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 Crescencio Martinez  (1879 - 1918)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico / Mexico      Known for: ceremonial Indian figure watercolor painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Described as "deserving of the title of founder of the modern school of American Indian painting", Crescencio Martinez had a short but influential life.  His ethnicity was both Hopi and Navajo, and he was native to his mother's New Mexico San Ildefonso Pueblo.  There he was a decorator of pottery and worked with his wife, Maximiliana, sister of the renowned Maria Martinez.  He also worked with Dr. Edgar Hewitt and his School of American Research in the excavation of nearby early Pueblo sites in the Pajarito Plateau, location of Bandelier and Los Alamos.

During one of their 'digs' together in the summer of 1917, Martinez showed his paintings to Hewitt, who immediately praised their uniqueness.  He gave Martinez paper and paints, and asked him to depict "all the characters that appear in the summer and winter ceremonies" of his pueblo.  By the end of that year, Martinez had accomplished that task, and gave Hewitt twenty-two watercolor paintings. But sadly it was his last work.  Martinez died on June 20, 1918, likely of the pervasive flu epidemic.

Now known as The Crescencio Set, his paintings are transparent watercolor with "a preference for pale and greyed colors, with brilliant, full-intensity hues in smaller areas.  . . .There is an over-all sombre, serious mood, even sadness, in the characters; no gaiety in the dancers, yet the painting is light and delicate.  . . .They are charged with life and vitality, graceful stepping, never at rest." The set is preserved in the archives of the School of American Research in Santa Fe. Included are groups and single dancers and drummers. 

Other paintings by Martinez are his Eagle Dance, 1917 and Mountain Sheep Dancers, 1918.  Collections housing his work include the Millicent Rogers Foundation in Taos; Indian Arts Fund in Santa Fe; Mesa Verde National Park Museum; and the American Museum of Natural History.

Source:
Dorothy Dunn, Indian Painting of the Southwest and Plains Areas, pp. 198-201.

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