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2009 Catalog > 4. White, “Taos Mountain.”

A Scarce and Bold Depiction of the Sacred Taos Mountain

Theo Ballou White. “Taos Mountain,” c. 1934. No. 17 of 23. Lithograph printed on wove paper from Holland. Image: 8 1/2 x 12 1/2." Sheet: 12 3/4 x 19 1/2." Titled and numbered by artist in pencil in l.l. corner: Taos Mountain 12/23. Artist’s monogram in stone at l.r.: TW. Very minor age toning. Very minor spot at u.l. Very fine.

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Theo White (1902–1978) created this bold depiction of Taos Mountain following his travels to New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada in the 1930s. He was inspired by his journey through the Southwest to develop a series of lithographs drawn from the scenes he observed, and focused 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 captured the essential power of the indigenous Southwest, especially the potent spiritual presence in northern New Mexico folk traditions.

In Taos Mountain, White reduces the famous profile of the mountain to alternating silhouettes of black and white, surmounted by whimsically shaded snow-capped peaks. The forms fairly dance on the paper, transforming the image into a visual equivalent of the living presence for which the mountain is legendary.

At 12,000 feet above sea level, Taos Peak looms over the surrounding Rio Grande Valley, beckoning travelers who pass beneath its shadow. Legend holds that the mountain emits a mystical energy that can summon newcomers or send them packing. More than a thousand years ago, the “Red Willow” people of the Tiwa tribe embraced Taos Mountain as their spiritual home and built the multiple-storied Taos Pueblo at its base.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, East Coast artists began to flock to the nearby village of Taos, attracted by the clarity of the air, the charismatic light, and the vibrant colors of the landscape. Kindred spirits—artists like White, writers, and free thinkers—followed in their wake and contributed to the formation of a world-famous art colony. Today, Taos Mountain continues to hold spiritual significance for the pueblo Indians, as well as remaining essential to the culture, religion, and daily life of the town of Taos.

White’s lithograph remarkably concentrates the hieratic presence of Taos Mountain in a boldly original way. The print offered here is a fine example from White’s Southwestern series, all of which are quite scarce because of the small sizes of the editions.

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