Women have been vital to art making in Texas and New Mexico
for thousands of years. Female potters, weavers, basket makers
and painters have inhabited these regions and left their creative
evidences for the world to see. The fine arts took a leap forward
when German sculptor Elisabet Ney settled near Hempstead, Texas,
in the 1870's. While scholars have plumbed at length the contributions
of male artists to Southwestern art - save the perpetual obsession
with the life and art of Georgia O'Keeffe - the works of women
artists remain largely under-researched and under-exhibited. This is
rather ironic as, in fact, in myriad approaches, women artists took
far more risks than their male counterparts. Experimentation
became the standard for women artists in Texas and New Mexico
as they elbowed their way to the table dominated by their male
peers. Sadly, many of them were taken far more seriously in their
own generation than they are in our own so-called "enlightened"
time today. Hopefully this exhibition will allow us to examine the
contributions of one of these artists, Anna Keener, on the merit,
depth and breadth of her work and decide for ourselves her place
in American art.
ARTIST AND EDUCATOR
Anna Elizabeth Keener (1895-1982) was born in Flagler, Colorado.
Raised in Dalhart, Texas, she befriended fellow painters Lloyd Lhron
Albright (1896-1950) and Regina Tatum Cooke (1902-1988).
Albright painted at Taos every chance he could and Cooke became
the Taos News arts editor. Both Albright and Cooke likely encouraged
Keener to paint in New Mexico, although evidence of her work in
Taos is limited.
Keener studied with Birger Sandzen at Bethany College
in Linsborg, Kansas, achieving B.F.A. and B.A. degrees there
in 1916 and 1918, respectively. Sandzen painted in Colorado, New Mexico,
and, of course, Kansas, and became an associate of
the Taos Society of Artists in 1922. He became well-known for his heavy
impasto and Fauve-like palette. Keener applied the dynamic
brushwork and vivid colors
learned from Sandzen to landscapes in Colorado, New Mexico and
Texas, and occasionally painted genre scenes.
Keener also enlisted in the United States Navy during World War
I. Due to a shortage of clerical help during this time, the Naval
Reserve Act allowed women to enlist. By the Armistice in 1918,
over eleven thousand women had signed up as Yeomen (F) or
"Yeomenettes." In her own typewritten resume, Keener listed her
service as a "Yeowoman." She was stationed at Detroit, Michigan,
and not discharged until October 1919. While serving in Detroit,
she took night classes at the Detroit School of Design.
In 1920, female artists making a living strictly in the studio were
few and far between. Avenues for an art career in the United States
were largely limited to teaching art and/or commercial art. Thus
Keener began her art teaching career at Globe, Arizona, public
schools in 1920. While there and under the wings of fellow teachers,
she made numerous trips to the surrounding Apache reservations.
In addition to Arizona, Keener would eventually teach in public
schools in Kansas, New Mexico and Texas. Allegedly she gave one
of her paintings to each graduating senior at Dalhart High School
when she taught there.
Like many female art teachers at this time, Keener supplemented
her art education during summer breaks and any time she could at
reputable art schools and art colonies and with private instructors.
Consequently, she also studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the
Art Institute of Chicago and Colorado State Teacher's College, and
with private instructors in Mexico City. She learned lithography
from the master of this medium in Taos, Joseph Imhof. Keener
received her master of arts from the University of New Mexico
Keener married Louis R. Wilton at Dalhart, Texas, in November 1923.
The union was an unhappy one and they divorced about 1930. She
used her maiden name "Keener" for her artistic endeavors, but was
known as Anna Keener Wilton in her teaching and scholarly pursuits.
She was an internationally recognized and honored artist.
The Southwest in general and Navajo culture in particular served as a
focus for much of her work. Written works include Spontaneity in
Design (1923), describing the "scribble" approach to design. Keener
was a Life Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters
and a charter member of the Art of American Society. In addition
to these organizations, she was a member of numerous educational
and art organizations.
Her experiences as an educator also included a stint at Sul Ross
State College (now University) at Alpine, Texas, from 1925-26, and
for twelve years as art professor at Eastern New Mexico College
(now University). While at Portales, Keener also maintained a
studio in Santa Fe. She retired from ENMC in 1953 and moved full
time to Santa Fe. Keener actively promoted art in education and
everyday life and was among the organizers of the New Mexico
Arts Commission. As a member of Artists Equity, Inc., she worked
for legislation to establish a National Council of the Arts.
NEW DEAL and EXHIBITIONS
Keener also participated in the New Deal art programs under
President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She painted a mural, Zuni Indian
Pottery Woman, for the McKinley County Courthouse at Gallup,
New Mexico, in 1942. And, she allegedly ran the New Deal Art
Center at Gallup.'
While teaching. Keener maintained an impressive exhibition
schedule. She exhibited in group exhibitions across the United
States. sending a block print to the "Midwestern Artists Exhibition"
at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1925. and at the "Exposition
International Federation of Business and Professional Women" at
the Stedelyk Museum in Amsterdam in 1933. for example. Among
her solo exhibitions were those at Dalhart (1930); Ball State Teacher's
College, Muncie. Indiana (1931); and Amarillo. Texas (1932); and
at the New Mexico Arts Commission in Santa Fe (1967).
In 1969 Keener said: "I am stimulated by everything.
Using newmedia (which in itself is exciting). each day challenges me
to create something fresh and meaningful and of interest to others. I hope."
Keener was always highly experimental in her work. And, in true
artist fashion, she moved easily back and forth between styles. For
example. the heavy impasto of her late teens and early 1920s paintings,
learned under the influence of Sandzen, appears again with her
experiments in acrylic polymers in the 1960s. The stylization of
forms she used while living in Dalhart in the late 1920s is similar in
treatment to Lloyd Albright's work of the sanle period. This stylization
of form re-emerges in the 1970s. Likewise her Regionalist style of the
1940s resurfaces in the 1960s and 1970s. In this way, Keener never
felt locked into a particular "Anna Keener look." She merely created
however her muse dictated.
Borrowing from both private and public collections, with this exhibition
Panhandle- Plains Historical Museum presents a retrospective of
Keener's work from her time in Kansas and Texas to the conclusion
of her career in Santa Fe. Sixty-five works in oil, acrylic, watercolor,
lithography, block print, clay and wood are included in the exhibition.
Given the number of works from her early exhibition checklists, the
bulk of Anna Keener's paintings from the late teens to about 1940
remain unlocated, Moreover, while not a prolific printmaker, her
block prints and lithographs are exemplary and very difficult to find.
Finally, her work as a sculptor was completely unknown. Hopefully
this exhibition will provide the opportunity for a reassessment for
her work so Anna Keener might rightfully assume her position in
the history of art in Texas and New Mexico.
Michael R. Grauer, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs!
Curator of Art and Western Heritage
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas
Who was Anna E Keener ?