Best of the West

By Whiteley, Peter | Sunset, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Best of the West


Whiteley, Peter, Sunset


Western Renaissance man

Joseph Jacinto "Jo" Mora's artwork has been part of my life for more than 50 years. When I was a little guy, a print of his Evolution of the Cowboy hung over my bed. Part cartoon, part visual history book, this poster whimsically portrayed the rodeo in Salinas, California, with a border rich in details of the cowboy world - spurs, saddles, brands - and a frieze chronicling Western horsemen from conquistadores to vaqueros to Texas cowpunchers. Drawn in 1933, it is still available in reproduction today.

Mora (1876-1947) did more than capture the fading glow of the frontier days - he also lived and breathed it. Formally trained as an artist, he first was a cowboy, then lived with the Navajo and Hopi tribes. Not only was he adopted into both tribes, but he was asked to design a kachina and took what turned out to be the last photographs of religious ceremonies - an invaluable anthropological record now stored at the Smithsonian Institution.

Turning eventually to art, the multifaceted Mora wrote and illustrated children's books, produced sculpture and architectural installations, drew accurate but fanciful maps (which he called cartes) of California and Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon national parks, and created a beautiful, encyclopedic poster, Indians of North America.

Much of his work endures in public places such as Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, as well as in museums. …

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