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Biographical Note | A Finding Aid to the Ernest Blumenschein papers, 1873-1964 | Digitized Collection

Ernest Blumenschein papers, 1873-1964

Biographical Note

Ernest Blumenschein was born on May 26th, 1874 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He moved to Dayton, Ohio at the age of four, the same year his mother died. His father was a professional musician and composer, who chiefly made his living as a conductor of large choruses. During high school he contributed illustrations to "Tomfoolery," a handwritten and hand drawn weekly humor magazine. Besides his artistic talents, Ernest Blumenschein was a skilled violin player, and was awarded a scholarship to the Cincinnati College of Music. In 1892, Blumenschein auditioned for the New York National Conservatory, and was chosen by Anton Dvorak for the role of first violin. With the income from playing violin, Blumenschein attended classes at the Art Students League.
In 1892, Ernest Blumenschein first traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. While in Paris, he met Joseph Henry Sharp who inspired Blumenschein with his stories and sketches of the American southwest, particularly the Taos area. He returned to American in 1896, rented a studio with another Académie Julian student Bert Phillips, and began a successful career as a commercial illustrator working for magazines such as Century, Harper's, Scribner's, and McClure's.
Blumenschein first visited Taos in the fall of 1898 while traveling en route to Mexico on a sketching trip with Phillips. A wheel on the wagon carrying their belongings broke and they took it to the nearest blacksmith in the area, which was in Taos. Upon arriving at Taos, Blumenschein was struck by the "the superb beauty and serenity" of the landscape and was "stirred deeply." The town made a strong impact on both Blumenschein and Phillips, but while Phillips decided to stay, Blumenschein returned to New York for a short while and continued working as an illustrator. The following year Blumenschein decided to concentrate on painting, and re-enrolled at the Académie Julian while supporting himself with his commercial work. In 1903, he met Mary Greene, an American painter living in Paris and they married in 1905, and began sharing a Paris studio. Their daughter and only child, Helen, was born in November of 1909.
While Ernest Blumenschein continued to study in Paris, he also kept working as an illustrator, supporting himself easily. His illustration work was much in demand by American magazines and book publishers. Blumenschein was commissioned to illustrate Jack London's first book, Love of Life, in 1904. He also worked with other famous writers such as Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, and Joseph Conrad.
Upon returning to New York after the birth of their daughter, Ernest and Mary taught at the Pratt Institute. Ernest spent every summer in Taos. In 1919, the family moved permanently to Taos, with Helen returning to New York for school. It was during this time that Blumenschein co-founded the Taos Society of Artists and became part of the Taos art colony. For four decades, Blumenschein created paintings of the landscape, local inhabitants, the Taos Pueblo culture, and city skylines. He won numerous awards for his work and exhibited widely. His work was responsible for changing perceptions about the native culture and peoples of the area - the Navajo and Pueblo Indians. Blumenschein also indulged his love of the outdoors and sports. He avidly camped, played tennis, and was part of the Taos amateur baseball team. His artistic output in the 1950s was hampered by his declining health, and the death of Mary in 1958. Blumenschein died in June of 1960, and his ashes are repositioned at the Taos Pueblo Reservation.