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Velarde, Pablita (1918—)

Velarde, Pablita (1918—)

Native American artist. Name variations: Tse Tsan (Golden Dawn). Born in September 1918 at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico; daughter of Herman and Marianita Velarde; married Herbert Hardin, in 1942 (divorced 1959); children: Helen Bagsaw Hardin (1943–1984, an artist); Herbert Hardin, Jr. (b. 1944).


grand prize, Philbrook Art Center's Annual Indian Art Show (1948); awarded Ordre des Palmes Académiques, Government of France (1954); grand prize, Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, Gallup, New Mexico (1955); Western Book of the Year citation (1960); Philbrook Special Trophy, Outstanding Contributions to Indian Art, the first woman to receive this honor (1968); New Mexico Governor's Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts (1977); honor award, National Women's Caucus for Art.

Selected works:

Koshares of Taos (1947); The Betrothal (1953); Old Father (1955); The Green Corn Dance (1956); The Herd Dance (1970s).

One of the most prominent Tewa painters from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, Pablita Velarde was born on a September morning in 1918; at a naming ceremony four days later, she was called Tse Tsan (Golden Dawn) by her paternal grandmother Qualupita , a medicine woman. Pablita, as she was later known, was only three years old when her mother died from tuberculosis, leaving her father to raise three daughters plus a new baby. Shortly thereafter, both Velarde and the infant contracted a disease that caused them to lose their eyesight. After she was treated by her father, Velarde's eyesight, although weak, eventually returned two years later. She grew up watching the ceremonial dances of the Pueblo, especially impressed by the elaborate costumes and masks.

After attending a local day school, in 1924, Velarde and her two older sisters enrolled in St. Catherine's Indian School in Santa Fe. When the girls returned to the pueblo during the summers, Velarde frequently stayed with her grandmother. From her, Velarde learned traditional Pueblo customs and arts, including the art of pottery, while her father, a respected storyteller, would weave together traditional myths and legends for her amusement. She also eagerly studied the petroglyphs as she played among the Puye Ruins, gaining an appreciation for ancestral designs.

In 1932, Velarde continued her studies at the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Santa Fe Indian School. Under the tutelage of art teacher Dorothy Dunn , a pioneer in the revival of Indian art and the founder of the first Indian art school in the United States, Velarde began to paint from her tribal experience and to master the tribal symbols. Dunn taught Velarde the basics of color and brush handling and how to express action from memory. Under Dunn's guidance, Velarde was initially drawn to painting Santa Clara women involved in their daily rituals. She then turned her artistic attention to Native ceremonials, capturing them with photographic detail. Velarde's talents were quickly recognized. In 1933, at age 15, she was selected to work with artist Olive Rush on murals for the Chicago World's Fair.

Velarde's success, however, created distracting tensions at home. First, her art was not for Indians but rather only told about them. Even more important, painting was traditionally viewed as the domain of men, and thus Velarde was viewed as a rebel. Her father, in fact, attempted to coerce her to forsake her painting and learn typing instead. At his insistence, she returned to Santa Clara, entered a nearby high school, and enrolled in a business course. After a year, however, she returned to the government school in Santa Fe and graduated from there in 1936, the first in her family to earn a high school diploma.

After teaching arts and crafts at the Santa Clara Day School and touring the Midwest and East with Ernest Thompson Seton and his second wife Julia Buttree Seton , Velarde returned to New Mexico and resumed her artistic efforts. At first, she pursued further collaboration with Rush. For instance, in 1938, under the auspices of the Federal Art Project, they completed an impressive mural depicting home activities of the Santa Clara Pueblo for the facade of the Maisel Trading Post in Albuquerque. In 1939, the Park Service employed Velarde to paint archaeological and ethnological murals for the Bandelier National Monument Visitors' Center, murals which reconstructed the life of her ancestors in Frijoles Canyon. At the conclusion of this project, Velarde returned to Santa Clara, where she built her own studio and continued to paint for several years before moving to Albuquerque.

Upon arriving there, Velarde first found employment as a switchboard operator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. While greatly disliking this job for its obvious lack of creative outlets, she did meet Herbert Hardin, a non-Indian night watchman at the Bureau, and they were married in 1942. She continued to work until her husband was drafted for military service and sent to Texas. Velarde followed him there but, unable to find adequate housing, she returned to Albuquerque to live with her husband's family. She then rejoined Hardin following his transfer to Pennsylvania but went back to Santa Clara with their two young children when he was stationed in California. After finishing his tour of duty, Herbert remained in California to complete his education, while health reasons forced Velarde and the children to remain in Santa Clara. With Herbert in school, the family desperately needed income, and Velarde once again began to paint. During this period, she produced some of her finest work. Ironically, when Herbert eventually returned to Albuquerque, he was disturbed by the extent to which Velarde's art had consumed her energies. They eventually divorced in 1959. Their daughter, Helen Bagshaw Hardin , also became a distinguished artist.

Although centered around the rich cultural heritage of the Pueblos, Velarde's work continued to evolve in many directions. For instance, in 1960 she wrote and illustrated Old Father, Story Teller, a book of Tewa tribal legends, which resulted from the time she spent listening to and recording the stories of her father. She also began a project to record and preserve the traditions and customs of the Pueblos as remembered by the older members of her community. After some months of work, however, she began to sense hostile feelings and ultimately abandoned the project. In the 1970s, she completed four panels for the Museum of New Mexico under a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities and a large acrylic mural, The Herd Dance, for the new Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Velarde's career has spanned more than 50 years. She has exhibited widely and has received many accolades for her work, including the Philbrook Art Center's Grand Prize in 1948 and a special trophy for Outstanding Contributions to Indian Art in 1968, which made her the first woman to be so honored. In 1954, she received the Ordre des Palmes Académiques from the French government, and in 1977, the governor of New Mexico presented her with the Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts for her book Old Father, Story Teller. In 1990, Velarde received the Women's Caucus for the Arts Award for Life Achievement. One of her paintings was presented by President Lyndon

Johnson to the prime minister of Denmark, and in 1993 a retrospective of her work, "Woman's Work: The Art of Pablita Velarde," was held at the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe. Steeped in the fundamentals of the "traditional style" of the Santa Fe School, while meticulously detailing Indian crafts, ceremonies, myths, and daily life in her many paintings and murals, Velarde's work is imbued with historical scholarship, ethnographic research, and a clear sense of passion for her subjects. It is thereby valued on an anthropological as well as an aesthetic level, particularly for her insight into the lives of the Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande area.


Bataille, Gretchen M., ed. Native American Women. NY: Garland, 1993.

Gridley, Marion E. American Indian Women. NY: Hawthorne, 1974, pp. 94–104.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists: From Early Indian Times to the Present. Avon, 1982.

Lisa S. Weitzman , freelance writer, Cleveland, Ohio

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