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O.E. Berninghaus Financial Records

 Collection — Volume: 1-23
Identifier: Ms. Coll. 21

Content Description

23 notebooks of handwritten financial records of O.E. Berninghaus from 1901-1952. The records list sales of paintings, drawings, and monthly expenses such as art supplies, studio repairs, auto maintenance, and transactions with individuals such as Gerson Gusdorf.


  • 1901-1952


Biographical / Historical

Oscar Edmund Berninghaus was born in 1874 in St. Louis, Missouri to German immigrant parents. At the time that Berninghaus was growing up, St. Louis was considered the “gateway to the west” (Sanders 1985, 4). His parents sold lithographs for a living and from a young age Berninghaus was drawing and sketching his surroundings. Throughout his childhood, Berninghaus diligently worked and developed his skills of drawing. At the age of sixteen in 1890 Berninghaus quit school and entered the work force doing multiple “odd” jobs. He soon decided that he wanted to be a commercial illustrator, so he became the apprentice for one of the largest printing companies in the country, Woodward and Tiernan. While working as an apprentice, Berninghaus took night classes for three terms at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. In 1899 the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad decided they needed to advertise the pristine beauty of the west to people in the east. They needed to hire an artist who would be willing to travel through the west and capture the landscape through watercolors. It was no surprise when they chose Berninghaus to be the artist to complete the task because of his experience at Woodward and Tiernan. The Railroad company gave Berninghaus a free pass and he was on his way; first stopping in Denver and then heading south to Antonito, Colorado where he transferred to the “Chili Line”. While stopped in Servilleta, a member of the crew pointed out Taos mountain to Berninghaus and told him about the village and pueblo. Berninghaus, very intrigued by this place, began a twenty-five wagon trip that took ten hours. Once arrived in Taos, he realized it was everything the man was describing and was the perfect place to draw and paint. Berninghaus was struck by the beauty of Taos and was eager to return as soon as he left, but he knew he had to learn how to use oil paint to truly capture the magic he saw. Back in St. Louis, Berninghaus was perfecting his craft of painting and towards the end of 1899 he began receiving commissions. Berninghaus spent the winter and spring of 1900 reading and learning about different art styles across the world. He spent his whole summer of that year in Taos where he visited the Pueblo often and hired quite a few members to model for him. During that summer, he spent a decent amount of time with Bert Phillips. When Berninghaus returned to St. Louis after the summer the St. Louis Star Illustrated bought and printed several of his works from his time in Taos. In 1904 the World Fair came to St. Louis and two of Berninghaus’s designs were accepted. By this time Bernighaus was married to Emilia Miller and had a daughter named Dorothy Lydia Berninghaus. Berninghaus began to spend almost every summer in Taos and was receiving widespread recognition for his work. In the early years of the 20th century Bernighaus received lots of recognition and love from his home city. He was a member of multiple artist groups and societies including: The St. Louis Artists’ Guild, the Society of Western Artists, the Deuce Poker Club, and the Salmagundi Club. In 1908, Berninghaus took his family, his wife and two children, to Taos for the summer. They used the Dunn coach service and bridge which was a much better experience than the one Berninghaus had in 1899. Berninghaus and Phillips were no longer the only artists in Taos, there were many others who were already there when they arrived that summer. Berninghaus had a studio in St. Louis and was busy travelling around the country painting. In 1913 his wife Emilia died and left him single for more than twenty years. Berninghaus was a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915 and soon after decided to visit more frequently. Beringhaus continued to be recognized across the country for his beautiful Taos paintings and in 1917 three of his works were included in the opening exhibition at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Berninghaus was appointed to the Advisory Board of the School of Fine Arts at Washington Unviersity in St. Louis in 1918. He continued to develop his style and skills well into the 1920’s. In 1926 he became an Associate of the National Academy of Design in New York where he had exhibited works and won awards years before. Berninghaus’s favorite model was Albert “Looking Elk” Martinez who appears in many of his works, as well Martinez's wife and children. Berninghaus and “Looking Elk” had a strong friendship that was more than modeling, “Looking Elk” named his son “Bernie” after Bernighaus. “Looking Elk” took an interest in painting and Berninghaus taught him how to and supplied him with canvases, brushes and paint. The two men remained good friends until “Looking Elk’s” death in December of 1940. It is not until 1925 that Berninghaus moved to New Mexico permeantly, up until this point he split his time between St. Louis in the winters and Taos in the summers. As time went on Taos began to change, and so did the Pueblo. Anglo culture was influencing it more and more and members of Taos Pueblo began to wear the clothes of white men. Beringhaus saw this change and was able to adapt as he depicted his models as they were. Berninghaus remained in Taos painting until he died in the spring of 1952.

Biographical note written by Alexis Kinney


22 Volumes (22 notebooks of financial records) : Some are leather-bound account books and others hole-punched gatherings that were originally fastened with staples or paper clips that have been removed.

Language of Materials


Condition Description

Overall good condition.
O.E. Berninghaus Financial Records
In Progress
Marissa Hendriks
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Lunder Research Center Repository

The Lunder Research Center for the Taos Society of Artists
The Couse-Sharp Historic Site
146 Kit Carson Road
Taos NM 87571 USA