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 Laverne Nelson Black  (1887 - 1938)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/Illinois/Wisconsin      Known for: Indian-western genre painting, illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Viola, Wisconsin, Laverne Black became a painter and sculptor of western genre.  His style combined Impressionism and Modernism, and he did not receive much attention for his work during his lifetime but was much appreciated later for his pictorial record of western life.

He was the son of an innkeeper, and as a child, often played with Indian boys from the local Kickapoo reservation.  From these experiences, he acquired great interest in Indian legends and traditions, which he began painting on his own, using natural materials such as berry juices for paints.

His family sold their hotel business and moved to Chicago where he received his only formal training, which was at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts from 1906-1908.  He worked as an illustrator for Minneapolis and Chicago newspapers, and assignments took him West where he sketched on ranches and Indian reservations.

However, the best response to his work came in New York from customers at Tiffany's jewelry company who loved the small bronze figures he made of Indians and Cowboys.  These sculptures were the first western-art objects to be shown at Tiffany's since those of Frederic Remington, which speaks to the perception of their quality.

In 1925, Black moved to Taos, New Mexico because of failing health and his need of a drier climate.  There he painted the landscape, Indian culture, and horses, and the Santa Fe Railroad purchased some of his paintings to use in advertisements.  Many thought his best work resulted from his New Mexico paintings.  On many of his works, he used modernist heavy palette knife applications and created large, loosely brushed blocks of color, but his painting still had close attention to detail.

In 1937, needing money because the Depression years were so difficult, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he and Oscar Berninghaus completed murals for the Post Office building.  Black's mural showed vignettes of Arizona from the covered wagon pioneers to the mining period and included the pony express days and the beginning of the cattle industry.  However, from working on this project, he died in a Chicago hospital of lead poisoning from paint.  A memorial exhibition of his work was sponsored by the Arizona Society of Painters and Sculptors.

Sources include:
David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peggy and Harold Samuels, Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:
LAVERNE NELSON BLACK (1887-1938)

Growing up in Wisconsin, Black spent his time drawing his natural surroundings. In 1906, he moved with his family to Illinois and enrolled at the Chicago Art Academy. For two years he studied there, gaining skills in illustration, sculpture and painting.

Over the summers between 1908 and 1925,he escaped the East to paint in the West, always returning to his jobs in Chicago and New York. In 1925, ill health moved him, his wife and two children to Taos, New Mexico where began painting Southwest Indian subjects. He had several successful sales to Tiffany’s and commissions from various clients for his Indian genre, but he never gained substantial recognition for his work completed iwhile living in this popular Southwest area.

It was not until the late 1930’s that Black received the recognition he deserved. This was due in part to an unusually reticent personality and also to an impressionistic style which was not popular during the preceding years.

Deteriorating health prompted yet another move to even warmer climes, and in 1937, during the Depression, Black moved the family to Phoenix where he struggled to make ends meet. That same year he was fortunate to find employment on a WPA project painting murals for the U.S. Postal Service. Together with Oscar Edmund Berninghaus, Black completed a large mural depicting Arizona’s progress from pioneering days to the industrialization of the 1930’s for the main post office in Phoenix.

The influence of his time spent in New Mexico is apparent in the painting "The Deer Hunters." The palette is suggestive of Berninghaus while the composition hints at Dunton. The rich, realistic colors depicting the upper elevations of the desert southwest is pleasing and reassuring of the obvious character of the work. His works, though rare, are highly sought after and, consequently, contribute to public and private collections nationally.

Provenance:
® Private collection, Phoenix, Arizona
® Stephen O’Meara Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico
® Private collection, El Paso, Texas

Related works:
® Apache Hunting Party
20 x 30 inches
Oil on canvas, signed lower right
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, Santa Fe Collection of Southwest


Art, Schaumburg, Illinois

® Along The Old Trail
30 x 40 inches
Oil on canvas, signed lower right
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, Santa Fe Collection of Southwest
Art, Schaumburg, Illinois

® Apache Festival a.k.a. Gathering for the Fiesta at Taos
16 x 23 inches
Oil on canvas, signed lower right
Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries:
LAVERNE NELSON BLACK (1887 - 1938)

LaVerne Nelson Black was born at Viola, Wisconsin, in the Kickapoo Valley, an area rich in Indian lore. Interested in drawing as a boy, Black experimented with vegetable juices, earths and a soft stone called red keel as his first painting supplies. In 1906 Black's family moved to Chicago, where Black enrolled at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. During his second year at the Academy his work was of such outstanding quality that he was awarded a scholarship.

After completing his training, Black produced artwork for newspapers in Chicago and in New York City. He continued to paint and received a few commissions from galleries. However, he was better known for his bronzes, which were the first to be shown at Tiffany's since those of Frederic Remington.

In the late 1920's ill health forced Black to leave the East and settle with his wife and two children in Taos, New Mexico. Here, in a region rich in heritage, he did some of his best work depicting the pueblo architecture, Native Americans and the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Several years later, Black moved his family to the warmer climate of Phoenix, Arizona. During this Taos-Phoenix period, he completed commissions for the Santa Fe Railway Company with several of the paintings displayed in some of the line's largest offices. In 1937, he was also commissioned by the Public Works Administration to paint four murals for the United States Post Office in Phoenix, focusing on the progress of Arizona from time of the first settlers to Black's day. His friends believed that he contracted a form of paint poisoning while executing the murals, for shortly after their completion his already sickly condition worsened and he died at the age of fifty-one.

It was not until the late 1930's that LaVerne Nelson Black received the recognition he deserved. Black's paintings were characterized by broad brush strokes and frequent use of the palette knife. Blocks of bold color, usually in warm hues, conveyed the essence of the Southwest, which he painted from life when possible rather than working from sketches.


Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
LaVerne Nelson Black was born in Viola, Wisconsin, in the Kickapoo River Valley. His interest in art came early, when he mixed pigments with local earth and plants in order to draw.  When his family moved from Viola to Chicago, Black's access to art supplies improved; studying at the Chicago Academy of Art, Black distinguished himself among his classmates and won a scholarship after his first year. At the Academy, Black studied painting, illustration and sculpting, all of which he would go on to use in his long and varied career.  After graduation, he began working in newspaper illustration, a professional that found him living in Chicago, New York and Minneapolis.  During the summers, he would steal away to the West to paint and sketch Indian subjects.

The focal point of his western travels, of course, was Taos, New Mexico, the capital of western painting and the base of operations for an entire generation of famous painters and artists.  He also produced several bronzes, which he successfully placed in Tiffany's, the first such pieces to appear in the store since Frederic Remington's.  By 1925, Black had become so ill he could no longer tolerate the winters in the east, and moved with his family to Taos to establish permanent residency.  In Taos, he was able to concentrate on Indian subjects, bringing a brushy, jittery style to his depictions.

His health, continued to decline, unfortunately, and he soon was forced to relocate once again, this time to Phoenix, AZ.  In Phoenix, he joined up with Ernest Blumenschein to paint murals for the Post Office with a WPA grant.  The murals followed the state of Arizona from its discovery by white settlers to the industrialization of the 1920s and 30s.  Shortly after they had finished them, however, Black became sick.  Within several weeks he was dead, presumably of lead poisoning from the paint.  Tragically, his reputation continued to improve after his death and, within a decade of his passing, had become much more famous than he had ever been during his life. Today, his pieces are rare and quite in demand, and can command significant prices.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I:
Laverne Nelson Black was a latecomer to the Southwest, but he produced many excellent paintings of his adopted region. He had spent his childhood in the Kickapoo River Valley area of Wisconsin, an area that possessed a strong Indian heritage. As the story goes, Black made his ealiest drawings using earth and vegetable colors, including the soft red stone native to the area which the Indians used for ceremonial purposes.

In 1906, Black enrolled in classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts before pursuing a career as a newspaper artist in Chicago, Minneapolis and New York. While in New York, he executed some work on commission, and it is likely that he received some further instruction in the fine arts. Black suffered from ill health and was forced to move with his family to a warmer, drier climate.

In the middle 1920’s, he settled in Taos and was immediately drawn to the picturesque subject matter of the region. He painted many works depicting the Indians and their architecture against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Although his works were quite capable, he seems to have received very little recognition in his lifetime, and apparently lived a hand-to-mouth existence. The Depression hit Black particularly hard, and when his health troubled him more, he moved to Phoenix.

There he received a series of commissions from the Santa Fe Railway, and worked on an important mural project with Oscar Berninghaus in the Phoenix Post Office.

The fact that Black received so little support for his work while in Taos is surprising, since his paintings are often very well executed and highly evocative of the light and color of the Southwest.

ReSources include: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dr. Rick Stewart, Hawthorne Publishing Company, 1986

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
Born in Viola, Wisconsin, Laverne Nelson Black was first introduced to the Native American culture through the children he played with from the Kickapoo reservation near his childhood home. When his family moved to Chicago, Black was able to receive formal instruction at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

Black took work as an illustrator in Chicago, relishing his assignments that would take him out West. In 1925 he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he combined Impressionist and Modernist techniques in his paintings of the local landscape and Native American culture, many of which were created with a palette knife, and heavy use of paint and color.

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Laverne Black is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Taos Pre 1940
Western Painters



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