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Merina Lujan Hopkins (Pop Chalee) Collection

Identifier: IAIAMS26

Scope and Contents note

This collection comprises mainly photographs and newspaper clippings as well as some ephemera and correspondence relating to the life and work of the American artist Merina Lujan Hopkins (Pop Chalee). The photographs and newspaper clippings primarily relate to publicity surrounding the "Annie Get Your Gun" tour she participated in with Ed "Natay" Lee in 1950 as well as promotional events the two did on behalf of the Santa Fe Railway in the late 1940s and early to mid-1950s. Additionally, there are personal photographs of friends and family as well as an intact scrapbook of newspaper clippings from her early painting career in the 1930s and 40s. The scrapbook's most notable feature is an original handpainted blue deer by Pop Chalee on the front cover. Additionally, there are some later materials written by Pop Chalee's grandson, Jack Cruz Hopkins, Jr., relating to her life and career. The collection includes an addendum of materials from a separate acquisition, and includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, magazines, and other ephemera relating to Pop Chalee.


  • 1920-2005

Biographical/Historical note

Merina Lujan Hopkins (Pop Chalee) was an American artist who was famous for her paintings of enchanted forest scenes and her detailed renditions of mythical horses, woodland creatures such as deer, and ceremonial dancers. Arguably her most widely known work is the series of murals she painted for the airport in Albuquerque and which remain there today. While she is primarily known for her paintings, during her career she was also a singer, performer, and advocate of Native American rights and frequently gave public lectures and presentations on Native American culture.

Pop Chalee was born in Castle Gate, Utah on March 20, 1906, the third child of Joseph Cruz Lujan of Taos Pueblo and Merea Margherete Luenberger (Myrtle Lujan) who was predominantly of Swiss heritage. Not long after her older brother Lawrence died of scarlet fever in 1910, her father, Joe, became ill with consumption and moved back to Taos Pueblo. Pop Chalee and two of her sisters, Eva and Mattie, joined him in New Mexico and began attending the Santa Fe Indian School while her mother and youngest sister, Wilma, remained in Utah. During her youth at the pueblo, she was given the name "Pop Chalee", meaning "blue flower" in the Tiwa language, by her Taos kin and she was known by this moniker throughout her career. She was the niece of the influential Tony Lujan of Taos Pueblo who in 1917 met and eventually married Mabel Dodge Sterne, a driving force of the art scene in Taos. By 1918, Pop's father, Joe, had taken a second wife at the pueblo, Tomacita, whom Pop loved as though she were her own mother.

Around 1920, Pop Chalee and her sisters returned to Utah to live with their mother while their father remained in Taos. The living situation was tense between the mother and children and by 1922, at the age of 16, Pop Chalee had married Otis Hopkins, a Mormon craftsman. In 1924, their first child, Jack Cruz Hopkins, Sr. was born and within the next two years their daughter, Betty, followed. The family frequently moved between Taos and Salt Lake City during the following years and Pop Chalee began lecturing and performing in Utah in the hopes to raise awareness and change perceptions of Native Americans. By the mid-1930s she returned to New Mexico and began once again attending the Santa Fe Indian School, this time to study painting with Dorothy Dunn. From there, Pop Chalee's painting career took off and she rapidly gained popularity as her works were frequently exhibited at galleries. She became a well known figure in art circles not only for her paintings, but also for her iconic look with her long braids that reached well past her waist.

In the mid 1940s Pop Chalee began working on the murals she painted for the Albuquerque airport and at the same time she and Otis took in an orphaned girl from Santo Domino pueblo named Rachel for whom they cared for several years until the girl's grandparents decided that she should be raised with them at Santo Domingo. Not long after, Pop Chalee and Otis divorced and in 1947 she married her second husband, Ed "Natay" Lee, a Navajo artist and performer, in Arizona. The two would spend the next several years working and performing together both in their home in Scottsdale, Arizona as well as throughout the country as they participated in publicity events for the Santa Fe Railway as well as the "Annie Get Your Gun" tour. By the mid-1950s, though, her marriage to Ed had ended and the two went their separate ways.

She moved frequently throughout the following decades, living with various family members and eventually settling down in Santa Fe in the 1980s. In 1990, her murals were restored and installed in the newly remodeled Albuquerque airport and later that year she received the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts in Painting. In 1992, despite struggling with poor eyesight, she completed her last mural, a turquoise stallion leading a herd of horses, for the New Mexico State Capitol Building. Pop Chalee died of a stroke on December 11, 1993 at the age of 87. Interest in her work experienced a resurgence in recent years as she has become recognized as a noted influence and iconic figure of the 20th-century Native American artists movement.


3.0 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement note

The collection is intellectually arranged according to document type and chronologically within each series when possible. Undated materials are arranged separately such as is the case with many photographs as well as news articles. Additionally, oversize materials comrpise their own series as does the collection addendum.

Separated Materials note

Three items of original artwork by Pop Chalee have been separated from this collection and added to the permanent collections of the IAIA: 1) a partially handcolored pencil sketch on onionskin paper; 2) a painting on pink rag paper; and 3) a color print of a ceremonial dancer.
Merina Lujan Hopkins (Pop Chalee) Collection IAIA.MS.26
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Revision Statements

  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the Institute of American Indian Arts Repository