Earth Notes: New Mexico Painter Pablita Velarde

Apr 1, 2020

Pablita Velarde is hardly a household name. But in the world of Southwest art, she is considered one of the greatest female painters of her generation. 

'Basket Dance', by Pablita Velarde
Credit Google Images


Pablita was born in Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico in the early twentieth century. Her mother died when she was 2 ½ years old, leaving her father and grandmother to raise her and her sisters.

At age five, Pablita was taken to a Catholic school where she longed for home.  In summers she went back and helped her father on the farm—that’s when she picked up a piece of charcoal and began to draw. Pablita hung on the words of her father’s stories of the Pueblo ancestors, stories she would one day illustrate for a book. 

Her career as an artist was sealed when, in the eighth grade, she went to the Santa Fe Indian School. Art teacher Dorothy Dunn encouraged her talents and taught her how to grind pigments from earthen materials. Those natural paints remained her favorite medium and became a trademark. Pablita often depicted everyday scenes from her village--picking berries, hunting rabbits and rounding up horses, and performing ceremonial dances.   

In 1939 she was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration to complete more than seventy  murals and framed paintings for Bandelier National Monument.  

By the late 1940s, Pablita was making a living selling her work. “Painting became my life,” she said. “I ate, breathed and dreamed painting.” 

She continued making art into her eighties, with numerous exhibitions and awards to her credit. Before her death in 2006, Pablita Velarde said she was content that her life’s dream had come true.