Pop Chalee! Yippee Ki Yay!
A pioneering woman, Pop Chalee (1906-1993), of Taos Pueblo, contributed to the intersecting worlds of fine arts, popular culture, and community exchange at local, regional, national, and international levels. Of East Indian and American Indian heritage, Chalee, whose name means “Flower Blue,” was born in Utah and lived much of her life in New Mexico. Her lasting legacy continues on through her feminine leadership. She demonstrated how her career as an artist allowed her to connect with people across cultures. Her Taos Pueblo uncles, Tony Lujan and Albert Looking Elk Martinez, influenced her artistic path. Lujan’s wife, Mabel Dodge Luhan, pointed Chalee towards returning to the Santa Fe Indian School as an adult art student, where Martinez, a painter and role model, showed her what life as a Native artist in Taos was like.
In the late 1930s, Chalee began her artistic career in her late twenties through training in design and flat-style painting at The Studio at the Santa Fe Indian School, under her teacher Dorothy Dunn’s direction. During these years, Walt Disney visited the Native American artists at the school and purchased Chalee’s work, which likely inspired his forest animation style in forthcoming years. By 1939, Chalee participated in both the New York World’s Fair and the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. By the late 1940s, the Santa Fe Railway commissioned her to create a mural, Shalakos and Mudheads. Other existing murals of Chalee’s are in Albuquerque, inside the Sunport Airport and at the storefront of 510 Central Avenue SW, the former location of Maisel’s Trading Post. In 1950, Chalee, with Navajo husband Edward Lee Natay, traveled to more than 20 American states to promote the motion picture, Annie Get Your Gun (1950), in a publicity tour.
Much gratitude to Kathleen Cornbringer Michaels and Jack Cruz Hopkins Jr., Chalee’s grandson, who curated this exhibition to commemorate Chalee’s induction into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. As Hopkins says, “On horseback, Grandmother was the best rider. She could outride most men.” The Millicent Rogers Museum graciously honors Chalee’s legacy.
Jack Hopkins at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Fort Worth Texas on October 26, 2021