Where History Meets Art - Stories Behind the Stuff

R.C. Gorman Artist As Magician

R.C. Gorman Artist As Magician

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers.

“Where I was raised we didn’t have museums, anything like that.  The only influence I had during my early years came from books,” Navajo artist R.C. (Rudolph Carl) Gorman said. 

I choose models who have full bodies—something you can put your two arms around and feel a real woman. I like the ample figure because it fills space softly,
— R.C. Gorman

Gorman was born during the Depression on July 26, 1931 in remote Chinle, Ariz.  As a boy he played in the clear waters of Canyon de Chelly and was raised in a Hogan on the Navajo reservation.    

When Gorman was six-years-old he visited his father who was working for the government’s Navajo stock and sheep program near Kaibito, Ariz.  The young boy came out to where the men where dipping sheep with his pad and pencil and asked one of the Navajo girls there to pose for him.  Years later the men still talked about that day.

“R.C. always carried a tablet and drew, wherever we were,” his father Carl said.  I never held his hand, or lead him like a teacher.  His eyes were his teachers.”

Five or six years later Gorman was staying at his grandmother’s sheep camp and drew a large, nude lady on one of the rocks nearby.  His aunt scolded him never realizing that one day his drawings of ladies would make him famous.

Gorman was basically self-taught.

During a summer vacation in 1964 Gorman visited Taos, N.M., for the first time and stopped into the Manchester Gallery.  Gallery owner John Manchester asked to see slides Gorman brought of his work and offered him a one-man exhibition.   

That was the real beginning of Gorman’s career.  The show was called one of the most exciting events in the history of the Taos art scene.  The handsome, gregarious, self-promoter and his ancestral family from Chinle mixed with collectors from New York and art enthusiasts from Taos and it all clicked.

The same year he and his father shared an exhibition at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.  Other museums began to purchase Gorman’s art.  One-man shows followed in San Francisco and he established himself as a Native American artist of immense standing.

In 1968 Gorman purchased the Manchester Gallery and moved to Taos.  He also lived in the gallery and if he was home the gallery was open.  Gorman developed a tight relationship with collectors who purchased his free-flowing work.

By 1972 his first lithographic suite “Homage to Navajo Woman” was published by Tamarind Institute.  With its fluid forms and bold colors the series was an immediate success.  Gorman’s women were earthy, nurturing and mysterious. 

"I choose models who have full bodies--something you can put your two arms around and feel a real woman. I like the ample figure because it fills space softly," he said.

The following year in 1973 Gorman was the only living Native American painter to be included in the “American Indian Art” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Whether it’s his landscape, surreal, pottery, mask or rug series, all of Gorman’s work reflects his Navajo heritage.  His art includes etchings, silk screens, sculpture, ceramics and tapestries.

Lithography seemed to especially suit Gorman’s talent and includes 5,000-6,000 lithographs.

On Feb. 3, Skinner Auctioneers in Boston, Mass., featured a selection of Gorman’s lithographs in its American & European Works of Art auction.  Here are some current values.

R.C. Gorman Color Lithographs 

Atole; edition of 225; signed and dated; 1990; 36 inches by 29 ½ inches;  $593.

Hana; edition of 250; signed and dated; 1982; 22 inches by 30 inches;  $1,126.

Saguaro; edition of 224; signed and dated; 1990; 29 ½ inches by 37 ¼ inches;  $1,126.

Wild Flowers; edition of 224; signed and dated; 1990; 27 ¼ inches by 35 ½ inches;  $1,422. 

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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