Laverne Nelson Black was a latecomer to the Southwest, but he produced many excellent paintings of his adopted region. He spent his childhood in the Kickapoo River Valley area of Wisconsin, an area that possessed a strong Indian heritage. As the story goes, Black made his earliest drawings using earth and vegetable colors, including the soft red stone native to the area that the Indians used for ceremonial purposes. In 1906, Black enrolled in classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts for two years, earning a scholarship for his second year.
After completing his training, Black produced artwork for newspapers in Chicago and in New York City. He continued to paint and received a few commissions from galleries. However, he was better known for his bronzes, which were the first to be shown at Tiffany’s since those of Frederic Remington.
Black suffered from ill health and was forced to move with his family to a warmer, drier climate. In the mid 1920’s, he settled in Taos, New Mexico and was immediately drawn to the picturesque subject matter of the region, depicting the Indians and their architecture against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Depression hit him particularly hard, and when his health troubled him more, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona. There he received a series of commissions from the Santa Fe Railway, and worked on an important mural project with Oscar Berninghaus in the Phoenix Post Office. Black’s mural showed vignettes of Arizona, from the covered wagon pioneers to the mining period, and included the pony express days and the beginning of the cattle industry. His friends believed that he contracted a form of paint poisoning while executing the murals, for shortly after their completion his already sickly condition worsened and he died at the age of fifty-one.
The fact that Black received so little support for his work while in Taos is surprising, since his paintings are often very well executed and highly evocative of the light and color of the Southwest. In fact, it was not until the late 1930’s that Black received the recognition he deserved. Black’s paintings were characterized by broad brush strokes and frequent use of the palette knife. Blocks of bold color, usually in warm hues, conveyed the essence of the Southwest, which he painted from life when possible rather than working from sketches. His style combined Impressionism and Modernism, and if he did not receive much attention for his work during his lifetime, his works were much appreciated later on, not only for their aesthetic value, but also for the pictorial record of Western life that they represented.
Reference: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, edited by Dr. Rick Stewart, AskArt.com