About This Exhibition

Modern photographer Laura Gilpin (1891-1979) and San Ildefonso potter Maria Martinez (1887-1980) may first appear as unlikely compatriots. In fact, they were friends over several decades in New Mexico, and the exhibition Icons of the Midcentury Southwest presents an exquisite pairing of their work. It includes 38 photographs and 17 ceramic pieces that date from the 1920s to the 1970s. Gilpin and Martinez are now heralded as leading artists of their time.

Born and raised in Colorado, Gilpin was educated in the East and trained as a photographer in New York with the legendary Clarence White. She returned to Colorado in the teens after her start as a pictorialist photographer. Her style evolved to the crisp focus and stark beauty of the epic American West. Starting in the mid-1920s, she traveled to the Navajo and Pueblo Reservations. She ultimately moved to Santa Fe in 1945, where she was close to the Native people and vistas that drove her art. She was permitted rare entry and intimacy in the Indian communities throughout the Southwest. Today, her photographs are unrivaled as a visual record of the profound changes and deep continuities in 20th-century American Indian life. Her friend in Santa Fe, Maria Martinez, also became a regular subject of Gilpin’s lens.

Maria Martinez lived her entire life in the community of San Ildefonso Pueblo, 20 miles northwest of Santa Fe. She initially learned pottery skills from her aunt. In the teens, with the encouragement of Santa Fe’s Laboratory of Anthropology director, Martinez successfully replicated a process to create ancient Pueblo black-on-black pottery. She and her family then produced this labor-intensive and highly specialized pottery, gaining acclaim and international attention. Today, this unique type of Puebelo blackware is highly collectible, and Maria Martinez pots are the most prized.

This special exhibition juxtaposes elegant ceramic forms in beautiful black luster with vintage black-and-white photographs of the Native potter and the epic expanse of the Western landscape.

The exhibition is organized by the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa and drawn from their permanent holdings as well as the Eugene B. Adkins Collection, jointly held by the Philbrook and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.

Black and white landscape photograph with a bout standing on a rock overlooking a herd of sheep in the foreground, a winding road through the desert flats and mountains in the background under a sky filled with puffy clouds

Laura Gilpin, The Little Shepherd, 1950, Gelatin silver print. ©1979 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist

Exhibition Sponsors

The Wichita presentation is generously sponsored by Fidelity Bank Foundation and Bill and Mary Lynn Oliver.