Santa Fe, New Mexico: Lloyd A. Kellam, 1925. First Edition. Folio. 5 pp., 1 p. (blank). Original self-wrappers, front wrapper with bold linocut illustration by Norma Virgen Sweringen printed in black and white (edges worn, some creasing, paper stock a little weak). Very good. Item #4068
EXTRAORDINARY GRAPHIC DESIGN BY A NATIVE NEW MEXICAN WOMAN ARTIST, BEING THE COVER OF SHEET MUSIC THAT WAS WRITTEN AND COMPOSED BY A NEW MEXICAN WOMAN AND HER SON. This 1925 publication preceded by four years the first actual visit of Georgia O'Keefe to New Mexico (specifically to Taos in 1929; NB: O'Keefe first encounted the land when she passed through it in 1917, en route from Colorado to Texas).
Norma Van Sweringen's bold linocut scene of Conestoga wagons depicts riders on horseback passing adobe buildings. Hills rise in the background and a rainbow arcs over the scene. The design projects the romantic aesthetics and physical beauty of New Mexico. Van Sweringen (a.k.a. Swearingen) was born in San Marcial, New Mexico in 1875, spending her childhood in desolate Fort Craig after the soldiers moved away. She married the artist Ben Sweringer, who worked primarily with tin, and the couple resided in Santa Fe for the rest of their days. She is recognized as being one of the earliest native-born New Mexican commercial artists and graphic designers. She is perhaps best known for her portraits and New Mexico landscapes; she died in Santa Fe in 1965.
The illustration on our self-published sheet music annhilates the misconception that New Mexico was "discovered" by artists such as Mabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O'Keefe. On the contrary, native New Mexican artists like Norma van Sweringen had lived and worked there since the nineteenth century.
Sheet music such as ours were vehicles of commercial graphic design in New Mexico and elsewhere. From a 2018 exhibition at the New Mexico History Museum, we are informed that "Sheet-music covers were a showcase of popular commercial graphics that captured cultural and romantic notions of the day." (The Land That Enchants Me So: Picturing Popular Songs of New Mexico, 2018, online).
The sad history of the New Mexican librettist Cora Belle (Armstrong) Kellam (1879-1930) is almost impossible to comprehend. Cora Bella was was severely injured in a car accident in which her son Lloyd was the driver. She was rendered her invalid for two years, during which time she suffered greatly as we learn from a lawsuit she filed against the owner of the car. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, she made a suicide pact with her husband Arthur, who shot and killed her, and then committed suicide by placing the muzzle of a rifle in his mouth and pushing the trigger. This followed shortly after the loss of their son Lloyd (the composer of the present work), who had been in poor health for several months with a heart condition.
Of this rare, self-published sheet music two issues exist: one is printed in black (as here), the other printed in black and light brown.
NOT IN WORLDCAT, although we have located a copy in the New Mexico History Museum (Fray Angélico Chávez History Library Box 2-s Folder 1, indeterminate issue) exhibited in "The Land That Enchants Me So: Picturing Popular Songs of New Mexico" (see supra).
On Norma van Sweringen, see Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Woman Artists of the American West.