(Orrin) Sheldon Parsons

b. 1866– Rochester, New York
d. 1943– Albuquerque, NM

National Academy of Design, NYC

Sheldon Parsons studied with prominent teacher and artist, William Merritt Chase, and other notable artists at the National Academy of Design in New York City. Parsons had been a successful portrait painter in New York, including President McKinley and civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony among his subjects. In 1912, at age 46, Parsons left New York with his young daughter after the death of his wife. His intended destination was San Francisco where he had accepted a mural commission but Parsons was too ill from tuberculosis to continue beyond New Mexico. Parsons and his daughter remained in Santa Fe during his long recovery from tuberculosis. Parsons eventually needed to trade his New York paintings for necessities after his money ran out.

Parsons’ palette and his subject matter changed after he had recovered enough to return to plein aire painting. The landscape replaced the interior and the dwellings of northern New Mexico replaced the figure as his subject. His imagery conveyed what has become an iconic sense of place that continues to represent the viewer’s visual recollection of northern New Mexico.

In 1918, Parsons briefly divided his time between painting and his appointment as the first curator of the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts. His extensive artist contacts were both beneficial and detrimental to him. He supported the Museum’s Open Exhibition policy, showing the work of several modernist artists from New York who had ties to Santa Fe. In 1920, editorials in the Santa Fe New Mexican criticized Parsons for showing such controversial Bolshevik work. The museum’s solution to the controversy was political: his friend and museum director, Dr. Edgar Hewett in 1922, eliminated Parson’s job. Ironically, Parsons’ own work was not modernist but post-impressionistic.

Parsons’ status as an artist had been established for decades prior to the FDR’s New Deal. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey’s expanding tourist business promoted many of the Taos and Santa Fe artists for several decades. Parsons was one of the many artists whose works were purchased and used for promotion of tourism. The Great Depression years diminished but did not entirely sever the relationship between the Taos and Santa Fe arts communities and the purchase of their art by the Santa Fe Railway and Fred Harvey’s tourist promotions. The New Deal Federal Art Projects (and WPA art projects) sustained these artists during a time when the art market deflated.

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, CO
Jonson Gallery of University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, NM
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX
Sangre De Cristo Arts Center, Pueblo, CO
The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University Of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
Federal Art Projects
Parsons created at least sixteen paintings as a New Deal artist. They are distributed at the following locations throughout the state:
Carrie Tingley Hospital, Albuquerque, NM
McKinley County Courthouse, Gallup, NM
Las Cruces Public Schools, Las Cruces, NM
Melrose Public Schools, Melrose, NM
Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM
National Park Service, Southwest Regional Headquarters, Santa Fe, NM
New Mexico School for the Deal, Santa Fe, NM
New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, Collection
New Mexico Human Services Department, Santa Fe, NM
New Mexico Tech, Library, Socorro, NM