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The Best of the King Collection

August 11 - October 27, 2007 


Explore this beautiful western art collection donated to Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center by Francis King in 1980. He recognized that through the eyes of these artists we could gain insight into the spirit and history of the region. Works of The Taos Ten are included in this exhibit.  Following is text from the exhibition galleries:


The Francis King Collection of Western Art: A Brief History

Francis King was born in Pueblo, Colorado, on July 30th, 1902 to George Edward and Minerva "Minnie" King. He graduated from Centennial High School in 1920. After graduation, he began working with his father, George E King, founder of King Lumber.

After the flood of 1921, the lumber business boomed. The industries that decided to remain in Pueblo required rebuilding, as did the homes of the flood victims. To prevent such a disastrous event from recurring, the Pueblo Conservancy District was created. The District initiated a project of building a cement retaining wall to rechannel the Arkansas River and contain future flood waters. This project required the goods and services that King Lumber was in business to offer. Francis' job for four years was making sure that there was enough cement for the contractors of the conservancy project to complete their portion of the wall. The environment of a booming town, Western folklore, his father's example, and his personal experiences helped Francis to learn to appreciate the West, its history, the integrity of its inhabitants, and the rewards of hard work.

Shortly after his marriage to his first wife, Katherine Jackson, in 1930, they began collecting art. Motivated to purchase a piece of art simply to adorn the walls of their new home, they set out for Taos. Through numerous trips to galleries, advice from artists and other collectors, and literature, the novice collector quickly became educated in Western art. They began their collection with the purchase of Thomas L. Lewis's painting "Lower Hondo Valley".

Because of his interest in Western art he was for many years a member of the Gilcrease Museum Association in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and a member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame Association in Oklahoma City.

Francis retired from King Lumber in 1965 at age 63, but remained Chairman of the Board. Mr. King was a great supporter of Pueblo, and through the years was active in many community organizations, having been president of the YMCA, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Rotary Club.

Throughout the years, Francis accumulated a visually rich and historic collection of Western art. Mr. King was first approached as a donor in 1978 by a trustee of the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center who recognized the value and significance of the collection to this region. On February 22, 1980, Francis King signed documents officially donating his collection of Western Art to the Board of Trustees of the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center.

The collection, valued at over two-thirds of a million dollars, originally consisted of one hundred paintings and one bronze sculpture. At that time, it was one of the largest gifts ever given by an individual to the city and county of Pueblo. Today the collection has grown to over 250 pieces, valued at over 1.6 million dollars.

The collection spans over one hundred-fifty years of our Western history and represents a rich diversity of styles and subject matter. It begins with artist Joseph Hitchins in 1825, and includes such greats as Gerald Cassidy, John Clymer, Gerard C. Delano, Frank Tenney Johnson, William Moyers, O. C. Seltzer, and Harvey Otis Young.

Also noteworthy are all of the Taos Society of Artists, representing the Western American art colony: Kenneth Miller Adams, Oscar E. Berninghaus, E. L. Blumenschein, E. Irving Couse, Herbert Dunton, E. Martin Hennings, Victor Higgins, Bert Geer Phillips, Joseph H. Sharp, and Walter Ufer.

Through the eyes of these artists, we gain an insight into the spirit and color of the West, vividly recreating the world of the open-range cowboy, the Indians, the buffalo, the trappers, traders and scouts, the settlers, the railroads, the rugged mountains, plains and deserts -- a romantic and picturesque record of a period unique to America.

Pueblo native, businessman, and philanthropist Francis E. King passed away June 9, 1991, at the age of 89. 


The Taos Society of Artists

Joseph Henry Sharp
Bert Geer Phillips
Ernest L. Blumenschein
Oscar E. Berninghaus
Eanger Irving Couse
William Herbert Dunton
Victor Higgins
Walter Ufer
E. Martin Hennings
Kenneth Miller Adams

Taos Valley is a wide, flat plain in northern New Mexico, lying between the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the Rio Grande river. In 1898, two men, Ernest L Blumenschein and Bert Phillips, visited this region which was so ethnographically and geograpically rich. These were the men who began the Taos art colony. When they arrived, only about 25 Anglos resided in the village. Thirty years later the little town was known worldwide as a center where artists lived or visited.

In 1912, the year New Mexico became a state, six men founded the influential professional club called the Taos Society of Artists. They were: Joseph Henry Sharp, Bert Phillips, Ernest L. Blumenschein, Oscar E. Berninghaus, E. Irving Couse and W. Herbert Dunton. In later years they invited Victor Higgins, Walter Ufer, E. Martin Hennings and Kenneth M. Adams to become members. Catherine Carter Critcher, the only woman, was also invited to be a member due to her many visits to Taos from the East coast. The ten men became commonly known as The Taos Ten. All of the Taos Ten are represented in the Francis King Collection of Western Art.

The original members of the Taos Society of Artists attracted many followers to Taos. Among those followers were Barbara Latham, Ila McAfee, Gene Kloss, and Emil Bisttram. These artists works are represented in the King Collection as well.


The Francis King Collection of Western Art - A Sampling

Thomas Lewis, Lower Hondo Valley
In 1978, Francis King was first approached by a trustee of the SdCAC to consider donating his renowned collection of Western art to the SdCAC. Francis had been building this collection since the late 1950's, when he and his first wife -- Katherine Jackson --t ook a trip to Taos to buy their first painting to hang in their dining room.
William Robinson Leigh, Joining the Herd
Two years later, in February 1980, Francis King signed the official documents which gave his collection of Western art to the SdCAC. This collection took us from the status of "Arts Center" to that of "Museum," and it put us on the map among Western art collectors and institutions, because the collection Francis had managed to amass in 20 years was truly extraordinary.
Stanley Wood, Splitting the Herd
Francis King was born in Pueblo in 1902, just 53 years after the California gold rush, 43 years after the Colorado gold rush, and 33 years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Each of these events brought people West. The first were thrill seekers in search of money and adventure; later developers came West to capitalize on these people.
Charlie Dye, Pony Express
Francis was enraptured by the lore of the West, and he chose his artworks for their historical representation. The King Collection spans over 150 years and represents much Western history -- from gold panning to cattle rustling to the pony express, the wide range of paintings and sculptures offer a valuable historic and artistic record of Western history.
Joseph Sharp, Crow Village
One of the strengths of the King Collection is the fact that there is representation by each of the Taos Society of Artists -- a very prestigious group of artists working in Taos during the first half of this century. Since Maggie and David basically gave me carte blanche on what I would discuss today, I have chosen to give you a little background on this group.
Joseph Sharp, Indian with Pipe
This painting is very characteristic of Joseph Sharp, who was the first to travel to the region in 1883. He heard about Taos on this trip but did not visit it until ten years later, in 1893. In 1995, during a painting trip in Europe, Sharp told Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Geer Phillips about the beauty of New Mexico. One interesting fact about Joseph Sharp was that he was completely deaf.
Ernest Blumenschein, Rancho de Taos Church
In 1898, Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips set out from Denver in a horse-drawn wagon on their way to New Mexico. The wagon wheel broke near Taos, and as Blumenschein set out to walk to Taos Pueblo for help, each of them separately made the decision to stay. Though first trained to be a musician, he became the most celebrated member of the Taos Society.
Bert Geer Phillips, At the Corral
Bert Phillips developed a good rapport with the Taos Indians, and while other artists portrayed the Native American more realistically, Phillips preferred to portray them as an ideal symbol of innocence, grace and purity. Ironically, the romantic view these artists offered inadvertently aided developers by creating appealing images which attracted more tourists and settlers.
Oscar Berninghaus, Indians Riding through Sagebrush
Oscar Berninghaus, on the other hand, avoided romanticism. Unlike the other members of the Society-who had been schooled at many prestigious institutions -- he was entirely a self-taught. He first rode to Taos as a guest on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad's "Chili Line" in 1899. His love of the area drew him back every summer, until he moved to Taos permanently in 1925.
Eanger Irving Couse, Yakima Indian
Irving Couse, at the urging of Joseph Sharp, first visited Taos on a sketching trip in 1902. His work perpetuated a stereotypical image of the Native American, and he portrayed Pueblo Indians with a heroic romanticism. Many of his paintings were collected by the Santa Fe Railway for marketing, and he was commissioned in 1913 to illustrate a series of Santa Fe Railway calendars.
William Herbert Dunton, Untitled
Dunton studied under Blumenschein, who convinced him to visit Taos. He abandoned his career as one of America's top illustrators and moved to Taos in 1912. Unlike the other members of the Society, he became a full-fledged cowboy. He worked beside them and painted on location. Instead of painting Indians and Pueblo scenes, he preferred animals, hunters and cowboys.
Victor Higgins, Hondo Canyon
Victor Higgins preferred a more contemporary approach to painting than most of the other artists in the Society, and he was heavily influenced by cubism. He was originally sent to Taos by a patron to paint commissioned artworks. During the last five years of his life, he painted a series of small, plein-air landscapes he called "Little Gems." I believe this is one of those works.
Walter Ufer, Pueblo Afternoon
Walter Ufer, like several other Society artists, began his career as a commercial illustrator. He read about the Taos colony in newspaper articles and made his first visit to Taos in 1914.
Ernest Martin Hennings, Visitors Arriving, Taos Pueblo
Ernest Hennings first visited Taos in 1917, and moved there in 1921. Like most of the other artists in the Society, Ufer was a mature, established artist when he arrived, but he sought fresh material, removed from the established academic traditions of still lives, nudes and salon portraits.
Kenneth Adams, Winter Scene
Kenneth Adams was the youngest and most progressive member of the Taos Society, and he is considered a pivotal link between Taos Society artists and the later painters who moved to the area. He, like Higgins, was greatly influenced by cubism, and is considered a modernist. He was particularly inspired by the Hispanic cultures of the area, and this is reflected in this work.
These are the ten artists who formed the core of the Taos Society. The artwork done by these artists has great merit artistically, but even more than that, it developed an artform which was distinctly American and distinctly Southwestern. It helped to define 20th century art.
Francis King had great foresight in collecting the work of these artists. When he began, prices were still relatively reasonable. Now they are hard to find, and when one is available for sale, it is unattainable by all but the wealthiest collectors and museums.
We are very grateful to Francis King for this gift, which he bequeathed with an endowment to care for it -- another display of great foresight.

Credit lines pending for these images:

Hat First Boots


Sop & Taters


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