Cities and pueblos

The search for an authentic America

E. Martin Hennings, Rabbit Hunt, c. 1925, oil on canvas (Denver Art Museum). Speakers: Dr. Jennifer Henneman, Assistant Curator of Western American Art, Denver Art Museum, and Dr. Beth Harris

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Hennings, Rabbit Hunt

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Key points

  • The Taos Pueblo Indians have maintained residence for centuries in what is now New Mexico. Their history was deeply affected by the Spanish colonial presence.
  • The people in the painting wear 20th-century clothing as well as items that refer to their cultural identity as Pueblo people. This imagery disrupts the stereotype of the American Indian as belonging only to the past.
  • In the early 20th century, the American Southwest became a popular destination for tourists. Railroads made travel easier and developed marketing materials promoting the region as a site for recreation.
  • The landscape and the mix of Taos Pueblo Indians and Hispanic cultures drew academically-trained artists from cities like New York and Chicago. They were looking for fresh and distinctly American subjects that differed from the industrialized places the artists had come from.

Many readers today carry an image of New Mexico seen through the lens of Georgia O’Keeffe’s now famous paintings…But O’Keeffe is only the best-known of an extensive colony of artists drawn to New Mexico by its particular blend of austere beauty, premodern village life, and Pueblo and Hispanic spirituality. Beginning in the 1890s, artists from the East flocked to Taos and Santa Fe in northern New Mexico. Culturally remote from the Euro-dominated eastern half of the nation, New Mexico was, as Charles Lummis put it, “the United States which is not the United States.” Spanning the spectrum from academic to modernist, these artists struggled to anchor the lessons of their European training in native themes. The peasant cultures of Brittany had furnished subject matter for American artists working in France. Returning to the United States, they responded eagerly to the possibilities presented by the Pueblo Indians and Hispanic villagers of the Rio Grande Valley, whose lives seemed to embody a timeless round of earthbound ritual and communal piety.

From the Renaissance to the “new age” movements of the late twentieth century, Europeans have romanticized Native cultures as embodying virtues their own societies were lacking.

From Angela L. Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J. Wolf, and Jennifer L. Roberts, American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity (Washington University Libraries, 2018), p. 494. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Go Deeper

Learn more about this painting at the Denver Art Museum

What are some terms and issues to consider when learning about Native American arts and culture? 

What was the Taos Revolt of 1847? How did it demonstrate tensions between the Pueblo and the US government in the 19th century?

Learn about the Fred Harvey Company’s role in promoting tourism in the West

Read a biography of Fred Harvey

Look at the Fred Harvey Company records

More to think about

Compare Henning’s representation of Native Americans in Rabbit Hunt to photographs by Edward Curtis. How might images of Native Americans have contributed to perceptions about American Indians today?

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

[flickr_tags user_id=”82032880@N00″ tags=”Hennings,”]

More Smarthistory images…

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.