"Her Life was Full of Promise"
Another remarkable Native American Woman, Eva Mirabal. She has a chapter in They Roared but there is a beautiful and much more comprehensive work created by her son, Jonathan Warm Day Coming and Lois Rudnick, Eva Mirabal: Three Generations of Tradition and Modernity at Taos Pueblo.
There is so much more to this woman's story than you will find here, but this is a start. Eva's work is remarkable and her sons carry on her tradition with their art.
Eva Mirabal, Eah Ha Wa, in her own language of Tiwa, means “Fast Growing Corn.” She was born in 1920 in Taos Pueblo, in Taos, New Mexico. As a child, members of her family posed as models for non-Native American artists who were working in Taos. (Nicolai Fechin, was Russian born, and became famous for his paintings of Native Peoples. Joseph Imhoff, was another famous Southwest painter who painted Native Americans and worked for Currier and Ives). Eva’s father, Beaded Shirt, was an especially popular model. A bust that bears his image was installed outside Mabel Dodge Luhan’s home. (Luhan was a wealthy American patron of the arts who was a larger-than-life presence in the Taos art colony).
In her young life, fine art surrounded Eva, such as jewelry, weaving and delicate works in silver. She was interviewed for radio in 1946 and said, “My tribe produces very delicate works of silver. Many fine products are produced by the method of weaving. They also make Indian necklaces and bracelets from the beads… As you can see, I was surrounded by various phases of art in my everyday life while I was a youth.”
After graduating from 8th grade at the Taos Pueblo Day School, Eva studied with Dorothy Dunn, an American art instructor who created The Studio School at the Santa Fe Indian School. Dunn first noticed Eva’s talents from sketches in a notebook. “Eva had the ability to translate everyday events into scenes of warmth and semi-naturalist beauty.” Early in her career, when Eva was still in her teens, she was invited to exhibit in a Chicago gallery. Dorothy Dunn noted, “Her portraits were not like the common, romanticized scene of Indians of the time, which were painted by Americans. Eva painted realistic scenes depicting people and life at the Pueblo.” Growing up surrounded by artists, Eva was inspired to draw and paint the Pueblo life she knew.
In some of her paintings, Eva featured women in their historic traditional everyday dress: a manta (brightly colored shawl), turquoise beads, and over-the-knee white deerskin leggings. Eva paid close attention to details and captured intricate designs in clothing and in utility ware, like baskets used in food preparation. “She expresses in every drawing—in every line—a truly feminine tenderness and grace.” A critic from the Chicago Union Teacher magazine wrote: “The clean colors, simplicity and good taste make this ageless art truly modern.” Eva was the only female included in the First National Exhibition of Indian Painting in 1946, held at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her paintings were exhibited in galleries and museums in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Critics found Eva’s work not only interesting, but elegant.
World War II interrupted Eva’s art studies. Like many other Indian people, she signed up for duty. Adventurous and determined, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corp, (WAC) in June 1943, beginning basic training at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Eva served until 1947. She was the only full-time designated artist commissioned to draw a comic strip for the nationally distributed newspaper AIR WAC, “G.I. Gertie,” which was both revolutionary and subversive for its time. This work distinguished Eva as one of the first female cartoonists to have her own published comic strip. She also designed posters and painted a building-sized mural entitled A Bridge of Wings, at the Air Service Command in Patterson Field, Ohio.
Eva painted murals at many locations, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Buhl Planetarium, the Santa Fe Indian School, the library, and the Veterans Hospital in Albuquerque. When the war ended, she taught and painted as an artist in residence at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. On a campus radio show, she talked again about the importance of making art about her people and bringing knowledge of Native American art to White America. “They have rarely had the privilege of studying it and rarely know what to expect of this type of art,” she said. “Although most people overlook the fact, American Indian art is the only true American art because it originated here. The type that most people recognize as ‘American’ true art is really borrowing from some foreign land.”
While studying at the Taos Valley Art School in 1949, Eva's painting Picking Wild Berries was included in the 1953 traveling exhibition, Contemporary American Indian Painting. She received the Margretta S, Dietrich Award for this work. In her biography with Jonathan Warm Day, Rudnick writes: “In Picking Wild Berries , Mirabal attains a beautiful balance with her placement of finely rendered trees and bushes that overshadow the women who gently gather the berries from them, linking the fantastical colors and shapes of the branches and leaves of the forest with their reflection in the women’s dresses.” She was an unintentional portraitist, achieving character with a few deft lines. In miniature patterns, she was very talented and exceedingly skilled. Animals, genre, and the less formal ceremonials were her favorite subjects.
Aside from Eva’s great artistic talent, she was known for being extraordinarily professional and well put together. She wore her black hair in pin curls and struck a trim, fine figure in her uniform. More than one man wrote her letters during the war, proposing marriage. But Eva set her sights on art school in Chicago. Her life was full of promise. Lois Rudnick, co-author of Eva’s biography said: “She gained such a reputation and had so much confidence and poise. She came from a world so entirely distanced from an army.”