Walter Ufer, Lone Rider, 12″ x 16″, Oil on Canvas
Walter Ufer grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of a master gunsmith. His artistic endeavors received strong support from his parents and teachers and, after an apprenticeship in the printing plant of a Louisville commercial lithographer, Ufer traveled to Dresden, Germany to study at the Royal Applied Art Schools and the Royal Academy. After seven years spent abroad, during which he met J.H. Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein, Ufer moved to Chicago, where he find a powerful benefactor in Carter Harrison, the mayor. Harrison, along with his friend and partner, the meat-packing tycoon Oscar Mayer, sent Ufer south to Taos on a painting trip in 1914.
Walter Ufer, Desert Mountain, Oil on Canvas, 25″ x 30″
As with almost every other artist of the era who came in contact with Taos, Walter Ufer was smitten from the start. The landscape was of some interest but, for Ufer, it was the Taos Indian who served as the subject of his fascination more than anything else. His approach to the Indians was slightly different than man of his contemporaries, as well; Ufer, a strong supporter of individual freedoms and a devout socialist, (and friend of Leon Trotsky) saw the Pueblo Indians as having been oppressed for centuries in such a manner as to stomp out their racial and cultural identity. “The Indian has lost his race pride,” Ufer said, “he wants only to be an American. Our civilization has terrific power. We don’t feel it, but that man out there in the mountains feels it, and he cannot cope with such pressure.”
Walter Ufer, A Part of Isletta N.M. Evening Sun, Oil on Board, c. 1915, 10″ x 12″
These feelings of anger and despair were a continuing theme in Ufer’s work. He joined many picket lines and protests by labor groups and, during the flu pandemic of 1919, which killed over a half a million Americans, Walter Ufer worked day and night to assist the only doctor in Taos in treating the ill. Some degree of the despair associated with his compassion was probably psychiatric; an alcoholic and depressive, Ufer suffered from many crippling episodes of desolation. When suffering, he was moody and unproductive, and his entire body of work is the product of his better days, as drinking and gambling occupied him during his dark spells.
Despite all that, he sold large amounts of work during the 1920s and achieved a fairly high profile. Warm and personable, he had many friends, whose friendship he would occasionally abuse by borrowing money and failing to pay it back. Aside from a disastrous experiment in 1923 wherein Ufer, on the urging of his agent, failed to sell a lot of paintings that all featured the same Indian figure on a white horse against a background of Taos Mountain, he was generally successful until the stock market crash of 1929. Destitution did not sit well with Walter Ufer, and he succumbed entirely to alcoholism.
Walter Ufer, A Road in the Rockies, October 1915, Oil on Canvas, 10″ x 11″