Olive Rush

“Artists are spiritual adventurers and the strange beauty of the  Southwest country, splendid and generous, lyric at one turn, dramatic  at another, invites us to dare all things.”

Olive Rush is the subject of a new biography by author Jann Haynes Gilmore, which will be released this Fall by the Museum of New Mexico Press.  In writing the first scholarly book on Olive Rush, Jann pays homage to Rush’s impressive career, which has been largely ignored by the canons of American Art History.  In a recent conversation, she said, “As a historian, I am saddened that women just disappear from the page.”

Olive Rush was one of many artists to fall in love with and move to Santa Fe in the 1920s, but she was as Jann points out, the first independent female artist (not married) to join the artist colony and to decide to relocate from the East.  She had received a solo show from the Palace of the Governors Museum, which was a first for a woman artist in 1914, years before she relocated. The original alignment of Route 66 in New Mexico went through Santa Fe and brought a new influx of automobile travelers, among whom were Olive’s friends, some of whom were quite noteworthy women in their own right, who came to visit her in Santa Fe.

Later in her career, her colleague Mary Colter asked her to paint the murals in The New Mexico Room at La Fonda On the Plaza which was one of the largest and most sought after social venues in New Mexico.  The hotel was being renovated by John Gaw Meem, and for this commission in 1928, Olive designed an historical tableau of Santa Fe’s past. When this work debuted at a large gala event, the director of the Santa Fe Indian School was so impressed that he invited her to teach a class on mural painting at the school.  The experience was a great success, and the students designed and painted several murals in the school’s dining room under Olive’s direction.

Olive was an aficionado of Native American Art from her travels and adventures and as a result of this experience, she began to do more murals and often involved Native American artists.  During the Great Depression, she worked for the WPA and created murals in the Santa Fe Public Library, at New Mexico State University, and in the Pawhuska, OK and Florence, CO Post Offices. In 1939, she was commissioned to do  a mural on the front of Maisel’s Curio Shop in Albuquerque.  She often hired several of her students to work with her, many of whom became famous in their own right, including Pablita Velarde.

Olive Rush was an active part of the Santa Fe community until her death in the 1960s and left her home to the Santa Fe Society of Friends who use it as their meeting house.

For More Information:
La Fonda Blog: Do You Know Olive Rush?

New Mexico History – Olive Rush: An Independent Spirit

Medicine Man Gallery –
Olive Rush (1873-1966)




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