Published on July 31, 2012 by Amy
She was known as the woman with three names: Merina Lujan, Pop Chalee and Blue Flower. She was born as Merina Lujan in Castle Rock, Utah, to a Taos Indian father and a Swiss mother (Some sources indicate that her mother was East Indian. Others believe that was a fiction created by Dorothy Dunn, one of her teachers). Her parents soon divorced and Merina was raised at Taos Pueblo where her name was Pop Chalee, which translates into English as “Blue Flower.”
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As a child, he was acquainted with members of the Taos art colony – Ernest Blumenschein, Victor Higgins, Emil Bisttram, Irving Couse, and others – and often watched them at work. Even so, she did not consider artistic endeavor until she was nearly 30, and the mother of two children. Beginning in 1935, at the urging of her uncle, Tony Lujan (who was married to Mabel Dodge Lujan), she studied with Dorothy Dunn at the Santa Fe Indian School. By 1937, her work had been noticed by Santa Fe artist Olive Rush who likened her work, at first glance, with Swiss artist Paul Klee (1979 – 1940). Pop became quite well known over the next several decades and she won awards at the Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial and the New York Museum of Modern Art. She also painted murals in airports and other business buildings across the Southwest. One critic says, “her work combines Oriental and American Indian motifs and has dream imagery of flying horses [and] Indian dancing…”
She married a machinist at Los Alamos, and lived in the “Atomic City” for a time, while the world’s first atomic bomb was being developed in the early 1940’s. She was acquainted with J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein. That marriage failed and she married a Navajo man. This led to her being incorrectly identified as a Navajo by some critics. Her second marriage failed, and Pop Chalee left New Mexico in the late 1950’s. She lived elsewhere until the late 1980’s when she returned and lived in Santa Fe. She received the Governor’s Art Award from Governor Garrey Carruthers in 1990. Her motor vehicle of choice, well into her 80’s, was a red Corvette Stingray. (One source alleges that the sports car actually belonged to her daughter. If it wasn’t hers, it should have been.) She died in Santa Fe at the age of 87, her enthusiasm undiminished. In 2001, the Southwest Association for Indian Arts recognized her body of work with a Lifetime Achievement Award.