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Threshing Grain at San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico Territory

Not on view

Threshing Grain at San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico Territory

Artist: Peter Moran (English, 1841-1914)

Date: 1880
Medium: Graphite and white gouache highlights on gray-colored, medium-weight wove paper
Overall: 5 7/8 × 19 5/8in. (14.9 × 49.8cm)
Markings: Watermark, left edge (block letters):"...FIER A St MARCE..."
Inscribed: Recto, lower left (graphite): "San Juan / Aug / 80"; Center (Graphite): "Purple [?] / Yellow"; Verso, upper left (graphite): "#5/"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 81.19
Text Entries

In the summer of 1880 Moran made the first of what would be four journeys to the Southwest in the early years of this decade. While the precise itinerary of his 1880 trip is not known, an inscription in the lower left corner of the MWPI drawing indicates that he spent time during August at San Juan Pueblo in northern New Mexico Territory.(1)

Because of Moran’s interest in animal subjects, (2) it was perhaps inevitable that he would make a drawing of how the San Juan Indians used horses to thresh grain. Moran composed the MWPI drawing on an oblong sheet of paper, the irregular bottom edge of which suggests that the sheet was originally higher. Perhaps he felt that such an emphatically horizontal format suited the panoramic scene he intended to draw.(3)

The following summer Peter’s older brother Thomas, traveling with the photographer William H. Jackson and the author Ernest Ingersoll, witnessed Indians threshing grain at San Juan Pueblo. Ingersoll wrote a vivid description of the process. The Indians surrounded the stacked grain with tall poles tied together with rope to form a circular enclosure. Horses driven around the stack trampled the sheaves with their hooves. Ingersoll noted, “It is a wonderfully lively and gay picture, which will never be forgotten, and entirely unlike anything else to be seen in the United States.”(4)

Peter Moran returned to the subject of the MWPI drawing in a painting he exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1882 titled The Harvesters, San Juan, N.M., and in an 1883 etching, Harvest at San Juan, New Mexico.(5) In contrast to the MWPI drawing, both these works depict horses running at full gallop around a stack of grain. It was Moran’s interest in western scenes such as this that earned him the praise of the critic Samuel G. W Benjamin. “Many of the noble scenes which were to be found on this continent have vanished before the march of civilization,” he wrote shortly after Moran made this drawing. “A few yet remain, such as Mr. Moran has represented.”(6)


1. Robert R. White has noted (“Artists of Territorial New Mexico, 1846-1912” [Ph.D. diss., University of New Mexico, 1993], 97) that Moran arrived in Santa Fe on July 29, 1880.

2. Michael W. Schantz, Peter Moran, 1841-1914 (Philadelphia: Woodmere Art Museum, 1986), 4.

3. He used this format in several other drawings, as well as in at least one oil sketch. For the drawings see Amon Carter Museum of Western Art: Catalogue of the Collection (Fort Worth, Tex.: Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, 1973), 58, no. 125; 62, nos. 130 and 133. The oil sketch Morning, Valley of the Humboldt (Humboldt County, Nev.) is illustrated in Schantz, Peter Moran, 6. The triangular shape in the upper right corner of the MWPI drawing may be a wickiup, the temporary hut used by Indians of the Southwest. For their use during the harvest see Henry R. Poore, “A Harvest with the Taos Indians,” The Continent 3 (April 11, 1883): 453. For another drawing by Moran of a wickiup see Antiques 119, June 1981, 1339.

4. Ernest Ingersoll, The Crest of the Continent: A Record of A Summers Ramble in the Rocky Mountains and Beyond (Chicago: R. R. Donnelley and Sons, 1885), 104-5.

5. A painting by Moran of this subject is in the John F. Eulich Collection, Dallas, Tex. See Rick Stewart with Don Hedgpeth, The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier from a Collection Assembled by John F. Eulich ([Dallas, Tex.]: Lithograph Printing Company, 1992), 23. I am grateful to Teresa H. Ebie of the Roswell Museum, Roswell, N.M., and to Robert R. White for helping me locate this work. A watercolor, Threshing Wheat, San Juan, is in the collection of the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth. See Amon Carter Museum, 64-65, no. 135. Moran's etching was first published in Sylvester R. Koehler, ed., Original Etchings by American Artists (New York: Cassell and Company, 1883). For a recent discussion of Peter Moran’s prints see Robert R. White, “The Southwestern Etchings of Peter Moran: A History and Catalog," Imprint: Journal of the American Historical Print Collectors Society 19 (Spring 1994); 11-28.

6. S. G. W. Benjamin, “The Exhibitions. V.—Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of the American Water Color Society," The American Art Review 2 (March 1881): 200.