In an earlier blog we wrote about Taos as a crossroad for western-bound artists from Texas such as Alexandre Hogue who came here every summer between 1926 and 1942 to make prints and teach. Other artists traveled east to reach Taos, such as Gene Kloss who left Berkeley to take up residence here (see our blog, Early fine art presses in Taos), or the L.A. architect and printmaker, Frederick Monhoff (1897-1975), who came to New Mexico in the summers.
Monhoff was born in New York City but raised in Los Angeles. After service in the Navy in WW I, he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1921 where he majored in art and studied painting and etching with Armin Hansen. Monhoff rose in the ranks of L.A. architects to design important mid-century modern homes and become the principal architect for Los Angeles County. He had major commissions all over L.A. and southern California, including the Palm Springs Biltmore Hotel and Resort built in 1942 when the valley drew wintertime visitors for whom air conditioned facilities were not needed.
Frederick Monhoff in New Mexico
Monhoff didn’t need air conditioning either while spending summers in the mountains of northern New Mexico starting in the late 1920s. In Santa Fe the Fine Arts Museum set up a basement studio with an etching press where Monhoff shared space with printmakers Willard Nash and Will Shuster. He ranged widely around the Four Corners area, attending Indian ceremonials and visiting the villages of Taos, Zuni, and Nambe, among many others. There he gathered ideas for prints, some of which were recognized by The International Printmakers Society of California with a bronze medal. It was in the Sante Fe studio he more than likely printed Worshipers at Cathedral, Santa Fe (above) and Penetente Ceremony, Nambe, (featured image at top). While in Taos in the early 1940s he made sketches for a notable print, Taos Church.
Another of Monhoff’s Southwest prints is Wedding Procession, Cerrrilos, New Mexico made in the 1930s with an almost surrealistic perspective. The viewer is above the hill where the wedding party is headed after leaving a little church at the far end of the only street in town. The bearded fiddler fulfills a Pied Piper roll, leading a procession with the attractive bride and her cockeyed groom. Is he steady on his feet? Has he been celebrating too much? Is he irrevocably hemmed in by the church behind him, a woman by his side, and a sorcerer leading him into an uncertain future? Monhoff leaves the answers up to us after skillfully setting the scene — and after finding his inspiration just beyond the crossroads of Taos.
In 1962 Monhoff moved his family to Calistoga in the Napa Valley where his wife, Hildegarde Flanner continued to write poetry and essays published in various forums, including The New Yorker. One of Flanner’s memorable books is Brief Cherishing, A Napa Valley Harvest (1985) with beautifully written essays and illustrations by Frederick Monhoff. After his death in 1975 his widow gave Sweet Briar College (her alma mater), a set of 46 of Monhoff’s prints.