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Exhibitions

The Modern Pueblo Painting of Awa Tsireh

September 4, 2015 – January 31, 2016

Image for The Modern Pueblo Painting of Awa Tsireh

Awa Tsireh, Basket Dancers, ca. 1930-1940, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Corbin-Henderson Collection, gift of Alice H. Rossin

The paintings of Awa Tsireh (1898–1955), represent an encounter between the art traditions of native Pueblo peoples in the Southwestern United States and the American modernist art style begun in New York, which spread quickly across the country. Tsireh, also known by his Spanish name, Alfonso Roybal, decorated pottery as a young man on the San Ildefonso Pueblo near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Later, at the encouragement of Anglo patrons, he translated the forms and symbols of his pottery designs into watercolor paintings on paper. His stylized forms echoed the Art Deco aesthetic that was so popular between the two world wars, and his linear compositions appealed to modernist sensibilities.

Tsireh’s unusual blending of native and Anglo influences found an audience among the many artists, writers, educators, anthropologists, and archaeologists who discovered the charms of the ancient cultures of the Southwest and descended on Santa Fe in great numbers. The poet Alice Corbin Henderson moved to Santa Fe during World War I and took particular interest in Tsireh, assembling a large body of his work. The paintings in this exhibition were donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1979 by her daughter, Alice H. Rossin.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum collection includes fifty-one watercolors created between 1917 and 1930. The Modern Pueblo Painting of Awa Tsireh is the first time the group of paintings have been on public view together. The exhibition serves to integrate more fully Tsireh’s work into the story of American art. The exhibition was organized by Joann Moser, deputy chief curator.