A VISIT WITH ETHELINDA AT HER STUDIO IN SANTA FE, NM
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Audrey Hall
This story was featured in the April 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
What elements were important to you in designing your studio? My studio is a sanctuary. It is important for it to be quiet, well lit, and spacious.
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your fine-art career? I am grateful I can do something I love every day and support myself with it.
What do you keep in your studio? I have many friends: four horse sculptures made of wood and clay, one of my old paintings from the 1970s, eye drops, and coffee. There are shells my father brought me from Palmyra.
Do you listen to music in the studio? I love music. I enjoy Beth Hart, Iris Dement, Bob Dylan, and Over the Rhine. But I do not play music if I am painting a very challenging area like a face.
If your studio were on fire, what one thing would you save? I would save Rum, my fox-red Labrador.
How does the surrounding landscape influence your work? Nature is the best guide. As I really look at what I am painting, I realize I can’t assume the effects of light. But rather than depending solely on memory, it works best for me when I am in touch with the real thing. When you see it every day and are familiar with it, you can do a better job.
What attracts you to horses as subject matter? I simply love, and always have loved, horses. I grew up in Hawaii riding my horses bareback in the Kohala Mountains. Horses are mystical creatures. They invite me to paint them. Other subject matter may arise, but horses are “always.”
What attracts you to Native American themes? When I came out West, I felt I needed a subject that was of the West. I had painted many different things but never Native Americans. I found them fascinating. Their remarkable clothing with its fringe, beads, and feathers seems to have been inspired by birds. There is an enormous amount of symbolism involved—details I never would have known. My ethnographic consultants, Rosemary and the late Dennis Lessard, have made these paintings possible. What I am trying to do is make an accurate record—with great respect—of a culture that no longer exists. The Native Americans do not ride with beads and feathers in the mountains anymore. It is important to preserve and understand such a time—a time, for instance, of the Ghost Dance, when beautifully painted shirts and dresses were believed to have the power to fend off the white man’s bullets. Each painting is accompanied by a full history of the tribe’s clothing, origin, and dates.
You have traveled extensively. Why did you settle in New Mexico? When I arrived in New Mexico, my late husband, Lawrence Robbins, and I were driving in on Interstate 40, and you could see for miles around. There was a series of plateaus covered with shiny ice-melt that descended into Santa Fe. It was very reflective, silvery, and kind of magical. There were panoramic views with no obstacles. When we lived on Cape Cod and in Los Angeles, there was this closed feeling. Here you could look all around and see horizons. I was struck by a feeling of such openness. Somehow my artwork evolved and reflected this vastness. My canvases became larger, the brushwork looser and wider.
What artists have influenced you? Many Impressionists, including Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri Matisse. Also Leon Gaspard, Nicolai Fechin, Walter Ufer, and John Singer Sargent.
What impresses you about other artists’ works? When I see something I wish I had painted, it has a quality of “meltiness”—no sharp outlines around everything, loose with no hard edges, and with brush strokes that give the impression that one color is melting into the next color. It impresses me when an artist understands lighting, too.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not painting? Seeing friends, traveling, hiking, cooking, and driving my fast car, a BMW M3, on the high road to Taos or any road in the mountains that is curvy.
What is one place people will never find you? Working in a nuclear power plant.
Where do you take people when they come to visit you in Santa Fe? Abiquiu, Sugar Nymphs Bistro in Peñasco, Taos, and museums everywhere.
Manitou Galleries, Santa Fe, NM.
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