Grounds for Friendship: Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin

The exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin explores how potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979) brought the American Southwest into focus as a culturally rich region that fostered artistic expression. Martinez and Gilpin were friends in New Mexico over many decades. The artworks in this exhibition overlap in content and display to underscore the artists’ relationship with each other, which transcended boundaries of place and culture.

Laura Gilpin, Maria Martinez Making Pottery, 1959; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 14 ½ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman (left) and Fred E. Mang, Jr.,Laura Gilpin taking photographs along dirt road, 1971; Reproduction of gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Gift of the artist and Laura Gilpin P1979.98; ©1971 Fred E. Mang, Jr. (right)

Left to right: Laura Gilpin, Maria Martinez Making Pottery, 1959; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 14 ½ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman; and Fred E. Mang, Jr., Laura Gilpin taking photographs along dirt road, 1971; Reproduction of gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Gift of the artist and Laura Gilpin P1979.98; ©1971 Fred E. Mang, Jr.

Gilpin first got to know Martinez and other Pueblo and Navajo people through her lifelong companion, Betsy Forster.

Laura Gilpin, Women Returning from a Trip to the Trading Post, 1950; Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Laura Gilpin, Women Returning from a Trip to the Trading Post, 1950; Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

In 1930, Forster and Gilpin moved from Colorado to New Mexico, where Gilpin planned to photograph the rugged terrain. Forster became a field nurse with the New Mexico Association on Indian Affairs, a position through which she—and Gilpin—became intimately connected to the local population.

Laura Gilpin frequently photographed artists in the process of creating rugs, jewelry, and pottery. Over the years, Gilpin photographed Maria Martinez and her family during the many stages of making pottery, from processing raw clay to shaping bowls and jars, painting decoration, and even firing the pieces. Gilpin never photographed anyone without their permission, and she frequently formed relationships with her subjects. Her documentary prints are intimate portraits that capture the personalities and detailed features of her individual sitters.

For Maria Martinez, relationships with family, community members, friends, and people from the art world were a guiding force throughout her life.

Maria Martinez and Popovi Da, Black-on-black olla, 1963; Polished blackware pottery with matte slip paint ; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art University of Oklahoma, Norman

Maria Martinez and Popovi Da, Black-on-black olla, 1963; Polished blackware pottery with matte slip paint ; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art University of Oklahoma, Norman

She learned pottery-making techniques from an aunt, and later added new methods as she collaborated with her husband and other family members. She collaborated with her husband, Julian, until his death in 1943, but she also worked with her sons—particularly Popovi Da—as well as daughters-in-law, and her grandson Tony Da, who was Popovi’s son. She also shared these processes with others, demonstrating her unique form of artwork in her home community and at art shows and expositions around the country. These collaborations cemented her legacy and lasting influence on Pueblo pottery.

Visit the museum and explore New Ground, on view through May 14, 2017.

Adapted from text by Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Christina Burke, curator of Native and non-Western art at the Philbrook Museum of Art, and Catherine Whitney, chief curator at the Philbrook Museum of Art.

New Ground: Laura Gilpin

Contemporaries and friends, potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979) brought the American Southwest into focus as a culturally rich region that fostered artistic expression. The exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin pairs 26 ceramic pieces by Martinez and her family with more than 40 vintage photographs by Gilpin.

Fred E. Mang, Jr.,Laura Gilpin taking photographs along dirt road, 1971; Reproduction of gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Gift of the artist and Laura Gilpin P1979.98; ©1971 Fred E. Mang, Jr.

Fred E. Mang, Jr., Laura Gilpin taking photographs along dirt road, 1971; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Gift of the artist and Laura Gilpin, © 1971 Fred E. Mang, Jr.

Described during her lifetime as the “grand dame of American photography,” Laura Gilpin’s career spanned more than six decades. Throughout her career, she deftly used her chosen medium, black-and-white photography, to accentuate both the grand expanses of the Western landscape as well as the individual faces of the Native people who lived there. Through her elegant photographs, she emerged as a celebrated chronicler of the cultural geography of the American Southwest.

Laura Gilpin, A Navaho Costume of the 1880s at Window Rock Fair, 1951 Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Laura Gilpin, A Navaho Costume of the 1880s at Window Rock Fair, 1951; Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Born in Colorado, Gilpin attended a Connecticut preparatory school to study music and later the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York. Her earliest prints were soft-focused, romantic images that reflected Pictorialism, a popular movement in turn-of-the-century photography that sought to promote the medium as an art form. As photography advanced in the early decades of the 20th century, Gilpin turned away from the Pictorialist-inspired images she had been making and instead began taking “straight photographs,” images in crisp focus and with high contrast.

Gilpin considered herself a landscape photographer, but her images chronicling people and their activities are perhaps her most distinctive work. Like other photographers documenting the American scene during the 1920s and ’30s, Gilpin’s portraits capture humanity and changing conditions in rural America. She focused her lens on the American life she came to know living and working among the Pueblo and Navajo peoples. Gilpin’s Southwest is always a peopled landscape and not a wilderness untouched by human hands.

Laura Gilpin, The Summer Shelter in the Cove, Arizona, 1934; Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Laura Gilpin, The Summer Shelter in the Cove, Arizona, 1934; Gelatin silver print; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

In a field traditionally championed by men, Gilpin was one of the first women to capture the landscape of the West on film and to comment—through her imagery and in her writings—upon the interconnectedness between the environment and human activity. Hefting heavy camera equipment, she trekked great distances by foot, jeep, or plane to reach remote locations in pursuit of views, often flying dangerously low in airplanes to achieve her aerial shots. Unbounded by physical risks and societal restrictions, Gilpin pursued photography in the Southwest well into her 80s.

Visit the museum and explore New Ground, on view through May 14, 2017.

Adapted from text by Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Christina Burke, curator of Native and non-Western art at the Philbrook Museum of Art, and Catherine Whitney, chief curator at the Philbrook Museum of Art.

Opening Tomorrow: Border Crossing and New Ground

On Friday, February 17th, NMWA will open two exhibitions featuring women artists of the Southwest. In Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara, Albuquerque-based artist Jami Porter Lara (b. 1969) uses a millennia-old process to make pottery resembling a ubiquitous icon of modern life—the plastic bottle. New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin explores the work of potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979).

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-3SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 16 x 8 in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-3SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 16 x 8 in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

In Border Crossing, conceptual artist Jami Porter Lara explores connections between ideas that are typically set at odds: nature and artifice, art and trash, and past and present. Her works urge viewers to rethink these divisions by combining processes of the past with iconography of the present day. Her clay vessels, coil-built by hand, resemble the plastic bottle, an object that signifies recent human activity and material culture.

She takes inspiration from the remains of ancient pottery, which she has found scattered along the U.S.–Mexico border interspersed with the present-day detritus of migrants heading north. Porter Lara speaks of her work as a reverse archaeological process; she digs into issues of the present and the future by applying tools of the past. Using traditional methods to make contemporary vessels, Porter Lara recasts the throwaway plastic bottle and invites viewers to contemplate how time and place inform our interpretations of objects.

New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin presents a perspective on the Southwest contrary to dominant 19th- and 20th-century narratives, which typically cast the American West as a masculine place of staged romance or rugged conquest. Pueblo potter Maria Martinez and photographer Laura Gilpin brought the American Southwest into focus as a culturally rich region that fostered artistic expression.

Laura Gilpin, Upper End of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, ca. 1960s; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 13 ¾ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman; © 1979 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Laura Gilpin, Upper End of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, ca. 1960s; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 13 ¾ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

New Ground pairs 26 ceramic pieces by Martinez with more than 40 vintage photographs by Gilpin, offering documentary and physical connections between the land, the people, and their art-making traditions.

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Storage jar, ca. 1940; Polished blackware pottery with matte paint, 16 x 22 ¼ in. diameter; Philbrook Museum of Art, Gift of Clark Field

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Storage jar, ca. 1940; Polished blackware pottery with matte paint, 16 x 22 ¼ in. diameter; Philbrook Museum of Art, Gift of Clark Field

Martinez’s strikingly modern-looking vessels grew out of ancient Pueblo artistic traditions, which she and her husband, Julian, revived. Gilpin, hailed during her lifetime as the “grand dame of American photography,” is best known for her documentary prints, which include aerial landscapes and intimate portraits.

Works on view in both exhibitions transcend conventional ideas about Southwestern art and explore the region as a place where modernity reckons with the past.

Visit the museum and explore Border Crossing and New Ground, both on view through May 14, 2017.