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Walter Ufer


Born in Germany to parents who had immigrated the following year to Louisville, Kentucky, Walter Ufer became one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists and achieved much distinction as a painter of Pueblo Indian genre. He showed early art talent and was encouraged by his father and his teachers. After grammar school, he apprenticed to a lithography firm where he learned basic design principles. He spent seven years in Europe and earned his formal art education at Germany’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts where he became friends with American artists Joseph Henry Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein. In 1900, he moved to Chicago and worked as a graphic designer, attracting critical acclaim for his work. In 1911, he was able to afford two years’ study in Europe; returning to Chicago, he exhibited his paintings to great praise and was awarded a travel opportunity to New Mexico as a guest of the Santa Fe Railroad.

Taos captured Ufer’s imagination, as it had so many artists, and by 1917 he was an active member of the Taos Society of Artists. Called “energetic, outspoken and uninhibited” as well as “stormy, irascible and intransigent,” he quickly made his mark on the art community, the only Taos artist to ever be compared to Cezanne. By 1920 his paintings of Taos Indians had achieved great notoriety. “The Indian has lost his race pride,” Ufer commented at one point. “He wants only to be American. Our civilization has terrific power. We don’t feel it, but that man out there in the mountains feels it, and he cannot cope with such pressure.” Accordingly, Ufer depicted the Indian with an unblinking eye for detail, often without the romanticized trappings of lost grandeur. Unlike so many of his Taos counterparts, Ufer seems to have been struck by the irony of the Indian’s lot in this artistic paradise, and he used the language of paint to argue more eloquently than he could have done with words.

Indeed, Ufer was highly political and dedicated to eradicating social injustice. He was an active socialist, a generous, outspoken man with a sensitive social conscience. During the flu epidemic of 1919, he worked day and night alongside the town’s only doctor, ministering to the sick.

During this time, Ufer earned several prestigious awards including membership in the National Academy of Design in New York and recognition by the Art Institute of Chicago. His paintings were added to permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. Throughout most of the last twenty years of his painting career, he had a very generous patron, William Henry Klauer, a wealthy businessman from Dubuque, Iowa, who provided him with the critical financial safety net to continue painting. However, although his paintings sold well in the 1920s, their market dropped with the Stock Market crash, and their value did not increase until long after his death in 1936.

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