Past Treasure of the Month – March 2007
In 1979, the Sealy Homestead Trust donated to the Rosenberg Library a number of paintings that once hung in the Sealy Mansion (Open Gates) at the corner of 25th and Broadway in Galveston. Among these was an oil painting by Eanger Irving Couse. Couse was an American painter who lived and worked in New Mexico during the early 1900s. There, he felt inspired by the Indians at Taos Pueblo. Couse used these Indians as models in staged scenes featuring Native-American pottery, textiles, and tools. His paintings depicted the Indians not as savages, but as peaceful, dignified human beings. A highly respected artist during his lifetime, Couse’s work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.
E. Irving Couse was among the original founders of the Taos Art Colony which was established in 1898. New Mexico’s unique blend of Hispanic and Pueblo Indian cultures set against a dramatic mountain and desert landscape appealed to many American artists. Couse, along with Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips, was among the first members of the Taos School. A second generation of artists, beginning around 1915, included Georgia O’Keefe, Marsden Hartley, and Robert Henri. This later group tended to be more modern in their approach, many of them influenced by the European Impressionist movement.
E. I. Couse’s work was first shown in Galveston in a 1926 exhibit at the Rosenberg Library. In an article from the Galveston Daily News dated April 12 of that year, it was reported that the library had on display eight reproductions of Indian paintings by Couse. These reproductions were used as marketing tools by the Santa Fe Railroad. The Santa Fe Railroad was the chief sponsor of the art colony at Taos, and the company purchased many paintings and had reproductions made to use on promotional materials to lure travelers West.
Galvestonian George Sealy purchased a painting entitled Pueblo Fireplace directly from the artist in 1929. He became interested in Couse’s work after seeing it on a calendar produced by the Santa Fe Railroad. The railroad’s 1929 calendar featured a reproduction of E. Irving Couse’s The Blanket. Sealy, who was a prominent businessman in Galveston, was on the board of directors for the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railway.
Sealy wrote to Couse in January of 1929, inquiring about the painting featured on the 1929 Santa Fe Railroad calendar, and expressing a desire to purchase the work. Couse wrote back saying that that particular painting had been sold but that he had others that Sealy might be interested in. The following month, Sealy made a visit to Couse’s New Mexico studio and purchased three paintings for a total of $1,800.00. One of these three — Pueblo Fireplace — was donated to the library in 1979. The other two works remained in the family.
The original letters of correspondence between Couse and Sealy are now owned by the Couse Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. Formed in 2001, the Couse Foundation’s mission is to preserve the home and studio where Eanger Irving Couse lived and worked from 1902 until his death in 1936. Private tours are available by appointment.