Beginning Friday at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo, the public will have its first opportunity to view part of the large collection of Gene Kloss prints recently donated to the center by John Armstrong, a Pueblo high-school teacher and collector.
Titled Ritual & Ceremony, the show features many of the works for which she was most well known: her "Penitente" rituals and the sacred ceremonies of the Taos Indians.
What sets Kloss apart from the thousands of other artists who've scuffled along the well-worn path to the land of commercial kokopelis and howling coyotes to cash in at the El Dorado Taco Bell, is that she didn't over-romanticize her subject matter.
On the contrary, Kloss's vision of the Southwestern cultures -- including both Catholic and Native American ceremonies -- was epic and detached. Fraught with stark contrasts between shadow and light, and swelling with the most aesthetically compelling lines, her subjects are considered from a distance, conveying a brash respect, while her themes of the human relationship to nature and God transcend setting.
Born in Oakland, Calif. in 1903, Alice Geneva Glasier was a rare bird for her time. Having soaked up much of the cosmopolitan life in the bustling Bay Area and topping off her education at Berkeley in 1924, she committed herself to a life of art and letters when she married the poet and composer Phillips Kloss. During their honeymoon camping trip to the Southwest, Gene -- like so many others of her time including Georgia O'Keeffe and Mable Dodge Luhan -- became smitten with the visual possibilities of a new and exotic cultural landscape.
Because of her talents and her detached veneration of the local cultures, many of the Native American and Hispanic communities in the Taos area allowed Kloss to witness their sacred, secret ceremonies.
All told, Kloss created over 625 intaglio prints including etchings, drypoints, mezzotints, and a number of other experimental techniques before she died in 1996. Of those 625 prints, the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center is incredibly fortunate to have been bequeathed 355, the largest collection anywhere.
Like any artist of great imagination and style, Kloss did not merely represent or depict the worlds she saw; she revealed their conflicts and mysteries, and made them better.