SOCORRO, N.M., Jan. 30, 2004 – When the New Mexico chapter of the National New Deal Preservation Association (NNDPA) undertook some restoration work on a 1930s painting by Gisella Loeffler, an Albuquerque art conservator discovered that on the back of the painting was another, unfinished work by the artist.
The painting being restored is “Mexican Dancers,” and it is owned by and housed at the Joseph R. Skeen Library at New Mexico Tech. It is one of a number of such Depression Era paintings housed at Tech’s main library.
The partially completed work, which depicts several male figures at a cockfight, was discovered on the backside of the “Mexican Dancers” painting. While the main outlines of the second composition are present, the finer details, such as the faces of the people or details of the roosters depicted, were never completed.
“We had no idea that the partial painting even existed,” said Dr. Dal Symes, director of the Skeen Library. “It was only when the conservator removed the painting from the frame that the second painting was found painted on the back of the ‘Mexican Dancers.’”
Kathryn Flynn, executive director of the NNDPA, noted that monies were scarce for everyone during the Depression, so it was not unusual for an artist to paint on both sides of any available and acceptable surface as they worked to perfect a creation.
“Other artists have shared that having canvases made available to them through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project was a major asset and a joy for them,” Flynn said. “This ‘double painting,’ however, is the first one we have found in our conservation activities.”
Loeffler was a well-known New Mexican artist who began her career painting for the WPA Federal Art Project in the 1930s. She was born in Austria of Hungarian descent, and later moved to Taos.
Loeffler also has works in collections in Las Cruces and at the Carrie Tingley Hospital in Albuquerque. The style for which she is famous is reminiscent of the folk art of her native countries. She is famous for her use of bright colors, as well as for her illustrations in children’s books. Much of her art depicts children.
The restoration of this painting is part of a larger effort by the NNDPA to catalog, preserve, and promote the artistic works of artists who painted in New Mexico during the Depression Era (1933-43), under the auspices of the nation’s New Deal Federal Art Project. This WPA program funded the creation of a great number of fine public art, as a means of putting artists to work, while at the same time decorating new and old public buildings. The New Deal Federal Art Project was implemented in every state, along with many other similar programs.
Currently there are some 15 paintings sponsored by NNDPA for conservation in various communities and facilities around New Mexico. Other paintings have been conserved in previous years.
The NNDPA’s funding comes from two divisions of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.
The State Historical Preservation Office provided for the condition assessment of “Mexican Dancers,” and the New Mexico Arts Division provided legislative funds allocated to the NNDPA for the actual conservation work.
“These three entities and the Skeen Library are delighted over this new discovery, and we all feel like we got ‘two for one’ on this project,” said Flynn.
The Skeen Library plans to photograph the unfinished painting and place the photograph alongside the completely renovated “Mexican Dancers.”
“Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to exhibit both paintings simultaneously,” Symes said, “since ‘Mexican Dancers’ is a horizontal composition and the cock fight scene was designed to be vertical.”
The painting will soon return to Skeen Library, where it is part of the permanent exhibition.
NNDPA hopes this new find and information may help to spur other art owners to become aware of other New Deal paintings that have not been reported and cataloged.
If anyone is aware of other pieces that have disappeared from their original public sites, they are asked to please contact Kathryn Flynn by writing to P.O. Box 602, Santa Fe, NM 87504, or e-mailing her at email@example.com. Flynn’s telephone numbers are (505) 473-3985 and (505) 690-5845 (cell).