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William Penhallow Henderson

 (1877 - 1943)
William Penhallow Henderson was active/lived in New Mexico, Kansas.  William Henderson is known for modernist Indian, genre and landscape painting, woodworking.

William Penhallow Henderson

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for William Penhallow Henderson
Born in Medford, Massachusetts, William Penhallow Henderson became a painter of Indian motifs, especially New Mexico pueblo dance figures.  His work conveyed a highly personal sense of the viewer being with the subjects of his painting, and it was said that he saw beauty everywhere in his surroundings.

He spent much of an unstable childhood with a family that followed the father to a Texas cattle ranch, back to Medford, to a small Kansas town where his father was a banker, and then East again in 1891.

He studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with Edmund Tarbell and won a Paige Traveling Scholarship that allowed him to travel and study in Europe for three years beginning 1901.  There he was greatly influenced by the styles of Cezanne, Van Gogh, Renoir and Whistler.

He then taught in Chicago at the Academy of Fine Arts, painted murals in the Chicago public schools, and designed scenery and costumes for the Chicago Fine Arts Theatre.

He married poet Alice Corbin, and the two collaborated on children's books with him doing the illustrations.  In 1916, having spent several summers in the Southwest, the couple moved to Santa Fe where he became an active mural painter, architectural and furniture designer, using Indian and Hispanic images.  His studio was on the Camino de Monte Sol, and in 1923, he was one of the founders of the New Mexico Painters Society.

He also painted in Arizona.  His 1904 painting, Hopi Kachina Dance, is the earliest extant Arizona work, and from 1916, he painted many Indian ceremonies in Arizona as well as New Mexico.  Walpi Snake Dance is dated 1920, and in style is described as being "emotive rather than anthropological, drawing on the influence of French Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and the Nabi painters of the 1890s." (138)

As owner of the Pueblo-Spanish Building Company in Santa Fe, he designed Sena Plaza and the Wheelright Museum, then called the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art, which won an award in 1938 from the Architectural League of New York.  In the entrance he sculpted a mural of a corn plant.

James Ballinger, Visitors to Arizona, 1846-1980

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for William Penhallow Henderson
Born Medford, MA, 1877; died 1943. Painter, spec. Southwestern subjects. Teacher. Architect. Spent much of his childhood in Clifton where his father was a banker and on a Texas cattle ranch. Studied at the Boston Museum School with Edmund Tarbell before going to Europe in 1901. Returned to Chicago after three years where he taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts for the next twelve years. Visited New Mexico in 1904 and moved to Santa Fe in 1916. In 1925, he turned to architecture and decorative arts forming the Pueblo-Spanish Building Company. Illustrated two books, Spinning Woman of the Sky (1912) and Brothers of Light: the Penitentes of the Southwest (1937), written by his wife, Alice Corbin Henderson.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Shipp, Steve. American Art Colonies, 1850-1930: a Historical Guide to America’s Original Art Colonies and Their Artists. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.; AskArt,, accessed Dec. 16, 2005; Bell, David, and Daphne Anderson Deeds. William Penhallow Henderson: Master Colorist of Santa Fe. (Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1984); Feldman, Sandra K. William Penhallow Henderson: The Early Years, 1901-1916. (New York: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, 1982)

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from The Owings Gallery
Biography photo for William Penhallow Henderson
William Penhallow Henderson's first experience with Santa Fe occurred when he was a young boy in the early 1880s. During a brief period when the Henderson family attempted a cattle-ranching enterprise in Texas, Mrs. Henderson took young Willie on a wagon ride to distant Santa Fe. There he saw for the first time what was destined to become his home some thirty years later, and more importantly, the place where he would eventually find his stylistic identity as a modern American artist.

The Hendersons returned to Medford, MA, William's birthplace in 1886. While in high school, Henderson studied in addition to art, civil engineering and comparative religion, interests that would remain with him for the rest of his life. He continued his education at the Boston Museum School, then headed by the well-respected American Impressionist painter, Edmund C. Tarbell. Tarbell trained young Henderson in the mechanical aspects of academic painting, instilling in his pupils the technical principals of the European masters. Thus the foundations were laid for Henderson's later reputation as a master technician.

Henderson received several scholarships as an accomplished art student, most importantly the Paige Traveling Scholarship, which allowed him to study in Europe. In keeping with his solitary nature, Henderson did not join a specific atelier while in Europe. Instead he chose to explore the museums and galleries on his own assiduously studying both the Old Masters as well as the contemporaries of his time. He was moved by the works of Whistler whose influences are clearly present in Henderson's early works. And he held a particular admiration for Velasquez, whose works he spent hours copying. During this time he voraciously produced his own sketches and paintings as well.

Some view his European pastel sketches as records of his discovery of pure color; a discovery which sustains Henderson's career and later establishes him as a master colorist in Santa Fe. The inspiration of Whistler's impressionism combined with the new-found freedom of non-representational emotive color initiated Henderson into a new realm of aesthetics: color used to define form, but color always bound by the forms of nature.

Upon his return to America in 1904, Henderson accepted a teaching position at the newly formed Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where he would remain for the next twelve years. During his first year in Chicago, his European masters. Despite his time-consuming commitment as a teacher, Henderson maintained a disciplined production of works of art that earned him a reputation of a rising young painter of importance.

Also in 1904, Henderson met Alice Corbin, a young poet and reviewer who would later be a founder, along with Harriet Monroe of the infamous Poetry magazine. They married a year later. During this period commissioned portraiture occupied much of Henderson's time, with the exception of one significant interruption. In the summer of 1904, Henderson traveled to Mexico and Arizona by rail. Henderson, inspired by the Mexican culture and the splendor of the southwest, produced thirty works during this trip, including his first paintings of American Indian (Hopi) subjects that were to be so important later in his life.

In 1916, Alice Corbin was diagnosed with tuberculosis. There were few tuberculosis treatment centers in the U.S. at that time. Perhaps because of Henderson's predisposed affinity for the Southwest, they chose the Sunmount Sanitorium in Santa Fe and subsequently moved into a small adobe house near the bottom of Camino Del Monte Sol.

In January of 1917, Henderson's views of New Mexico went on exhibit at the Roullier Galleries in Chicago. The show prompted a series of excited reviews and speculations that Henderson had "…found something new in that historic land." The Chicago Herald commented that "Those who have been there feel that Mr. Henderson has caught the spirit and air of the place more than the other artists. [Henderson] gets his sunshine effect through his design and really lovely color and goes a step farther in giving atmosphere. One knows that his figures and churches were painted outdoors under a New Mexico sky…"

Despite the favorable reviews, distance from the major art markets of the time effected the sales of Henderson's works. He turned to architecture and the decorative arts to sustain him financially, while continuing to produce paintings. In 1925, Henderson formed the Pueblo-Spanish Building Company through which he planned and built several structures in Santa Fe and elsewhere. Some of the most notable are The Miss Elizabeth and Martha White compound on Garcia street (now the School of American Research), the House of Navajo Religion (now the Wheelwright Museum of American Indian Art), and the renovation and extension of Santa Fe's historic Sena Plaza, a landmark of Santa Fe style.

Henderson was also prolific in his design and production of handmade furniture. He supplied hand-made furniture and cabinetwork to clients throughout the Southwest as well as Boston and New York. Most artists who came to Santa Fe during the first decades of the century made the move based on artistic conscience. Henderson's relocation was circumstantial and he originally feared that such a remote address as Santa Fe would precipitate a serious digression in his career. But it is clear from the quality of Henderson's prolific production during the Santa Fe years, from 1916 to his death in 1943, that the particular brand of isolation Santa Fe imposed on him was inspirational.

The journey of Henderson's life led him from a traditional, technically-oriented painting education as a student in Boston to Europe, the home of the Old Masters as well as the new Fauves and Cubist, to his spiritual home in Santa Fe, where he found his stylistic place, between naturalism and abstraction, bridging realism and romanticism.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
William Henderson first visited Santa Fe as a boy in the early 1880s when his parents' attempt at cattle ranching brought him there. He returned thirty years later to make his permanent home here and create the artwork which would be long remembered.

William's father was an amateur painter and friend of artist William Edward Norton. During his childhood, the family moved several times, but returned to Boston in 1891 where Henderson studied at the Massachusetts Normal Art School and then a t the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts in 1899. His instruction there was given by American impressionist painter Edmund C. Tarbell. The next year he won the Paige Traveling scholarship for two years of study in Europe. While there he embarked upon an intense period of self-directed study observing the works of the Old Masters and doing many sketches and paintings. He especially appreciated the work of Velasquez and spent many hours copying his paintings. While in London he met the family of John Singer Sargent and then traveled to Paris, Berlin Madrid, Dresden and the Azores.

He returned to the US and taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago from 1904 to 1910. He painted in Mexico and Arizona in 1904 with his colleague Carl N. Werntz. This rail trip provided inspiration for thirty works, including some of the first Hopi subject matter that he became famous for in later life. But during this time period most of the work he did to support himself was private portraits. In 1905 Henderson married Alice Corbin who was a well-known poet and assistant editor of Poetry Magazine. They had a daughter in 1907. He completed ten murals between the years of 1906 and 1907 for the Joliet Township High School. The Hendersons wrote and illustrated Anderson's Best Fairy Tales and took their next trip to Europe on the proceeds. In 1914 William was commissioned by Frank Lloyd Wright to design Murals for Midway Gardens in Chicago. He also designed sets and costumes for a Chicago Fine Arts Theater Production. All the while he was continuing to produce a considerable amount of artwork.

When Alice was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1916, the family moved to Santa Fe for her treatment. Henderson's work went on exhibit in January of 1917 at the Roullier Galleries in Chicago to excited reviews. He was able to capture in vivid color the New Mexico light and became of the of the founders of the New Mexico Painters Society. His dramatic composition drew people into his landscapes. But despite the favorable reviews, the distance from major art markets affected the sales of his work. He was employed during World War I by the US Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation in San Francisco to paint camouflage onto ship hulls. During the 1920s he formed a building company and designed and built many important buildings and fine furniture in the Santa Fe area. In the mid-1930s he completed easel paintings and six murals on the Santa Fe Federal Court Building for the WPA. He died in Tesuque, New Mexico in 1943.

His work is included in many museum collections including the Denver Art Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, Jonson Gallery of the University of New Mexico and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

1. Visitors to Arizona, 1846-1980 by James Ballinger
2. Serenading the Light: Painters of the Desert Southwest(Collection of Billy Schenck) by David Clemmer
3. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
4. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma

Biography from Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
William Penhallow Henderson was an American painter of oil and pastel, muralist, architect, craftsman and teacher who was born in Medford, Massachusetts on June 4, 1877.  His father was a Texas rancher and a Kansas banker before returning to Massachusetts in 1891.  After graduation from high school, Henderson studied at the Massachusetts Normal Art School and was the pupil of Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862-1938).  After two years in Europe from 1901 to 1903, Henderson taught at the Chicago Academy of the Fine Arts and painted murals in Chicago schools in 1907.  In 1911 Henderson and his wife, the poet Alice Corbin, collaborated on children's books.  In 1915 he designed theatrical scenery and costumes.

In 1916 Henderson settled in Santa Fe, having previously been a summer visitor. In the West he was influenced by the modernists  toward a  flat  decorative  style. While living in Santa Fe, Henderson practiced architecture, designing and building many private houses.  He also designed and made original furniture using the assistance of native artisans.  He was appointed to the Federal Arts Project, for which he completed two easel paintings and six murals for Santa Fe's Federal Court Building.  

Henderson had a one-man painting exhibition in Chicago at the Art Institute. During his career as an artist, he was a holder of Paige traveling scholarship at the Boston Museum School and was a member of the Denver Art Association. Henderson died in Tesuque, Santa Fe County, New Mexico on October 15, 1943.


El Palacio Magazine of the Museum of New Mexico.  Winter 1987, Vol. 93, Number 2.  Introduction by David Turner, then editor.

Feldman, Sandra K.  William Penhallow Henderson, The Early Years:1901-16.  Exhibition Catalog for Hirschel and Adler Galleries, Inc.  1982.

Fielding, Mantle.  Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors, & Engravers.    Edited by Glenn B. Opitz.  Poughkeepsie, New York: Apollo Book.  1983.

Personal communication.  Owings-Dewey Fine Art, Santa Fe. 3-9-99

Samuels, Peggy & Harold.  Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West.  New Jersey: Castle.  1985.

William Penhallow Henderson, Master Colorist of Santa Fe.  Exhibition catalog.  Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum.  1984.

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About  William Penhallow Henderson

Born:  1877 - Medford, Massachusetts
Died:   1943 - Tesuque, New Mexico
Known for:  modernist Indian, genre and landscape painting, woodworking

Essays referring to
William Penhallow Henderson

Taos pre-1940