (1923-1979)
Born in Jackson, Texas, R.C. Ellis first began studying art through The University of New Mexico, Taos Summer Field School in 1942, where he met Andrew Dasburg whom he admired greatly. Ellis would have moved to Taos earlier if it had not been for WWII, and his service through the Coast Guard. After the war he returned to studying art at the New School of Social Research in New York in 1949, where he studied Abraham Rattner and Adja Yunkers (later one of the Albuquerque moderns). He would return to New Mexico the following year to study at the University of New Mexico and eventually obtaining his BFA in 1950. Most importantly to Ellis, between 1947 and 1953, he lived intermittently with the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Sierra Madre whose art he greatly admired. His ties to Mexico, which were as strong as those he felt for the Southwest, became even stronger with his 1957 marriage to Rosamaria Ramirez de Alba, a Mexican citizen. He was the only artist among the Taos Moderns to pursue his career in two countries showing his work on both sides of the border. He returned to Taos in 1961 as a resident of the Wurlitzer Foundation and again briefly in 1964, before finally settling in Taos in 1965.
His paintings from the 1940’s onward moved through Cubist and Abstract Expressionist influenced periods. In the 1950’s his interest in the nature of luminosity led him to try for a kind of stained glass effect. In later works he mosved to a more minimalist – type artwork in both his painting and print making.

His first solo exhibition was at Gump’s Gallery in San Francisco California in 1942 and from there is work was exhibited in Washington D.C., Tucson Arizona, Santa Fe NM, Albuquerque NM, Linsborg KS, Amarillo TX, The Panhandle Museum in Carson County TX, The Ellen Noel Art Museum of the Permain Basin, Odessa TX, and at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. He exhibited internationally in several galleried in Mexico, as well as at the Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno in Mexico City in 1964.

Ellis applied what he saw in the landscape, interpreting the lessons garnedred from his observations to create his compositions. Particularly by the time of his late work, he captured in paint, ink and other mediums the paradox of the desert, a surface that at first appears simple, but only because it’s true complexity is so well integrated into a flow of light and form. R.C. Ellis died in Albuquerque New Mexico in 1979.

Artist Biography.2015.203 Fine Art
Robert C. Ellis
Artist: Wolcott Ely
Title: From the Seas that are South
Date: n.d.
Medium: oil
Dimensions: Overall: 24 x 32 in. (61 x 81.3 cm) Framed: 29 x 37 in. (73.7 x 94 cm)
Wolcott Ely (1923-2004)
Wolcott Ely
Artist: B.J.O. Nordfeldt
Title: Grasses
Date: 1950
Medium: Oil on linen
Dimensions: Overall: 48 x 64 1/2 in. (121.9 x 163.8 cm) Framed: 56 5/8 x 42 3/4 in. (143.8 x 108.6 cm)
B.J.O. Nordfeldt (1878-1955)
B.J.O. Nordfeldt
Artist: Ronald Davis
Title: Hawthorn
Date: 1963
Medium: Oil on canvas
Ronald Davis (b. 1937)
Ronald Davis
Artist: Clay Spohn
Title: Impressions of a Landscape
Date: c. 1950
Medium: Oil on board
Dimensions: Overall: 21 15/16 x 27 7/8 in. (55.7 x 70.8 cm)
Clay Spohn (1898-1977)
c. 1950
Clay Spohn
Artist: Thomas Benrimo
Title: Mannequin
Date: 1956
Medium: Oil painting
Dimensions: Framed: 42 5/8 × 42 1/4 × 1 1/4 in. (108.3 × 107.3 × 3.2 cm) image: 35 3/4 × 35 3/4 in. (90.8 × 90.8 cm)
Thomas Benrimo United States (1887-1958)
THOMAS BENRIMO (1887-1958), moved to Taos in 1939.

The flowing quality of design which Tom Benrimo subtly employs suggests a penetrating musical quality.

—Allen S. Weller, 1952

In an art community known for its reclusive artists, Thomas Benrimo stood out by his absence from the art scene in his early Taos years. He lived in Taos for over twelve years before sharing his work with the public for the first time in a group exhibition at the Hotel La Fonda in 1951.

Benrimo moved to Taos in 1939 on the strength of winning the Art Director Medal for Color Illustration award, an honor that included a $5,000 prize. He left New York’s Pratt Institute, where he had taught such courses as “Applied Surrealism” for commercial artists. A painter whose roots went back to the early days of American modernism, he now had the means to make the transition back into fine art, which he had abandoned in order to support his tubercular mother and brother.

His first artistic project in Taos, done in partnership with his wife, Dorothy Benrimo, a fine jeweler, was converting an old adobe ruin into a stately home. In his early Taos paintings, he attempted to regain the position that he had staked out more than 20 years earlier in New York. Little of his work from that period remains, but it is clear that the 1913 Armory Show deeply impressed him; he painted abstractions by 1918, if not before.

His Taos work included subject matter suggested by ancient Roman and Etruscan art and Greek vase painting, and also influenced by cubism. His facility for painting detail exceeded that of most artists, and his studies of modernist painting during his teaching career made him one of the best informed artists in the country. His teaching notes reveal a brilliant mind which welded together the many currents of modernism to make them understandable to his students. Benrimo's reputation was such that László Moholy-Nagy, an artist and founder of the New Bauhaus art school in Chicago, invited him to become the school’s director in the 1940s. But, by that time Benrimo had decided to devote the remainder of his life to painting.

During the war years, he concentrated on finely crafted surrealistic paintings. In the 1950s, Benrimo combined surrealism and strong structural form with lyrically tragic and passionate themes, as seen in late work such as White Moon #2 (ca. 1954).
Benrimo's work achieved national exposure when one of his paintings was included in the 1951 “Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture” exhibition at the University of Illinois. Asked to comment on his work for the catalog, he said (quoting author Charles Norman): “Feeling and form are all; and that man is most an artist who fuses those two into an indivisible one.”

Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992)
Thomas Benrimo
Artist: Ted Egri
Title: Mountain Moods
Date: 1954
Medium: Oil painting
Dimensions: Overall: 23 11/16 x 30 1/8 in. (60.1 x 76.5 cm) frame: 36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm)
Ted Egri (1913-2010)
Ted Egri