Printmakers You Should Know: Margaret Herrera Chavez

Currently on view at the fantastic Albuquerque Museum is The Carved Line: Block Printing in New Mexico. Published in conjunction with this exhibit is a catalogue replete with scholarly text and pictures. We received a complimentary copy in exchange for lending several works to the show and I must say, it's a thorough volume. I've learned about several new printmakers I wasn't familiar with before, including today's artist, Margaret Herrera Chavez (1912-1992).

Margaret Herrera Chavez, Quiet Highland Village, ca. 1953-1960, watercolor on paper. Image courtesy of

Born in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Chavez grew up on a ranch in Mora County. She earned her B.A. at New Mexico Highlands University, and went on to study at the Instituto San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico. During her studies she developed an interest in modernist abstraction, which she would explore through a variety of media, including painting, printmaking, textiles, ceramics and sculpture.

Margaret Herrera Chavez, Rodriguez and His Pal, n.d., watercolor on paper. Image courtesy of

As a nuevomexicana working in the mid-twentieth century, Chavez experienced unique challenges, not only as a woman, but as a Hispanic artist. As was often the case with Native American artists, Hispanic artists and artisans were expected to work in traditional forms and techniques, whereas stylistic experimentation was the domain of Anglo artists. Further confounding this situation was the legacy of Santa Fe and Taos itself, which both had a well-established reputation of producing art associated with the historical legacies of the Southwest. Tourists and visitors wanted traditional pictures and objects, making it difficult for artists to explore abstraction and other forms.

Margaret Herrera Chavez, image courtesy of

Chavez's situation changed, however, when she relocated to Albuquerque after World War II to become an art teacher. Thanks to an influx of veterans pursuing college degrees at UNM through the G.I. grant, Albuquerque was flush with new people and ideas, and was quickly developing into a thriving modern art center within the Southwest. Unconstrained by the traditions of Santa Fe or Taos, Albuquerque was more open to abstract and nonobjective art forms, and was already home to Raymond Jonson, Adja Yunkers, Frederick O'Hara, and other experimental artists. As a result of this more artistically liberal environment, Chavez was able to more actively pursue her abstract explorations. During the course of her career she would go on to work with Kenneth Miller Adams, John Tatschl, and others, in addition to maintaining a teaching her and art practice.

Cover of The Desert Review with artwork by Margaret Herrera Chavez. Image courtesy of

As an artist, Chavez explored the places and people of New Mexico through an abstract lens, translating traditional subject matter into bold compositions of line and shape. As a printmaker, she focused in particular on woodblock printing, a medium which enabled her to flatten her subjects into bold, decorative forms. Communion, printed in 1957, embodies Chavez's skill with detailed abstraction. She has eliminated modeling and shading to give her print a flat aesthetic. She has also brought particular attention to the patterns, prints, and other details on the girls' communion dresses, giving the print a distinctly decorative character. Details such as the flowers in the girls' hair are a particularly sweet detail, underscoring the cultural origins of the composition. While Chavez's subject matter is inspired by traditional nuevomexicano traditions, her treatment of the scene is distinctly abstract.

Margaret Herrera Chavez, Communion, 1957, two-color woodcut on paper. Collection of National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Chavez is not an especially well-known artist, but as one of the few nuevomexicana artists working in this state during the 1950s and 1960s, she represents a voice that is not often highlighted in New Mexico art history. She is definitely a printmaker you should know.

Want to learn more?

Josie Lopez, The Carved Line: Block Printmaking in New Mexico. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press in Association with the Albuquerque Museum, 2016.