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Gene Kloss: A Centennial Tribute
The Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center in Pueblo, Cob., is the largest repository of artworks by renowned printmaker Gene Kloss. This year, the center will honor the artist's centennial birthday with three exhibits featuring her work from the center's collection that includes over 400 prints, 40 tools, plates and even her printing press.
About the artist
The artist we know as Gene Kioss was born Alice Geneva Glasier in 1903 in Oakland, California. Her earliest memory was of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. As a young girl she took piano lessons and became proficient enough to play live during silent movies. She attended local schools, and proceeded on to the University of California at Berkeley where she graduated with honors in art in 1924. (right: Gene Kloss)
During her final semester at Berkeley, Gene attended a seminar in etching. At this seminar she was given a small plate to work at home, but she had trouble applying the ground. After messing up her mother's kitchen with several attempts, she went out and purchased a two dollar book entitled How to Make an Etching. Using this book she completed her plate, and returned with it to class. Her professor inked the plate, and Gene turned the big wheel of the press. After pulling the print her professor exclaimed, "If this is your first etching, you are going to be an etcher," which was all the inspiration she needed to embark on a long and notable career as a printmaker.
Following this seminar, Gene completed several prints which she shopped to various galleries in San Francisco. She was turned down at each one. Her final attempt was the famous Gump's department store, where her etchings were accepted for sale. These early prints are signed A. Glasier, and had an original price tag of five dollars a piece.
The following year, in 1925, Gene took a couple of short courses at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, which would be the last of her formal education. That same year, she married a young poet named Phillips Kloss, at which time she shortened her middle name, Geneva, to become Gene Kloss. Together they embarked on a honeymoon journey, driving south through California, across Arizona, and on to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Phil's brother had a ranch. From Las Cruces, the young couple continued north to Taos. Gene made many sketches throughout this trip, and while camped in Taos Canyon they cemented a small portable press to a rock, printing several of the 52 plates she completed that year.
After the honeymoon trip, the young couple returned to California, but visited Taos regularly over the next two decades. A critic in California, writing about one of her exhibits, referred to Gene as "the artist who commutes to Taos." (right Of Taos/Apache Lineage #503)
While living in the Bay Area, Gene and Phil became friends with a group of artists, writers and musicians who gathered to share and critique works. Gene would take her prints, and Phil would recite his poems. One young man in the group was training to be a concert pianist, and also enjoyed photography. During one of their evenings together, he told Phil that he thought photographs should be like Gene's prints -- ranging from pure white to absolute black. That young man later gave up his musical aspirations in favor of photography. His name was Ansel Adams.
Gene continued to produce prints of California, and during visits to Taos she captured scenery, portraits and regional ceremonies, including Native American and Penitente rituals. She also completed paintings in both oil and watercolor. The quality of Gene's work was well recognized, and she was chosen as one of three artists to represent New Mexico at a Paris exhibition in 1935. She also completed several prints for the Works Progress Administration. In 1950, she was elected an Associate Member of the National Academy of Design. Since all new members were required to submit a portrait, she chose to do her own, entitled "Self Portrait and the Golden Gate." She was named a National Academician in 1972.
During World War II, the couple remained in California while Phil worked in a shipyard and Gene produced new prints and paintings. After the war, they resumed their trips to Taos and eventually settled there in a simple home near Taos Canyon with no electricity or running water.
In 1965, they moved to southwest Colorado, providing new
hiking territory and new material for sketches and etchings. Ouray, Telluride,
Silverton and Mesa Verde were all of interest. Gene and Phil purchased a
pickup truck with a camper so they could stay overnight at these places.
Their first night in the camper was spent in an isolated spot west of Lake
City, Colorado. It was a very noisy
night, full of violent rain and hail, but the next morning provided a fine
view of low clouds lifting from the peaks. Nearly two decades later, this
memorable night was documented in the piece, "Canyon Clearing from
Thunderstorm." After a few years in Colorado, they returned to New
Mexico where they built their final home in the sagebrush northeast of Taos.
(right: Enduring Sanctuary, drypoint, etching and aquatint,
1973 --The back of the Ranchos de Taos church)
Gene and Phil became acquainted with many people in the northern New Mexico pueblos. Adam and Marie Trujillo, and their family at Taos Pueblo, were perhaps their closest friends. Adam, whose Native American name was Red Deer, modeled for several of her prints. He posed for both "Taos Eagle Dancers," which Gene considered her most perfect aquatint, and with his son Pat for the piece, "Shield Dancers." While in Taos as visitors or residents, Gene and Phil attended many ceremonies at Taos, Cochiti, San Felipe, Santa Ana and Santo Domingo. Gene politely refrained from sketching during ceremonies, but she had an acute visual memory and was always welcome in the pueblos to sketch when no ceremony was being held.
In 1981, Gene and Phil published Gene K/ass Etchings, a book containing reproductions of eighty prints by Gene with commentary by Phil. The final section of the book offered a catalogue raisonné of Gene's prints through 1981. She maintained a supplemental list of her final works, the last of which were done in 1985, when Gene was 82 years old. She continued to print incomplete editions into 1992. Her primary gallery was, and remains, Gallery A in Taos.
In all, there are 627 different prints listed, and all editions were printed by the artist herself. There are also a few pieces which are curiously not included on any list. Gene was awarded numerous prizes for her prints, and participated in many one-person and group exhibitions throughout her career and since. Her works are housed in many public collections, including the National Gallery and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modem Art and the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center. (right: Campo Santo, drypoint, 1932 -- Depicting the decorating of graves on All Soul's Day by Hispanic families)
Thanks largely to the foresight and generosity of one individual in Pueblo, Colorado, the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center has the largest public collection of Gene Kloss prints. This benefactor, John Armstrong, purchased his first Kloss print in 1979 from Gallery A in Taos, and has acquired 361 since then. He is still actively collecting. He bestowed his first gift to the Arts Center in 1991, and continues to donate annually. Mr. Armstrong moved to Pueblo in 1950 to take his first teaching job at Central High School, where he taught physics and mathematics until his retirement in 1992.
Now 75, Mr. Armstrong has turned his love of art -- and particularly the art of Gene Kloss -- into a collection which will benefit art lovers for generations to come. Aside from the collection of prints, the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center collection also includes several canceled plates and a few paintings. In addition, the Arts Center was the proud recipient of materials from the Gene Kloss estate, including Gene's tools and printmaking materials, her final motorized press, her library and many of her studies and sketches.
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