2009 Winter Catalog, William R. Talbot Fine Art, Antique Maps & Prints Home

2009 Winter Catalog > 16. Blackburn, “Adobe Mission.”

16. Morris Blackburn. “Adobe Mission” [Ranchos de Taos Church], 1962. Screenprint, no. 30 of 30. Image: 10 x 14." Sheet: 18 1/2 x 25." Signed in pencil by artist, l. r.: Morris Blackburn. Titled and numbered in pencil, l. l.: Adobe Mission / Imp. 30/30. Fine.

Price: $4.500. [ Order ]

Adobe Mission is a wonderful modernist interpretation of the Ranchos de Taos Church by the Philadelphia artist Morris Blackburn (1902–1979). Noted for his ingenious use of printmaking materials and techniques, he was one of the first artists in the early 1940s to use screen printing for fine art prints.

In his image of the famous church located in the small New Mexican village of Ranchos de Taos just south of Taos, Blackburn took advantage of the inherent flatness of the screen printing process to define the bold geometry of the structure. By juxtaposing unmodulated planes of color to represent zones of light and shadow, he defined the impressive sculptural quality of the church’s apse and its massive adobe buttresses. As with so many modernist artists of the twentieth century—among them Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin, and Raymond Jonson—Blackburn chose to depict the much painted, drawn, and photographed rear view of the building. Depicting this view was a given, as O’Keeffe once noted. “Most artists who spend any time in Taos have to paint it, I suppose, just as they have to paint a self-portrait.” Blackburn, who owned a house in Taos, indeed spent a great deal of time there—virtually every summer until 1969. His fascination is evidenced by his repetition of the view in several media: watercolor, mezzotint, and the screenprint offered here.

The focus is not surprising. Blackburn frequently worked in the cubist idiom and often reduced his subjects to an abstract play of simplified forms. The planar qualities and angularity of the unadorned adobe walls offered the perfect subject matter for an artist interested in the geometry of form expressed in two dimensions. Blackburn’s image of Ranchos Church remains representational; nonetheless, the print is cubist in mood if not in style.

The Ranchos Church was completed in 1815 and is perhaps the finest example in New Mexico of Southwestern mission architecture. Designed by Spanish Franciscans and built of indigenous materials by Pueblo Indians, “it has been portrayed more often, by more artists,’ according to Sandra D’Emilio, “than any other church in the United States, perhaps in the world. . . . Artists have been drawn to the church as subject matter for nearly one hundred years. Most [artists] have approached it from the south—on the road through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of Santa Fe. . . . The road slowly descends into the Ranchos de Taos valley and through the small village of Ranchos de Taos, the site of [the church]. The road passes not in front of, but behind, the Ranchos Church. From this vantage point one might fail to recognize the mysterious sculptural form as a church at all. Yet its commanding presence dominates the rural landscape. . . . In harmony with its surroundings, the Ranchos Church exerts a quiet force which has universal appeal.

Blackburn’s work represents a compendium of transatlantic stylistic developments spanning the first half of the twentieth century. Although he never achieved a major national reputation, he nonetheless had an enormous impact on his immediate environment. A masterful painter, printmaker, and graphic artist, he was a legendary teacher at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, inspiring a host of students in the arts of painting and printmaking. This is a superb impression of this scarce, early American modernist print by one of the medium’s finest mid-twentieth-century innovators.

Ref.: Sandra D’Emilio and Suzan Campbell, Spirit & Vision: Images of Ranchos de Taos Church (Santa Fe: The Museum of New Mexico Press, 1987), pp. 1–2, 15.

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