Gustave Baumann is one of the most recognized and beloved names associated with the Santa Fe art world in the 20th century. For more than five decades, beginning in 1918, the internationally renowned printmaker cultivated friendships with other artists that were full of colorful, artistic, humorous and small-town flavor—all of it brought to life in holiday greeting cards they made for one another. With guileless good humor and steady craft, the cards captured the personal lives and preoccupations that encapsulate the memories and spirit of their times.
In Gustave Baumann and Friends: Artist Cards from Holidays Past, opening November 7, Tom Leech, director of the Palace Press, and guest curator Jean Moss pull from a cache of more than 400 cards donated to the New Mexico History Museum in 2012 by the Ann Baumann Trust. Buttressing the collection are loans from private collectors and the New Mexico Museum of Art. Besides “Gus” Baumann, the exhibit features examples by such New Mexico favorites as Paul Horgan; Olive Rush; Willard Clark; Barbara Latham; Joseph Imhof; Louis Ewing; Will Shuster; Chuzo Tamotzu; B.J.O. Nordfeldt; Ernest and Helen Blumenschein; John Sloan; and Tom Lea. The cards are held at the museum’s Fray Angélico Chávez History Library.
The Museum of New Mexico Press is publishing a companion book on Oct. 15. Leech will produce a limited-edition Palace Press version of it, using Baumann’s original blocks and paper found in the artist’s Santa Fe studio after his death in 1971.
Is that intimidating? A little, Leech acknowledged, “but then I just ask myself, `What would Gus do?’”
Mixing Santa Claus with Deer Dancers, vaqueros and even diapers, the cards sit somewhere between idle doodle and polished artwork—and might just inspire you to create a card of your own. (We’ll have some workshops to help you scratch that itch.) Staged in the museum’s Mezzanine Gallery, the exhibit (through March 1, 2015) includes a rare audio recording of Ann Baumann talking about Christmases past.
During his tenure at the Palace Press, Leech has nurtured a longtime admiration of his fellow printer. He even oversaw the re-creation of Baumann’s studio within the museum, complete with his original tools, press and inks. (See a photo of it by clicking here.)
“My first reaction when I saw the cards? Just delight,” he said. “They gave a glimpse into the personal lives and humor and insights of all these different artists. You might know an artist from their paintings, but here they’re just goofing around. All of these artists knew one another; they knew what they were capable of. No one felt they had to show off. There are some really technically beautiful pieces, but most are people saying `I want to send a Christmas card, but I don’t want to buy one so I’ll whip one out.’ They’re kind of homey, simple, and direct.”
And like anyone else, they want to show off their family at Christmastime. But instead of a family photo, artists like Baumann and Willard Clark took drawings their children did and turned them into linoleum-block prints. Sometimes, the artists took traditional symbols of Christmas or the New Year and put their own spin on them. Sometimes the inspiration came from “far out” in the artist’s mind, or were influenced by global events, community spirit or the beauty of the New Mexico landscape.
Baumann’s output includes a card a year from 1919 to 1970, giving him ample opportunity to comment on Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II and the dawn of the Space Age with a brand of humor that Leech described as “sometimes unfathomable.”
The exhibit includes about 100 cards, but in the pantheon of great Santa Fe artists, a few are notably absent. “Most of the participants were either printmakers or had printmaking in their background,” Leech said. Perhaps because of that, you won’t find a Raymond Jonson, the Modernist painter who once lived next-door to Baumann, or a Georgia O’Keeffe.
For Leech, that’s OK. “I feel like people come to New Mexico for Georgia O’Keeffe,” he said, “but they stay for Gustave Baumann.”