Blumenschein recognized the tensions inherent in combining Anglo-American, Hispanic, and native cultures in one place. His art spoke eloquently about these strains on real people, such as Jim Romero, another Pueblo friend and frequent fishing and camping companion, who suffered the uncertainties presented by conflicting spiritual ideologies. Using visual irony, in his 1921 painting Superstition
(Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma) Blumenschein makes the point that one person's religion may be viewed by another as superstition. From the neck of the Tewa wedding vase depicted in the work, a pottery form that was developed for the tourist trade, comes a dancer symbolizing traditional Indian ceremonies and a sheaf of wheat connoting the Christian population of God's kingdom. Romero, as a symbol of his people, seems stupefied by the pressure to choose one over the other.
When Indians were allowed to practice their own religious ceremonies unfettered by church or government influences, Blumenschein was prepared to lavish on the scenes an unequivocal mantel of dignity and splendor. Moon, Morning Star and Evening Star (Fig. 11) reveals a spiritual world that is purposeful and highly ordered, pulsing with rhythm and life, and profoundly joyful. He painted it at a time when the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs was making concerted attempts to outlaw native dancing and religious ceremonies. The canvas, along with a host of similar efforts from Taos's intellectual and creative community, helped to engender resistance so powerful and widespread that the government program succumbed to public pressure.
By the mid-1920s, American art critics were tiring of Indians in art. "The Indian, as a painter's subject, has gone a bit stale," wrote one observer in Art News.12 Blumenschein, ever mindful of his need for national critical approbation, quickly moved in a new direction. However, he did not abandon Indians in his paintings; he simply made them a fundamental part of the larger scene, the New Mexico landscape. Thus, in Landscape with Indian Camp (Fig. 10), with its exhilarating swirl of light and form, he integrates the Indians into the pulse of nature, making them a crucial figurative element in the otherwise nearly abstract design. This was a solution that would serve him well in future years.
In a work from the 1930s, Indians in the Mountains (Fig. 12), he utilized the same highly formalized design construction, tying the patterns of the blanketed Indians into the geomorphic facets of the mountains behind them. Unlike works such as Star Road and White Sun and Moon, Morning Star and Evening Star, this was far removed from social commentary. Blumenschein, in his later paintings, was concerned strictly with perfecting design in which light, line, and colors were orchestrated into a symphony of pictorial genius. His imagery continued to serve American art with its inventiveness and excellence, and elevate American Indians with reverence and uncompromised empathy for them and their culture as worthy of preservation.