The Paintings of Burt Harwood
Burt and lucy at home
The Harwood Museum of Art is proud to honor its founder Lucy Harwood’s visionary spirit through a series of exhibitions celebrating the 90th anniversary of the 1923 conversion of Burt and Lucy Harwood’s estate to the Harwood Foundation.
In late 1922, shortly after the death of Burt Harwood, his widow Lucy Case Harwood invited a group of friends to advise her on the distribution of her estate, “El Pueblito,” located at 238 Ledoux Street in Taos, New Mexico. It was during this gathering that Ms. Harwood, in consultation with her closest friends and advisors, began to develop the concept that would soon manifest as the Harwood Foundation – now known as the Harwood Museum of Art. In this spirit, the gallery exhibiting The Paintings of Burt Harwood features not only Burt’s paintings but also, through exhibition design elements, an invitation to join Lucy Harwood and her friends at that fateful dinner gathering.
Burt Harwood’s talent as both a photographer and as a painter is on display in Single Lens Reflex: The Photographs of Burt Harwood, an exhibition on view in the George E. Foster, Jr. Gallery of Prints, Drawings and Photographs and in The Paintings of Burt Harwood, on view in the Mandelman-Ribak Gallery.
In spite of Harwood’s accomplishments in both fields, and despite his nomination by founding member Bert Geer Phillips, Burt Harwood’s nomination to the Taos Society of Artists was rejected. The reason for his rejection is not known; however, the curatorial team - as well as former Harwood Curator David L. Witt - propose three possibilities:
- Taos Society of Artists members simply did not believe that Harwood’s painting merited entry (and, given the period, they would not have considered his photographs as fine art)
- Burt’s straightforward portrayal of American Indians did not fit the idealized—and commercially successful—approach of the Taos Society of Artists, whose depiction of Native Americans appealed to the romanticized stereotypes of the “noble savage” in vogue at the time
- As a relatively recent arrival in Taos (1916) who spent much of his six years of residency travelling, Burt was not close to the other artists in the Society and would not have been considered a Taoseño by them.
Judging from Harwood’s photographs and surviving paintings, his rejection from the Taos Society of Artists does not appear to have impacted his enthusiasm or his output.
Burt Harwood chronicled an unrivaled view of Northern New Mexico through his honest renderings on canvas, and with his camera lens. His paintings and photographs addressed the realities of the First People’s life in Taos. In Harwood’s portrayal, his subjects retained their own identity - the blur of a young girl running in handed-down shoes rather than the stock moccasins, the Pueblo man smoking a cigarette instead of the conventional pipe.
Perhaps the finest example of this authenticity is The Apache, 1922, an accomplished rendering of the sitter that is both direct and convincing. A dispassionate observer, Burt Harwood was concerned with a sense of place rather than with the period’s sentimental view of the “Vanishing American.” Paintings such as Comanche Dance, Taos Pueblo, ca. 1920, demonstrate an objective approach enhanced by a strong personal style and a deep respect for honest narrative. The popular artists and illustrators of the day produced beautiful canvases extolling the Native American as a living (though passing) symbol of the West. The romanticized portraits of the Taos Society of Artists contributed to that mythology. A century later, the paintings and photographs of Burt Harwood show him to be, arguably, one of the most authentic artist chroniclers of early twentieth-century New Mexico.
Jina Brenneman, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions
Go here for more information about Burt Harwood's biography.