young artist impacted sul ross students
Teaching Heightened artistic passion for Keefer
Determined and focused, Elizabeth Keefer came to Sul Ross State Teachers College in 1926 to head the newly dedicated Art Department. A native of Houston, Texas, Keefer showed her tenacity to become an accomplished artist at an early age. She withdrew from Southern Seminary in Buena Vista, Virginia in 1917 because she felt that she was being taught incorrectly. She attended both the Art Institute in Chicago and Art Students League in New York City, where she became assistant to one of the leading
etchers of the time, Joseph Pennell.
Upon her arrival at Sul Ross, Keefer became an instant hit with the students as she was only slightly older than them. Keefer sponsored the student Art Club, where she had members reproduce “living tableaus” of famous masterpieces for the school’s weekly chapel sessions. In addition, she increased the course offerings for students who were working to a degree in art. However, Keefer did not neglect
her own artistic pursuits. In 1927, she had four of her etchings on display at the National Exhibit
of Etchings in New York City and a color print based on a moth she had seen in the school’s
entomology collection on exhibit at the International Art Exhibit in Chicago.
Elizabeth continued to refine and improved her etching techniques as she became more and more interested in the Indians of New Mexico. She was given permission to visit and document the peoples of San Idelfonso, Taos and Conchiti pueblos. Returning home, Keefer reproduced these sketches into color etchings - a technique that was unique to her.
Due to her continued interest in the Indians of New Mexico and works produced from her trips to the pueblos she earned the moniker “Etcher of Indians.”
By 1931, Elizabeth Keefer’s life took a dramatic turn. Not only had the school’s yearbook The Brand been dedicated to her, in part “because she is an etcher of national reputation and an authority on Indian folklore and art,” her crayonex collection was exhibited nationwide by the American Crayon Company, but she married fellow Sul Ross instructor and folklorist Mody Boatwright. She and Boatwright moved to
Austin in 1932 so that he could complete his PhD. However, even with a step-daughter and soon a son, Elizabeth continued her artistic pursuits. She quit etching as she saw her son too close to the acid used in the etching process.
by Mary Bones,
Museum of the Big Bend