Models who made Taos history

Talk reveals the Native women behind the famous paintings that helped fashion Taos as an art center

By Tamra Testerman
Posted 1/23/20

Behind every portrait of a Taos Pueblo person painted by a member of the Taos Society of Artists there is a subject with a name that more often than not does not match the title of the painting.

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Models who made Taos history

Talk reveals the Native women behind the famous paintings that helped fashion Taos as an art center

Posted

Behind every portrait of a Taos Pueblo person painted by a member of the Taos Society of Artists there is a subject with a name that more often than not does not match the title of the painting.

Names like "The Corn Husker," "The Gardner," "The Farmer," "The Water Person," "Navajo Woman." These works have graced the walls of museums and galleries for over a century, but the human names of their subjects remain a mystery.

The Taos Art Museum plans to shed some light on the models who posed for TSA members and R.C. Gorman in its latest in a series of lectures called Taos Treasures. Bernadette Track, the daughter of Taos Pueblo model and potter Geronima Suazo Track, who recently died, is planning to shed light on her mother's experience posing for TSA contemporary Joseph Fleck, and her own experience posing for Navajo artist R.C. Gorman as a teenager. She will also discuss the life of Pueblo models and bonds formed between artists and their subjects at a talk planned Wednesday (Jan. 29) at 5:30 p.m. at The Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, 227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

The life of a Taos Pueblo model in the early 1900s was far from glamorous, according to Track. Her mother walked to town in the early morning to sit as a model for Fleck. She was paid 10 cents and walked back to the pueblo hours later. Her mother said the work was grueling. The artist required models to sit for hours in the same position, but the money was good for the time. Geronima Suazo used her earnings to improve the conditions of her home on the pueblo. For instance, she put in new linoleum tile, a luxury in the day.

In the summer of 1993, Bernadette Track was sitting in her green Chevy pickup outside her a two-room house with no electricity or running water on the pueblo. "The gas gage on the truck was on empty." Track studied theater and dance in New York City for a year on a scholarship at the Juilliard School. Her dress, manner and attitude reflected a big city influence, "spandex, high heels and a miniskirt, boots and lots of jewelry." R.C. Gorman took notice of the teenager and asked her model for him. Track said she was reluctant because she didn't know what that entailed, but said yes because she needed gas for her truck.

Gorman told her to show up to his studio on Ledoux Street at 10 a.m. He ordered a deep purple skirt and crimson top custom made for her for their sessions. Track said the clothes "made her feel so special." The sitting lasted only a few minutes, as the artist worked fast, Track explained. After a session Gorman would say, " 'It's 12 o'clock somewhere,' so we drank wine and gossiped."

It was a relationship that lasted until a month before Gorman died in November 2003. Her first check was for $8, Gorman increased her pay over the years to $15 and then $20. For her final pose, he paid her $35. There were perks like "good food and wine, parties with important people and dressing in beautiful clothes. R.C. took me to restaurants and told me to order the most expensive thing on the menu. When I asked what if I don't like it, he said take it home. It was the best job I ever had."

Track said she "made Gorman a millionaire - the Taos Pueblo people who modeled for the TSA artists made them very wealthy, too." She wants to give credit to the models by placing the real names to "The Corn Husker," "The Water Person" and "The Gardener," among others. In her lecture she plans to recount the story of her mother's involvement, her experience and that of other prominent models from the Taos Pueblo you may not know, but recognize in the paintings.

Tickets to the presentation are $10 or free for members. To purchase a ticket, visit taosartmuseum.org or call (575) 758-2690, ext. 101.

Winter hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays. Admission is $10; $9 for senior; $6 for students; and free for members. Visitation is also free for Taos County residents every Sunday. There is no charge to visit the gardens or view exhibitions in the Fechin Studio.

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