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2010/11 Winter Catalogue > 5. Theo White’s Remarkable Lithograph of a Northern New Mexico Church

5. Theo White’s Remarkable Lithograph of a Northern New Mexico Church

Theo Ballou White. “Desert Church,” c. 1934. Lithograph, no. 7 of 21. Image: 9 1/2 x 12." Sheet: 12 1/2 x 15 1/4." Titled and numbered in pencil, l.l. Original mat. Superb condition for the print, exceptionally bright.


Theo White (1902–1978) created this unique depiction of a northern New Mexico church as part of his outstanding Southwest series. Following his travels to New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada in the 1930s, White was inspired to develop a series of lithographs drawn from the scenes he had observed, focusing primarily on landscapes and religious themes of the Taos and Santa Fe areas. In these works, White employed a spare modernist approach, paring down landscape and architectural subjects to nearly elemental forms. With superb simplicity of form, White conveys the potent spiritual presence of northern New Mexico folk traditions.

In Desert Church, White depicts a small vernacular northern New Mexico church in an abstract landscape lyrically suggesting the profile of the Truchas Peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. He reduces the peaks and sagebrush-covered foothills to silhouetted cutouts and repeats them in organic undulations. These he juxtaposes against the strictly geometric angles of the church roofline, belfry, and cross. Bold patterns of light and dark are enlisted to suggest spatial relationships and to capture a sense of the strong, clear desert light. Through skillful formal abbreviations and sensitive combinations of textures, White is able to impart a powerful graphic and startlingly fresh interpretation of a typical northern New Mexico village scene.

White was born in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and trained as an artist and architect in Philadelphia. He was well known as an author of architectural history and appears to have produced only a limited series of images in the print medium. White completed several sequences of prints using as subject matter the Hoover Dam, Colonial Richmond, Philadelphia area mansions, and the landscape and religious iconography of the Southwest. The Southwest lithographs are extremely scarce, having been pulled in editions of 25 or fewer, and in the case of the present image only 21. Desert Church is one of White’s more playful compositions, and a superb example from White’s Southwestern series.

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