The following essay was written by Vicki Heltunen as a catalogue essay for the illustrated catalogue Color, Pattern & Plane: E. Martin Hennings in Taos, which accompanied a February 5 - November 1, 1986 exhibition at the Stark Museum of Art. The essay is reprinted with permission of the Stark Museum of Art and without illustrations. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, please contact the Stark Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


E. Martin Hennings: Taos Artist

by Vicki Heltunen


The life of an artist is not always an easy one. Not all artists live to be legends. Many live a life of poverty and never achieve the acclaim which drives them in their work. Those who do are usually those whose accomplishments have shaped, or at least contributed to, the course of art history. In the end, it is not a question of how great or masterful an artist was, but rather, how significant, if any, was his contribution to art. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a resurgence in American art was occurring. Within this realm E. Martin Hennings made his contribution. The bulk of his work, that which he is remembered for, portrays the people and landscape of New Mexico, specifically the region around Taos.

The most common association one can make in relation to Hennings was his membership in the Taos Society of Artists (TSA). The TSA was a small group of artists who banded together to reduce the high cost of exhibition. Membership in the organization helped an artist to gain both recognition and acceptance in the art world. For Hennings, it also signified the culmination of a long period of study and hard work in order to become an artist in the strictest sense. Study, both in the United States and in Europe, and years spent as a commercial artist in Chicago, had taught the artist the true meaning of the word "artist." It was this goal Hennings was seeking when he moved from his beloved Chicago to the rural environment known as Taos.

Hennings' work as an artist reflects the influences of his environment. There were many influences and relationships which shaped the direction of his work. The course of his study laid a foundation of principles which the artist adapted and adhered to throughout his career. His associations with art patrons, fellow art students, and TSA members had definite positive effects upon the course of the artist's career. Moreover, his working relationships with, and dependence upon, his models served as elements in the evolvement of Hennings' art. And, like most individuals during the famine days of the 1930's, Hennings was not immuned from the effects of the Great Depression. Hennings was a prolific artist, and his environment played a definite role in the outcome of his career.


The Early Years: Chicago

Very little is actually known of the early years of Hennings' life. His parents immigrated to the United States from Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, and settled in Penns Grove, New Jersey, sometime during the early 1880's. Hennings was born on February 5, 1886. Two years later his father, a cement finisher, moved the family to Chicago. In addition to Hennings and his parents, the family consisted of two girls and two boys. Both boys died early, one in infancy and the other while a young child.

It is a condition of human nature that one's childhood environment usually holds a deep and abiding place within one's heart. Hennings' childhood was no exception. For him, Chicago represented both the emotional and artistic ties of his youth. These were ties which the artist never relinquished; and at intermittent times throughout his life, they were often strengthened. Chicago was Hennings' childhood playground; at the same time, it was the place where he was first introduced to the wonders of art. Chicago symbolized his first serious endeavor into the study of art and the beginning of his career as a commercial artist However, even after Hennings moved permanently to Taos, he returned yearly to make arrangements for exhibitions and to consult with art patrons. It was during one of these visits that he met, and later married his wife, Helen Otte. Upon the artist's death in 1956, it was Chicago, rather than his adopted home of Taos, where the artist wanted to be buried. Throughout his life, the ties which bound Hennings to his beloved city were never completely severed, but instead, remained forever sustained and treasured.

At the turn of the century, Chicago was an exciting place. Already a large, metropolitan city by the time that Hennings' father moved the family there in 1888, Chicago was actively following the course of its destiny. This was the time in American history when the United States rose to worldwide prominence as the supreme industrial power in the world. On the home front, it was also the time when new directions were being established in American culture, especially the arts. These new directions were the direct outcome of European influences and the rapid progression of American technology.

Chicago played an important role in both the securing of the United States as a worldwide industrial power and in the development of new advances in American culture. It did not take long for the frontier village which edged the western wilderness during the nineteenth century to become the leading gathering and distribution center of the Midwest. Chicago served as the link between the West and East Coasts. Such raw materials as lumber, iron ore, grain, livestock, and oil found their way to Chicago before progressing eastward.

The rags to riches stories made popular at the time by Horatio Alger were actually coming true for many of Chicago's leading industrialists. Men who rose to prominence in Chicago as a result of their hard work and the providence of timing were Marshall Field, Philip D. Armour, Gustavus E Swift, Cyrus H. McCormick, Potter Palmer, and Carter H. Harrison. These men, and others like them, helped to shape the industrial and financial destiny of the city located on the southern shores of Lake Michigan.

Culturally, Chicago was swiftly becoming one of the premier cultural centers in the United States. In 1893, Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition. It provided the perfect setting by which America could proclaim its entry into the mainstream of international culture. It also provided American artists the opportunity to work together to create a unified impression which spoke of the progress of American culture. The "Chicago style" of architecture, which resulted from the after effects of the great fire which destroyed the central section of the city in 1871, was one such advancement. The "Chicago style" was basically reserved for commercial architecture. Multistoried in fashion and constructed of materials such as steel, concrete, and glass, it created a strong and long lasting structure which could be completed rapidly and inexpensively, while not sacrificing the precious commodity of space in a rapidly growing megaculture.

Despite the air of excitement being generated in Chicago because of the advancements in industry, technology, and the arts, the city was not without its share of turbulence. There were often bitter struggles between those who had power and those who did not, namely labor and management. This was the era of the Haymarket bombing, the Homestead massacre, and the Pullman strike.

It was within this swiftly moving stream of progress that Hennings began his formal study of art. In the artist's own words he expressed his amazement at his sudden choice of a career:

"It was rather strange that I chose painting for my profession, for practically none of my family showed any artistic tendencies. It happened that when I was 12 or 13 years old, another lad and myself wandered into the Art Institute of Chicago and it was during that visit that I determined to become an artist. That day I secured a pamphlet that showed me that art could be studied. That had never occurred to me." [1]

In 1901, Hennings began art instruction at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was the leading institution in the city for art training. The program followed very closely along the same lines as those schools in Europe, where many of the great artists of the past had studied. The underlying emphasis throughout the entire program was the mastering of drawing.

Despite the fact that Hennings graduated with honors from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on June 17, 1904, he continued to study at the school for another two years. During this time the majority of his instruction was taken under the direction of John H. Vanderpoel. The time Hennings spent at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago provided a firm grounding in the principles of art technique which the artist never sacrificed.


The Intervening Years: 1906-1921

The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was instrumental in establishing Chicago as one of the leading art centers in the United States. Within the excitement which continued as a result of this, Hennings began his career as a commercial artist. Although most of his known commissions were for murals and portraits, there is evidence to support the contention that Hennings may have also worked as an illustrator for books or magazines.

The majority of Hennings' commissions were for murals, an art form which had been rediscovered in the United States as a consequence of the World's Cotumbian Exposition. Mural painting can be done in one of two methods. The mural can be painted directly on the wall, using the method of fresco painting which had been quite popular in Italy during the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries, or it can be painted on canvas panels which are then affixed to the wall. Hennings painted on canvas panels. His first mural commission was for the cafeteria at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Actually, Hennings' association with the school coincided with the school's introduction of a new mural painting program. This, no doubt, contributed to Hennings' receiving the commission. Additional known mural commissions which the artist worked on were at the Florentine Ballroom at the Congress Hotel, Chicago, and The Ascension, a mural painted for the Grace Episcopal Cathedral, Topeka, Kansas. Aside from these commissions, very little information exists which can firmly establish the full extent of Hennings' early career as a muralist

As was the custom of a majority of artists during the turn of the century, the beginning of a career in art was often spent working as an illustrator. In the possession of Hennings' biographer, Robert R. White, are several glass plate negatives, presumed to have been made by Hennings himself. Illustrated within these plates are paintings which portray scenes very much within the scope of work being done at the time by illustrators for magazines such as Scribner's, Cosmopolitan, and Saturday Evening Post. The scenes portray such actions as a circus setting with a crowd of workers milling about a small child and two men (p. 2). The episode illustrated is incomplete without further explanation. Even though the task of tracing the origins of these works would be a formidable one, it would help to broaden, and strengthen, the body of knowledge now extant on the artist.

After several years of working as a commercial artist, Hennings began to experience disillusionment. This may have been because the work he was producing was different from that which first introduced the artist to the beauty of art years earlier. Whatever the reason, Hennings enrolled for an additional year of classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, again under the direction of Vanderpoel. In 1912, Hennings entered his painting, Morning (p. 3), in the famed Prix de Rome competition, placing second to that of Eugene Francis Savage. The Prix de Rome is the highest award bestowed by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The winner receives a three year scholarship to study at the French Academy in Rome. The disappointment of not winning the Prix de Rome only compounded the frustration already felt by the artist. As consolation to himself, Hennings made the decision, which was common among American artists of the time, to study in Europe.

During the early twentieth century two cities in Europe, Paris and Munich, stood out as the premier art centers of the world. It was Munich and its Royal Academy, where Hennings chose to further his art education.

To the budding young artist, Munich, the capital of the German kingdom of Bavaria, must have been as exciting a place as Chicago. Both cities were experiencing tremendous growth in industry and the arts. Even though Munich had long been the center for the arts in Germany, the city was experiencing a new wave of intellectual ideas and stimulation equivalent to that being experienced by Chicago. Munich, at this time, was not only the home of the modern German art movement, Jugendstil, but it was also the place where great music was being composed by Richard Strauss; and legendary and thought provoking poetry and literature were being written by Rainer Maria Rilke and Thomas Mann.

While studying at the Munich Royal Academy, Hennings' instructors were Angelo Junk and Walter Thor. Furthermore, it was Hennings' desire to study under Franz von Stuck, the great German master who was instrumental in the development of the Jugendstil, the German equivalent of Art Nouveau. It was only after von Stuck viewed Hennings' work that Hennings was accepted as a student. Their relationship and the influences generated from it are examined more closely in the following essay.

Hennings' study in Europe was cut short by an event which occurred on June 28, 1914. While the artist was on a summer museum tour of seventeen cities, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The climate in Europe, especially the central region, had been plagued by tension for quite sometime. The immediate effects of this event, which signaled the beginning of the first World War, were not fully realized by Hennings at the time. It was his contention that the war would be a short lived affair and that his immediate safety would not be in jeopardy. Within six months though, Hennings was on his way home. The hard work and long hours of being a commercial artist and the opportunity of studying art in Munich under the direction of Angelo Junk, Walter Thor, and Franz von Stuck were helpful in preparing Hennings for his next experience, his introduction to Taos and the Taos Society of Artists.


Taos, A New Beginning

The Taos Society of Artists (TSA) was founded in Taos, New Mexico, in 1915. As stated in their constitution,the TSA was formed,

"... for educational purposes, to develop a high standard of art among its members, and to aid in the diffusion of taste for art in general ... To facilitate bringing before the public through exhibitions and other means tangible results of the work of its members..." [2]

The founding members were Joseph Henry Sharp, Bert Phillips, Ernest Blumenschein, Oscar Berninghaus, E. Irving Couse, and W. Herbert Dunton. The TSA proved to be a success which brought national attention to Taos, and to the artists themselves. This was the beginning of Taos as an art colony.

At a time when Taos was little more than a small rural village nestled between the mountains of northern New Mexico, it was hard to imagine that one day it would become one of the leading art colonies in the United States. Prior to their residency in Taos, each of the six founding members of the TSA had well established careers as illustrators and painters in such metropolitan areas as New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. The diversification in subject matter, such as the landscape, wildlife, and the three cultures which comprise the region, namely the Anglo, Pueblo, and Spanish, were a pleasant change. Moreover, New Mexico is known for having very bright and intense sunlight, which again, was a change from the artificial studio lighting which these men were used to working with.

Hennings was introduced to this environment in 1917. Upon the artist's return to the United States two years earlier, Hennings had resumed his commercial career in Chicago. His work came to the attention of a group of Chicago businessmen who enjoyed promoting the efforts of local artists. Two of these men, Carter H. Harrison, Jr. and Oscar Mayer, offered to sponsor the artist for a season or two in Taos in exchange for whatever paintings Hennings did of the region. Harrison, the son of a former five time mayor of Chicago and a former mayor himself of the city, and Mayer, the founder of the meat packing dynasty of the same name, were both enthusiastic about Hennings' ability and future as an artist. Three years earlier, Harrison made the same offer to two other artists, Walter Ufer and Victor Higgins. Both artists found the region a captivating change from their previous working environments and settled permanently in Taos.

Hennings accepted Harrison's offer and spent the summer and fall of 1917 painting in New Mexico. In a letter of introduction to the Secretary of the New Mexico Historical Society Santa Fe, Harrison wrote of Hennings:

"This will be presented to you by Mr. Martin Hennings, one of the most talented of the younger group of Chicago artists, who will spend the summer in your country, looking up suitable motives for his brush. I have suggested to him that he should try to have an exhibition of some of his work in Santa Fe before he returns home. Mr. Hennings' work has been exhibited in many of the recent important national shows. Any assistance you may give him will be appreciated."[3]

Hennings' visit to New Mexico coincided with the opening of the new Fine Arts Museum in Santa Fe. Upon his arrival in Santa Fe, Hennings presented his letter of introduction to Paul A. F. Walter of the Museum of New Mexico. It was through this contact that three of Hennings' New Mexico canvases Evening at Laguna, The Vine, and Taos Indian were included in the inaugural exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum.[4]

Upon his return to Chicago, Hennings again resumed his career as a commercial artist. Even though the artist contended "the subject matter here [Taos] aroused my [his] unbounded enthusiasm,"[5] it took three years before Hennings made the decision to move permanently to Taos. In the interim, he traveled to other locations throughout the country to compare their potentials for painting to those of Taos. One such location was Gloucester, Massachusetts.

The move to Taos symbolized much more for the artist than just a change of address. It symbolized four changes which would critically alter the course of the artist's career. First the move allowed the artist to abandon commercial work in favor of painting; at the same time, it enabled Hennings to have the time to experiment with mediums other than mural and easel painting. These he had already mastered. Second, the diversification in subject matter and the freedom to choose his own subjects helped to open the door to a creativity which the artist had, until then, only dreamed of and sparingly experimented with while in Chicago. Third, there existed a sense of comradeship between the artists of Taos which, for a young artist, could supply both the inspiration and encouragement so vital to an artist's career. Fourth, despite the remoteness and the inaccessibility of Taos to the metropolitan regions of the country, there developed nationwide a ready market for art of New Mexico, a factor which was important for an artist who was seriously considering abandoning the security of a commercial career.


The Turning Point in Hennings' Career

For an artist like Hennings, moving to a place like Taos represented the chance of a lifetime to pursue the kind of art, namely painting, which he preferred. Even though the ultimate goal was commercial, to sell the painting to an enthusiastic art patron, the means to the end was different from that of the commercial career Hennings had just abandoned. As a commercial artist, Hennings was restricted by the dictates enforced by his clients. As a painter working in Taos, he was free to choose both his subjects and the content of his work.

Freed from the restraints of commercial work, Hennings found that he had the opportunity to enjoy the challenge of experimenting with new mediums. Prior to his move to Taos, Hennings had successfully mastered the mediums of drawing, oil painting, and mural painting. In Taos, he found the chance to experiment with two new mediums, etching and lithography.

Very little is known of Hennings' attempts at etching. In the possession of Robert R. White are four etching plates which were found among the personal effects of the artist. The titles are Woman with a Water Jug, The Twins, Watching the Ceremony, and Stringing the Bow. They were all probably done sometime during the early 1920's since the first one is dated "21' a rarity in itself since Hennings seldom dated his works.[6]

Between 1924-1925 Hennings experimented with the medium of lithography. Eight, issued in two editions, were done: Across the Sage; The Frozen Stream; Through Sage and Cedar; Beneath the Cottonwoods; The Hunters; Indian Bake Ovens; Taos Indian; and Indian Maiden. The first edition, printed in black ink, consisted of one hundred signed and numbered impressions. The second edition, printed in sepia, contained fifty signed and numbered impressions. In addition, only fifteen impressions, printed in both colors, were pulled of the Taos Indian and Indian Maiden. [7] This may have been because the artist was dissatisfied with the over-all compositions, which lack the fine sense of delineation and character as seen in Indian Bake Ovens (p. 6).

With the lack of quality printing facilities in Taos, Hennings shipped the plates to Chicago where his brother-in-law, Joseph E. Yell, was art director at the Jahn and Oilier Lithographic Company.[8] The prints were eventually offered for sale in 1928. They enjoyed a slow, but steady sale.[9]

It is interesting to note that Hennings experimented with etching and lithograph at a time in his career when it was not necessary. His prime interest, like his fellow TSA members, was painting. Later, during the years of the Great Depression several of the TSA members, especially Dunton, turned to lithography at a time when it was economically feasible for them to do so. Hennings, on the other hand, never returned to lithography after his initial experimentation with it during the early 1920's.


Taos, The Inspiration for Creativity

Life in Taos represented to Hennings the spirit of freedom which is so important in the creativity of art. With his move to Taos, Hennings found himself freed from the restraints of the obligations associated with commercial art. He now had the time to concentrate fully upon painting the surrounding region. The influence of Taos can be easily discerned in Hennings' work. Not only did his palette brighten in response to the bright and intense New Mexico sunlight, but also the subjects represented speak wholly of the region. The infusion of the Taos spirit was explained years later by the artist

"I have been working in Taos many years and I think that should prove that I like it here; the country, the mountains with their canyons and streams, the sage beneath the clouded skies, the abode village with its Spanish people and of course the Taos Pueblo with its Indians. Their life - domestic and agricultural - with all the color and romance of their dress and history." [10]

The subjects of New Mexico would never have been painted if Hennings had stayed in Chicago. Artificial studio lighting could never come close to the intensity and illumination of the New Mexico sun. In accord, the beauty and majesty of the Taos landscape and the authenticity of life in the Pueblo could never be accurately duplicated in a studio mock-up. This truth to nature could only be achieved by painting from life. It is true Hennings often put the "finishing" touches on a work while in his studio, but the majority of his canvases were done outdoors capitalizing on nature for inspiration.

Foremost in his mind, Hennings thought of himself as a painter of figures rather than of landscapes. As the artist reflected later in life, "in figure subjects I think I find my greatest inspiration - subjects which you have grown to know from experience and subjects which the imagination brings forth..." [11] This is not surprising when one considers that Hennings' early academic training stressed drawing and painting from human models. In addition, the majority of the known commercial work of the artist focused upon figures as their main subject matter. This is apparent in the many commissions for church murals and portraits done by the artist during his days in Chicago.

The models chosen to pose within a painting were often as important as the overall subject of the work. Hennings incorporated numerous individuals from the surrounding area as subjects within his paintings. His favorite model for thirty-five years was Frank Samora, a Pueblo Indian. As was the custom among the Taos artists at that time, Samora posed for Hennings in the mornings and did odd jobs around the artist's home in the afternoons. Samora can be seen as one of the two models in Vengeance (p. 20), a work which was exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in 1933. Hennings also used as models Jesus Maria Tafoya, who is the central figure in The Idlers (p. 5); Tony Martinez, a Mexican who worked at the local gas station; and Johnny Secrest, the son of a local banker. [12] The last two were models for The Chosen Site (p. 8), Hennings' post office mural in Van Buren, Arkansas. Martinez posed for the male figure, and Secrest was the model for the figure of the small boy. [13] The models for the mother and daughter within this mural were those of his own family, namely his wife Helen and their daughter Helen, who was born in 1930.

Although Hennings preferred figure painting, he was not immuned from the beauty of the New Mexico landscape. "New Mexico' in Hennings' own words, "has almost made a landscape painter out of me, although I believe my strongest work is in figures." [14] Later in his life, reflecting upon the influence of the Taos landscape upon his work, Hennings made this additional comment.

"Landscape plays so important a part of my work, and subjects of sage, mountain and sky. Nothing thrills me more, when in the fall, the aspen and cottonwoods are in color and with the sunlight playing across them - all the poetry and drama, all the moods and changes of nature are there to inspire one to greater accomplishment from year to year." [15]

As a matter of fact, the artist began to combine the elements of figure painting with those of the New Mexico landscape. The result being scenes of quiet interlude between man and nature. The figures are often depicted riding on horseback intertwined amongst the foliage of nature. A quiet, peaceful atmosphere is created by these works which speak of the influence of nature upon the artist. Indian Hunters Amongst Aspen, which is illustrated on the cover, is one such example of Hennings' pastoral interludes of man quietly enjoying the solitude and simplicity of nature's beauty.


Intellectual Stimulation and Emotional Companionship

For generations, artists have sought inspiration and encouragement by meeting together and exchanging ideas. A group of artists which come readily to mind were the French Impressionists of the nineteenth century. Meeting together at one of the many sidewalk cafes in Paris gave those artists the encouragement to continue their work. As a result of their fortitude and determination, Impressionism not only became the springboard for twentieth century art, but, it has also become one of the most cherished, by connoisseur and general public alike, eras in the history of art.

In just this same way, Hennings, like artists before him, found intellectual stimulation through meeting with his fellow artists. With the formation of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915, Hennings probably saw Taos as the perfect place for freedom, creativity, and intellectual stimulation. While a student at both the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Munich Royal Academy, Hennings was surrounded by fellow students and art masters alike. The sharing of ideas came from the students; however the criticism and encouragement came from the art masters.

At the same time, art clubs were another important source for artists to find encouragement, inspiration and new ideas. In Munich, Hennings was a member of the American Artists Club. Upon his return from Europe, Hennings joined the Palette and Chisel Club in Chicago. Both experiences provided the artist with the opportunity to communicate and explore the world of art.

Throughout most of their careers the paths of Hennings, Walter Ufer, and Victor Higgins were intertwined. All three men came from Chicago, although it is not known if they met there. It has been documented, however, that the three men met and developed a lifelong friendship while in Munich. Furthermore, the individual who persuaded all three to go to Taos was Carter H. Harrison, Jr. Harrison, who had sponsored Higgins' study in Munich had, in addition, encouraged Higgins and Ufer to go to Taos to paint This was the same offer he later extended to Hennings. Harrison never lost touch with his former Chicago artists, but continued to be a supporter and patron throughout his life.

In 1923, Hennings was nominated by Oscar Berninghaus and Walter Ufer for membership in the Taos Society of Artists. In addition to Hennings, Sheldon Parsons, and Theodore Van Soelen were also nominated. None of the three artists received the required two-thirds vote to elect them to membership. [16] The following year, Hennings was again nominated for active membership in the TSA. This time the vote was unanimous. Hennings, along with Catharine Critcher, became members of the Taos Society of Artists in 1924. Additional artists who were elected to membership after the initial founding of the organization were Walter Ufer and Victor Higgins, in 1917, E. Martin Hennings and Catharine Critcher, in 1924, and Kenneth M. Adams, in 1926. In 1927 the TSA disbanded, since the members felt the society had outlived its usefulness. At the time, there were twenty-one active, associate, and honorary members. [17]

Election to the TSA was both a symbol of recognition and a sign of acceptability as an artist. For those living in an area as remote as Taos, these were extremely important factors in the encouragement of an artist's work. For Hennings, who was often described as a quiet individual who did not take on students of his own, the TSA was an outlet by which the artist could discuss new developments in art, relate problems in technique or composition, or discuss future plans for exhibition. As a member of such a small, close-knit community as Taos, with all the diversification in cultures and scenery, Hennings found the encouragement, understanding, and intellectual and artistic stimulation which could only be found amongst fellow artists.


National Recognition and Patronage

To be accepted as a member of the Taos Society of Artists, the prospective member, besides winning a majority vote, also had to have won a prize in a major exhibition. For Hennings, this posed no problem since he had been exhibiting his work since his return from Munich in 1915, and he had won numerous prizes as well. The majority of the awards the artist won during the early part of his career were for exhibitions in Chicago. Even after his move to Taos, Hennings returned each year for three months to the Windy City to exhibit his work. [18] Hennings won a gold medal at the Palette and Chisel Club (1916), the Englewood Women's Club prize (Art Institute of Chicago, 1916), the Clyde M. Carr Memorial Prize (Art Institute of Chicago, 1922), the Fine Arts Building Prize for Winter in New Mexico (Art Institute of Chicago, 1922), the Martin B. Cahn Prize of $100 for the best painting by a Chicago artist for the work, The Twins (Art Institute of Chicago, 1923), and the Harry Frank Prize (Art Institute of Chicago, 1927).

Except for Morning, Hennings' entry for the Prix de Rome competition in 1912, the first known work which he exhibited outside of Chicago was the Elderly Lady (p. 9). Hennings exhibited this painting at the National Academy of Design in the winter of 1917. The painting, which is in the collection of the Stark Museum, bears a tag on the frame: "Painted during my student days while studying at the National Academy, Munich. This is my first painting exhibited at the National Academy in New York, 1916-1917." This painting is a good representation of Hennings' early style which is more a synthesis of other artists' work, such as the painterly brushstrokes and coloring of the Impressionists, rather than a showing of the artist's own unique style which would not blossom until his introduction to New Mexico.

After his move to Taos, one can notice a marked change in the scope of Hennings' exhibitions. They are no longer limited to just Chicago, but now encompass a much broader market Hennings began to exhibit in Philadelphia, where he won the Walter Lippincott Prize at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for Announcements (1925); New York, where he won the lsidor Medal and the Ranger Fund Purchase prizes at the National Academy of Design both for the painting, Passing By (1926); Washington, D.C., where he exhibited The Mexican Sheep Herder and Vengeance at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (1928 and 1933); and Texas, where the artist won the first prize of $3,000 at the 1929 Texas Wildflower Competition for his painting,Thistle Blossoms. Most important of all, Hennings' reputation as an artist was reaching across the Atlantic where his work, Passing by, was exhibited at the 1924 Venice Biennale. The Mexican Sheep Herder (p. 5) won a medal at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1926 and an honorable mention at the 1927 Paris Salon. Hennings was the only American artist to receive an award at the 1927 Paris Salon. [19]

For an artist, exhibitions are extremely important. The free publicity generated from the announcements and articles which herald exhibitions in newspapers, magazines, and trade journals help to augment the artist's self confidence; at the same time, exhibitions offer the artist recognition, distinction, and exposure.

If an exhibition is successful, an artist, hopefully, will benefit by the addition of new patrons. Fairly early in his career, Hennings was fortunate in that his work had caught the attention of Carter H. Harrison, Jr. The support, both financially and in the form of moral encouragement, was important in the decision eventually made by Hennings to abandon commercial art in favor of painting in Taos.

Harrison was only the first of a long line of individuals who became interested in Hennings' work. Hennings found patronage from Oscar Mayer (Chicago, Illinois), Robert McKee (El Paso, Texas), H. j. Lutcher Stark (Orange, Texas), the Works Project Administration (WPA), and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, just to name a few. The first three were philanthropists. The fourth was a commission from the Federal Arts Project, a division of the WPA,which assisted artists during the period of the 1930's. The commission was a mural, The Chosen Site (p. 8), for a wall of the post office in Van Buren, Arkansas. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad had been a patron of Hennings off and on since 1925. Just months before the artist's death in 1956, Hennings had completed work on a series of five paintings, commissioned by the railroad, to be used as calendars. They are The Sandpainter, The Silversmith, Navajo Mother and Child, Going to the Trading Post, and The Weaver (p. 20). Hennings' last commission was painted on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Ganado, Arizona.


Hennings and His Contribution To Art

E. Martin Hennings, the signature he placed on his work only after a painting was finished; died May 19, 1956. His career spanned five decades and followed directions which the artist probably never dreamed of. His art took him from Chicago to Europe, and finally to Taos, a small town in northern New Mexico. The majority of the artist's work speaks directly of his association with Taos, namely the landscape and people of the region.

For Hennings, Taos was the creative inspiration which symbolized freedom and independence from the restraints of a commercial career. This dream could never have been realized without the support and friendship of individuals, such as Carter H. Harrison, Jr., Oscar Mayer, and the members of the Taos Society of Artists. Also, as an active member of the TSA, Hennings had the benefit of participation in group exhibitions which toured the country. These exhibitions helped tremendously in procuring for the artist national recognition, distinction, and exposure.

Hennings' contribution to art is simple. It introduced to the American people the beauty, majesty, dignity and pride of a region which had only become a state in 1912. Hennings' art personifies the spirit of New Mexico.



1. "New Paintings on Exhibit in Club Rooms," The Way Bill, Chicago Traffic Club article, 1930. E. Martin Hennings Papers, MF Rol1 3249, Frame 28, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

2. Robert R. White, comp. and annot., The Taos Society of Artists (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press in cooperation with the Historical Society of New Mexico, 1983), p. 17.

3. Ibid., pp. 116-117.

4. Robert R. White, "E. Martin Hennings," Pioneer Artists of Taos, Laura M. Bickerstaff, (Denver: Sage Books, 1955; rev, and expanded ed., Denver: Old West Publishing Co., 1983), p. 198.

5. Ibid., p. 203.

6. Robert R. White, The Lithographs and Etchings of E. Martin Hennings (Albuquerque: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1978).

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Robert R. White, '"E. Martin Hennings," Pioneer Artists of Taos, Laura M. Bickerstaff. (Denver: Sage Books, 1955; rev, and expanded ed., Denver: Old West Publishing Co., 1983), p. 203.

11. Ibid.

12. "New Postoffice Mural, 'The Chosen Site' is Installed by Artist From New Mexico" November 1940. E. Martin Hennings Papers, ME Roll 13249, Frame 64, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

13. Ibid.

14. Robert R. White, "E. Martin Hennings," Pioneer Artists of Taos, Laura M. Bickerstaff, (Denver: Sage Books, 1955; rev, and expanded ed., Denver: Old West Publishing Co., 1983), p. 203.

15. Ibid.

16. Robert R. White, comp. and annot., The Taos Society of Artists (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press in cooperation with the Historical Society of New Mexico, 1983), p. 93.

17. Ibid., pp. 14-15.

18. On one such trip in 1924, Hennings met Helen Otte, an assistant buyer for the Chicago department store Marshall Field. Two years later, on July 20, 1926, they were married in Chicago and left immediately for a 16 month honeymoon in Europe.

19. "New Paintings on Exhibit in Club Rooms," The Way Bill, Chicago Traffic Club article, 1930. E. Martin Hennings Papers, ME Roll 3249, Frame 28, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


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