On May 10, 1893 was born Quah Ah (which means “white coral beads”), a Native American painter better known as Tonita Peña. When she was only 12, her mother and sister died, her father unable to raise her, took her to live with an aunt at Cochiti Pueblo, where she remained the rest of her life.
Tonita was the only woman in the group of early pueblo artists called as The San Ildefonso Self-Taught Group, which includes other important artists as Abel Sanchéz, Julián Martínez and José Encarnación Peña.
By the time she’s 25 years old, Tonita was a successful easel artist, her paintings were being shown in museum exhibitions and commercial art galleries in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Her work shows the reality she knew better, the life in the pueblo, specially the ceremonial dances and everyday events.
In 1931, Tonita exhibited at the Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts which was presented at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York. By 1932, the Whitney Museum bought Tonita’s painting Basket Dance for $225, the highest price paid up to this time for a pueblo painting, the most Native American paintings at this time were selling between $2 and $25.
Native arts were a factor in modern American’s changing perspective of the aesthetic and spiritual value of Native American culture and identity. Tonita Peña’s work emphasized the role of women in pueblo’s everyday life and is credited with expanding the expectations of women in art by refusing to limit herself to the traditional female role of potter.
Her works are part of the collections at the American Museum of Natural History (New York), the Cleveland Museum of Art (Ohio), the Cranbrook Institute of Science (Michigan), the Heard Museum (Arizona), the Dartmouth College Collection (New Hampshire), Peabody Museum (Harvard).
- Peña is the name of a crater on the planet Venus that has been named after Tonita Peña.