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Eugenie F. Shonnard

Eugenie F. Shonnard, Untitled (Bust of Native American Male), mid-20th Century, carved wood, 19 1/2 x 11 1/4 x 12 in. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of Eugenie F. Shonnard Estate, 1978 (2008.1.90) Photo by Blair Clark

Eugenie F. Shonnard

American, 1886 - 1978

Born in Yonkers, New York, Eugenie Shonnard studied with Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha at the New York School of Applied Design for Women and later with Auguste Rodin and Antoine Bourdelle in Paris. She first came to New Mexico in 1925 at the invitation of Edgar Lee Hewett, founder of the New Mexico Museum of Art, and was given studio space in the Museum. In 1927, she returned to New Mexico from Paris for an exhibition at the Museum of Art featuring the busts she made of Native American models. On that trip she made New Mexico her permanent home. Shonnard’s subject matter reflected her interest in the distinctive cultures she found in New Mexico earning her a reputation for sculptures of the Native people of the Southwest, Catholic religious imagery, and relief sculpture referencing colonial folk art. Many of her religious sculptures were commissioned for churches and chapels. In both her sculptural and architectural work she often used a lightweight cement material she called Keenstone which she developed herself. Reflecting upon what making art meant to her, Shonnard once said “God created form and color in this world. Also he gave some of us talents for the use of these; therefore, we human beings must need them in our daily lives. There is perhaps no other answer! And so, we artists must fulfill life’s commission as artists and craftsmen!”
Shonnard worked across a wide variety of sculptural techniques, but came to champion “direct carving,” also referred to as taille directe, which was popular among early twentieth-century sculptors. This approach to sculpture involves working directly on an artwork without the use of models or maquettes for reference, making many of her sculptures one-of-a-kind objects. (Waguespack, 2018).