Thursday, October 24, 2013

Re: Catching Up -- The Cassidy Collection

We spend quite a bit of time in Santa Fe, and a fair amount of the time we spend there, we're doing something at La Fonda on the Plaza, the iconic Fred Harvey hotel that has served as the city's social hub for generations.

I can't remember when I first visited La Fonda, but I do remember very distinctly seeing the Cassidy paintings the first time. They were, and I think they are, stunning.

Gerald Cassidy (né Ira Diamond) was a founding member of the Santa Fe Artists Colony, arriving in Santa Fe in 1912, and sometime in the 19-teens he got together with the handful of other "easel artists" in Santa Fe to form the Art Colony -- which in a sense still exists.

He created the collection at La Fonda in 1922 when the hotel itself was still in the process of self-creation. They are large works on brown paper, most of them essentially life-size, executed in casein, and remarkably lively even after all these years.

"Santiago" is one of the most striking works of the collection. It is thought the model may have been an elder at one of the nearby pueblos, although Cassidy may have invented the character without a live model. In the '20's, it was customary for Indians in New Mexico to don Plains Indian headdresses and sometimes Plains Indians garments as well, to please artists and tourists who expected "Indians" to dress that way, even though the Pueblo peoples never had done so in the past. "Santiago," it will be remembered, was the cry of the Spaniards whenever they commenced to slaughter among the New World native peoples, a cry that they brought to the Americas after using it so successfully in ridding the Iberian peninsula of the Moorish taint. Consequently, this image titled "Santiago" has multiple layers of ironic commentary that Cassidy may or may not have intended.

Cassidy's "Shalako" is also quite striking for very different reasons. It is certainly a more accurate rendering of nearby Indian appearance and customs, but without context it seems perfectly astonishing, which I imagine Cassidy was aiming for.

Of course in New Mexico, you have to have a Spanish Dancer, wearing a Spanish shawl from China-na-na (something I picked up from a zarzuela, "La Verbena de la Paloma" that we worked on in St. Louis ages ago. Embroidered Spanish shawls were -- and apparently still are -- made in Manila, but the Spanish sometimes said they were from China...)

And what's New Mexico without a priest? I ask you.

And if you're going to have a priest, you'd better have a penitente, something like the matachine below:

But then, ultimately, if you are going to come to New Mexico from out of town, from Back East especially, you will carry with you an image of trailblazer and mountain man Kit Carson, for whom there are schools and monuments erected, and of whom Gerald Cassidy did a portrait.

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