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Laguna Pueblo / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

In this oil painting, Thomas Moran portrays a whitewashed building at Laguna pueblo basking in the breaking light of dawn as the moon sets on the horizon. Although it was unusual for Moran to depict people, here he portrays several individuals descending the rough-hewn stairs on the hillside to begin their day. Moran visited pueblos in New Mexico and Arizona several times and included figural groups or chimney smoke in some of his paintings of those sites to suggest a human presence.1

The paintings, however, do not tell us if Moran understood the pueblos as both historic and contemporary Indigenous communities, and most of the artist’s field sketches of Laguna focus on the architecture’s integration with the land. Yet in one drawing, A Street in Laguna, New Mexico (13.865), the artist depicted a variety of people making their way through the crowded city center. Thus, it would seem Moran experienced and understood the pueblo as an active Indigenous society.2

Still an active community today, Laguna is located forty-five miles west of Albuquerque. Members of the Pueblo of Laguna live in the villages of Mesita, Paguate, Seama, Paraje, Encinal, and Laguna. Archaeological evidence suggests the ancestors of the current members of the pueblo inhabited the area since 3000 BCE, and the community took its current form as early as the 1300s.3 Deb Haaland, the fifty-fourth U.S. Secretary of the Interior and first Indigenous person to hold that position, is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna.4

—Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research, 2021

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1 See Gilcrease’s Hopi Village, Arizona (01.1116) and Pueblo and Bridge (01.114). See also Hopi Village, Arizona (1916, Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York, 1959.119), Indian Pueblo, Laguna, New Mexico (1908, American Museum of Western Art — The Anschutz Collection, Denver, Colorado), and Pueblo at Sunset (Laguna) (1901, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming, 1.00).
2 It is important to note Moran depicted historic scenes of Indigenous people in works such as Gilcrease’s Columbus Approaching San Salvador (01.2343). Thus, a field sketch such as A Street in Laguna, New Mexico provides an important insight into his knowledge of pueblos as contemporary Indigenous communities. Gilcrease Museum owns a number of Moran’s drawings of Laguna, such as Steps in Laguna, at Side of the Church (13.590), Laguna (13.1998), Rain Pool in Rocks, Laguna (13.866), Back of Laguna (13.867), Laguna (13.2009), A Street in Laguna (13.1012), and Laguna (13.655). The East Hampton Library, the National Park Service, and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum have several other drawings of Laguna created by the artist.
3 A browser search for “Pueblo of Laguna--Route 66” will pull up a link to the appropriate National Park Service page. National Park Service site accessed July 26, 2020.
4 Under the “About” menu, see “Meet the Secretary,” U.S. Department of the Interior website. Accessed July 26, 2020.

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Title(s): 
Laguna Pueblo
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1919
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
oil on canvas
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1955
Accession No: 
01.1105
Previous Number(s): 
0137.1105; 1109; 14709
Department: 
Signed by hand in paint with colophon, "TMoran 1919" in lower right on recto.
Not On View

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