MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Violin

Alfred Morang's Violin will appear in the Morang and Friends exhibition- Matthews Gallery Blog

When Alfred Morang was a teenager he took to the nightclubs of Boston with his trusty violin. He had been a sickly child, bedridden and unable to attend school, but his mother and uncle recognized his fiery creativity and hired private music and painting tutors. Morang grew from a talented tot to a full-fledged young Renaissance Man, and his passionate musical performances earned him enough money to thrive. It was the beginning of a lifelong artistic journey.

A century later, Morang’s fiddle launched yet another adventure. Santa Fe art collector Paul Parker was researching Morang’s life when he came upon a letter by the artist’s longtime wife Dorothy. After Morang’s tragic death in a studio fire, Dorothy was having a hard time finding an heir to his worldly possessions. She’d finally contacted a distant relative, and was arranging the shipment of a few things collected from the ruins of Morang’s Canyon Road casita.

Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang Playing the Violin- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang playing his violin

The letter was Parker’s first clue in a treasure hunt that spanned the nation and stretched to the farthest branches of the Morang family tree. At the end of the trail was a treasure trove that connected the dots of Morang’s life, from his early years as a celebrated musician and writer to his time as an iconic Santa Fe artist. Morang’s well-worn violin, blackened by the fire, is perhaps Parker’s most striking find. It will appear alongside Morang’s artwork in our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS.

We interviewed Parker about his search for the fascinating artifacts that will anchor our exhibition to this legendary Santa Fe master:

Paul Parker Inspects a Painting by Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog Paul Parker inspecting a painting by Alfred Morang

 

 How did you first get interested in Alfred Morang?

I came to Santa Fe in the 1990’s, and met Jim Parsons in Taos not long after. He had a little booth with a rack of prints and drawings and things, and he had a pile of books called The Art Fever. We hit it off and just talked and talked, and I bought a copy of his book. I took it home and read it, and realized who I was talking to.

There was a time when Jim Parsons was the most powerful person in the Western art business. Back in the day, he had a little art gallery in his Denver apartment. He convinced Philip Anschutz to start a Western art collection, which is now the largest and most prestigious collection of Western art in private hands in the world.

Jim was a giant Morang fan, and he showed me his work. I became instantly fascinated with Morang’s story. I had seen his paintings in El Farol but didn’t know anything about him until Jim told me.

Tell me about Morang’s childhood.

He was born in a little town called Ellsworth, Maine. There’s still a Morang Chevrolet in Ellsworth that his father owned with another partner. He and his mother had a very close relationship.

Even as a child, Morang was something of a polymath.

 Yes, he learned from Carrol S. Tyson and other American Impressionists. He was also the youngest-ever solo violinist to play at Jordan Hall in Boston. I mean, he was a very accomplished musician. His wife Dorothy was a member of the music conservancy in Boston. That’s where he met her.

Alfred Morang- The Artist's Studio Portland Maine- Pen and Ink- Matthews Gallery Blog

Alfred Morang, Artist’s Studio-Portland, 1932, Pen and Ink

 

He and Dorothy lived in Portland, Maine before his tuberculosis forced them to move to Santa Fe in 1938. Morang had a successful a writing and painting career back East. What are your thoughts on his early work?

I’ve seen some of his work from back then. Like a lot of artists, when Morang came to New Mexico and saw the color and the light and everything, it inspired him. I think that’s the biggest thing.

It’s almost akin to my life. I thought I enjoyed art, but until I moved to Santa Fe, until I drove by 100 galleries every night on my way home and everybody that I associated with and talked to was in the business in some way, shape or form, something about that was really inspiring.

Artifacts of Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang to Appear in December Exhibition- Matthews Gallery BlogSanta Fe New Mexican columnist Lorraine Carr covered Morang’s memorial service in February, 1958

 

How did you start hunting for the box of Morang’s possessions?

I was writing a story about Morang, and I went to the library to find out what the newspaper said when he died in 1958. I was reading all of the articles and eulogies and things, and I thought, ‘This is an amazing man.”

After I went to the library that day, I realized I needed more research, so I went to the New Mexico Museum of Art and searched their archives for anything I could find in Alfred Morang’s folder. That’s when I found Dorothy Morang’s folder, and saw her letter. It said that she had sent this box of Morang’s possessions away to Carrie Morang Robinson in Atlanta, Georgia. All I had was the name Carrie Morang Robinson and this address in Atlanta. I did my research and found out that she was deceased. I couldn’t find any relatives, and her former house had a different owner.

 That must have seemed like a dead-end.

Yeah, I made several phone calls and then just kind of gave up for a while. Then something hit me a couple months later and I said, “Damn it, I’m going to try again.”

I did some more research and tried to find Alfred’s relatives. Carrie Morang Robinson was the daughter of one of Alfred Morang’s uncles because she was a cousin and had the family name. I found one uncle’s name through the Morang Chevy dealership in Ellsworth, but then I ran into another dead-end.

A couple months later I got a Maine antiques publication, and there was something about ancestors in it. I got some other names of who Carrie Morang Robinson’s father might have been. I found some members of the Robinson family, and started researching them.

You were making some headway!

 I just start calling people again, and this woman whose name was Robinson came up. I called her, and she said, “Oh, our cousin Alfred. Our mother used to tell us about him.” I started telling her a little bit of the story, and she said, “You have to talk to Gwen.” I just lit up, because Gwen was Carrie Morang Robinson’s granddaughter and lived with her grandmother in the final years of her life. Now Gwen owns Carrie’s house.

I called Gwen up, and she had all of these family stories about Alfred, that he used to go through the woods with his violin and his cats following him. “Weird cousin Alfred” or something like that. She said, “Well, if my grandmother owned the box, it’s probably still up in the attic.” Then I got excited.

You were one step away. It must have been tantalizing. 

Well, Gwen was renting the house, so she told me she’d search for the stuff the next time she was in Atlanta. A month or two goes by, and I call her up again. She says, “We’ll be selling the house, so I’ll look for it then.” A long period of time goes by, and all of a sudden I hear the phone ring one day. “Well, I found your box,” she says. “I’ve got a couple more things—a violin and a painting.”

 Paul Parker Surveys Artifacts of Legendary Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery BlogParker surveys sketches and other artifacts of Alfred Morang

 

How did it feel when Morang’s artifacts finally arrived at your door? 

It was absolutely phenomenal. It was like the biggest Christmas ever. To see that violin and just to touch it. Talk about personal.

The box was full of many different short stories and manuscripts, which he submitted to radio stations to be read as radio plays. Many of these stories were never published, and might have been lost forever.

Did this elaborate hunt make you wonder why someone didn’t try to keep the artifacts in Santa Fe? 

Dorothy and Alfred got divorced in 1950, but even then Dorothy kind of watched out for him. When he died, she knew about this cousin Carrie Morang Robinson, who was the only rightful heir to his possessions. Dorothy stepped up to help contact her, and at the time it wasn’t a big deal to send them away.

One of the stories that Morang’s adopted daughter Claire LaTour has told me is that they didn’t know what to do with his ashes. They left them in a closet in the art museum after the last memorial service. Claire came back, and somebody flew her over Canyon Road and she dumped his ashes out the window of the airplane, which was a difficult task. She told me, “I was wearing a fur coat, and I always laughed that forever afterward I was brushing Alfred out of my coat.”

Alfred Morang- Autumn in the Park- Oil on Canvas- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, Autumn in the Park, 1954, Oil on Canvas

 

Morang’s colorful personality often overshadows his artwork. Is that frustrating for you, as a big fan of his work ?

It’s the same frustration that I have now with van Gogh. I know from all my research that van Gogh was not a crazy man. He had epileptic fits that affected his life and personality, but he was a very brilliant man and definitely not insane.

It’s almost the same thing with Alfred. People like the story of a bohemian alcoholic, something that fits better with the story of Toulouse-Lautrec. He wasn’t an alcoholic. He couldn’t have done the things that he did if he were an alcoholic.

The greatest quote that I’ve ever heard about an artist is from Morang’s memorial service. It’s not attributed to anybody specifically, but an unknown artist said, “It’s no wonder that we in Santa Fe mourn the loss of Alfred, he taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see.” After Morang’s death, all of a sudden people started to realize that he was a great artist. People regretted that they didn’t pay enough attention to him.

Coming up next week, Paul Parker digs up more mysteries of Alfred Morang’s life and travels to Paris to complete a mission in Morang’s memory. Make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily updates on MORANG AND FRIENDS.

COLLECTOR’S FORUM: Conservator Matt Horowitz

 Fine art conservator Matt Horowitz will appear at our COLLECTOR’S FORUM workshops
on October 17 and 24. The free events are for anyone who’s ever considered buying, selling or caring for fine art and has questions about the inner workings of the art world. To reserve a seat, make sure to contact us!

Matt-Horowitz-Goldleaf-Framemakers-Conservator

Conservator Matt Horowitz with a 17th century painting he restored for Matthews Gallery

“I came in and they gave me a de Kooning,” says Matt Horowitz. He’s telling the story of his arrival in Manhattan at 24 years old to work for a famed art restoration firm. If he failed this audition, there would be dire art historical consequences.

“A piece of the white paint had chipped away, which is the hardest thing to match, because white is never really white,” Horowitz says, nervously twisting the ring on his finger. “I was like, ‘You don’t even know who the hell I am, and you just gave me a de Kooning and you want me to fix it.'” At the end of the painstaking task, Horowitz had a new job. Eight years later he sits in Matthews Gallery’s front room among paintings he’s restored for us, with a budding reputation as a rare young master in his field.

Horowitz grew up in Santa Fe, where his father Marty founded Goldleaf Framemakers in 1988. One summer in high school he got bored with the family business and asked local art conservator Steven Prins to teach him the tricks of the trade.

After receiving his BFA in painting and drawing at the University of New Mexico, Horowitz returned to Santa Fe to work with Prins, but he’d always dreamed of living in New York. When he got a job offer from Lowy Frame & Restoration Company in Manhattan, he took the leap.

Matt Horowitz- Art Conservator- Goldleaf Framemakers of Santa FeHorowitz at work

“I didn’t go and get my masters degree in conservation because I went for a ‘apprenticeship to working commercially’ route,” Horowitz says. “I prefer it because when you go to school it’s a very different environment. It’s very intellectual.” At Lowy he got hands-on experience with diverse museum-quality work: paintings by Degas, Dali and other legends.

Horowitz had a great job and an apartment in Manhattan, but he was far away from his family. “Things had gotten really rough after the recession,” he recalls. “My dad calls and says, ‘Would you be interested in coming back and helping your old man out?'” It was a difficult decision, but Horowitz left New York behind.

His first winter back in Santa Fe was hard work. Horowitz lived in the family shop and turned out beautifully restored artwork on tight deadlines, building a successful new wing of the business. It’s been four years since his return and a decade since he started working as a professional art conservator, and business is booming.

Still Life Attributed to Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery blogUntitled still life by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer, impeccably restored by Horowitz

“Now that I’ve been doing it for 10 years, I really push that,” Horowitz says. “I’ve definitely come up against the ageism, and the people who say, ‘How could you know what you’re doing? You’re too young.'” That’s why he jumped at the chance to collaborate with us on our Art Matters event, COLLECTOR’S FORUM. During our free workshops on October 17 and 24, he’ll discuss the fine points of maintaining and restoring artwork in your collection and tell fascinating stories from his career, including the tale of restoring one of Matthews Gallery’s oldest works of art.

“It’s kind of like being a detective,” he says. “It’s exciting. Something comes in and it’s not always totally straightforward, there’s a combination of things. It can be stressful but it’s exciting. You have to follow the clues and figure it all out.”

Learn more about COLLECTOR’S FORUM on our exhibition page, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery updates.

SCULPTOR’S PROCESS: Frank makes a fountain

Frank Morbillo- Sculptor- Matthews Gallery

It all started with a sculpture you may recognize if you’ve been to Matthews Gallery in the past few years. Frank Morbillo‘s ‘Complement’ was a fountain that stood outside our building for a time, enchanting Canyon Road tourists with its elegant lines and soothing sounds:

Frank Morbillo- Complement- Matthews Gallery

“It was inspired by the figure, a relationship between people or entities,” says Frank. “The two sides have a connection in terms of how the line of one complements the line of the other.”

Two gallery visitors who were particularly charmed by the sculpture kept it in mind as they built their new home. Nearing the end of construction, they got in touch with Frank and asked him to create a similar piece for their front entryway. Just like the two pillars of the sculpture, Frank says the commission was all about maintaining a carefully balanced dynamic.

“During the course of the commission, I am constantly sending images that are going back and forth between myself and my client,” the artist explains. “Six times throughout this process or more, we were exchanging information and tweaking and getting approval.”

Below you’ll see images from their correspondence, starting with a cardboard model and ending with the stainless steel fountain in its beautiful new space. Follow Frank on his artistic journey…

Frank Morbillo- Artist Process- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

First, Frank marked up an image of the original sculpture (left). ‘Complement’ was larger than his clients wanted, so he adjusted the scale and used the new measurements to resize some cardboard cutouts from the original project (center). The new, smaller cardboard pieces came together to create a full-scale model of the new piece (right).

“When I’m building it in the studio, it’s important to have the model at the level that it’s going to be viewed. In the clients’ home, it’s going to be up a few steps from the ground level. I elevated it to make sure the proportions were working. I want there to be a good interaction of elements.”

“Different materials make the water flow differently. A rough material creates some surface tension, while a slick material will let the water run very fast.”

 Frank Morbillo- Sculpture Process- Matthews Gallery blog
Next, Frank manipulated images of the cardboard model in Photoshop to show the flow of the fountain. The blue line you see on the edited photograph is where the water will fall on one side. The white piece of cardboard under the sculpture represents its base, which presented a unique problem.

“From the very beginning, I had to be very careful about water flow because I had a limited landing pad for the water to fall. The basin was much smaller and narrower than in the original sculpture.”

Frank Morbillo- Artist Process- Matthews Gallery Blog

After tweaking the cardboard model, Frank took it apart and traced the pieces on stainless steel (left). He used tack welding to create a rough version of the piece (center and right). Tack welds allowed Frank to alter the form based on his client’s feedback.

 “The dark buttons going up the edge are the tack welds. The tack weld is very strong; a series of four down the side can hold it mostly in place. Once you’re at this step, you want to make sure that everything is right. Afterwards, there are several days worth of work to make the elements seamless.”

Frank Morbillo- Artist Process- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

It took about a week to create the shiny sculpture you see on the left. The two red arrows mark openings for the water. Next Frank worked on the base of the sculpture, installing a pump and carefully feeding the electrical cord through a riser tube that holds it above the water (center and right).

“All of those edges have been welded and sanded. This is my first rough pass on putting the finish on the metal.”

“One of the things you look for is the pump’s capacity to go vertical. I size it at a slightly greater capacity than my need is going to be so that I’m sure the water will reach the top.”

“The water enhances and adds to the whole scheme of the project. By placing the pump on the foam pads, it reduces noise vibration from the pump, allowing the viewer to focus on the sound of the fountain.”

Frank Morbillo- Sculpture Process- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

Frank cut mesh and steel plates to cover the base and prevent splashing. The slots you see around the sides of the sculpture are one of Frank’s latest innovations.

“Because of the size of the basin, I have less latitude with what the water does and how it falls. I knew I had to create a slot around the base of both sculptures so as the water falls it goes into this slot. It worked really well, and I learned something from it. It’s changed how I deal with water capture in a small basin.”

“In every sculpture project, there’s always the opportunity to say, ‘What can I do different in the future?’”

Frank Morbillo- Artist Process- Matthews Gallery Blog

Careful tests of the water flow followed. Frank got the final approval from the client and shipped it.

“There’s a lot of structure in there that you’re not seeing that supports all of the different elements. When all of this is said and done, you don’t see any of that but it’s all happening because of it.”

“I took a good long look at it and liked what I was seeing in terms of how I thought it would look on site.”

And PRESTO!

Frank-Morbillo-SculptureProcessFinal

Frank’s clients sent back images of the piece in its new home, and the sculptor couldn’t be happier.

 “The experience of walking up the steps and around the sculpture must be pretty awesome.”

“It’s interesting, the sculpture is the only thing with curves in the space. Everything else is really hard and geometric. That’s cool that it’s really different than anything else line-wise in the space.”

“When you can have fun going through the process of doing it, for me that’s where my thoughts go when I’m working. There’s a lot of opportunities to have fun.”

“When I saw the contemporary design of the house, I said, ‘Great project.’ I’m really happy that this sculpture became part of it.”

See more of Frank Morbillo’s artwork on the Matthews Gallery website, and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for daily gallery news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAMILIAR STRANGERS: The Orphanage

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

 Palace of the Governors Image Specialist Hannah Abeldeck sifts through the archives

“I think what you’re referring to is what we call ‘orphan photographs,'” said Palace of the Governors Photo Archivist Daniel Kosharek over the phone. “We have boxes and boxes of them.”

We contacted Kosharek last week in hopes of getting another angle on vernacular photography for our upcoming FAMILIAR STRANGERS show, which opens this Friday. The private collectors we had interviewed so far seemed delighted by the often unsolvable mysteries of found photographs. Did a professional archivist find an unknown image intriguing… or annoying?

A few days later, Daniel’s colleague Hannah Abeldeck ushered us onto an elevator and down to the basement of the Palace of the Governors. Abeldeck works as an image specialist for the archives, cataloguing, scanning and researching images in the collection of about 1,000,000 objects. The main room of the archives is packed with file cabinets and bookshelves. Sunlight streams down from a stairwell, making the subterranean space surprisingly bright.

“We weren’t a hundred percent sure what you were interested in, so I pulled some stuff to give you examples,” Abeldeck said, pointing to a teetering stack of files and a big green box.

To be honest, we weren’t sure either. We had no specific criteria when we were compiling photographs for FAMILIAR STRANGERS, which features compelling, mysterious images of diverse people and places. Unlike the scholars and history enthusiasts Abeldeck usually works with, we were more interested in questions than answers. In the following excerpts of our Q&A, Abeldeck provided us with a healthy helping of both as we explored a small corner of the “orphanage”.

Tools- Palace of the Governors Photo Archives The archivist’s toolkit

 

You started at the archives last October. Was it intimidating to approach such a large collection? 

I’ve worked in archives before, and for a rare book dealer. There are things about it that are not intimidating, but there are plenty of things that are. Partly, it’s the size of our collection. It’s huge. There’s stuff that’s really well processed, and then there’s stuff that’s hardly processed at all. There are so many different filing systems, so an original photograph can get put somewhere and be difficult to find again. There are systems by medium, by size, by when it arrived, by collection number.

Why were you interested in archival work? 

I think that our ideas about the past are often very simple. They’re based on things like summaries that people wrote about what they think happened. Sometimes photographs are a way of going back and re-looking at the past that you can’t do with words. You can get some idea of the complexity of the past. There’s a book that I read called “The Past is a Foreign Country.” In some ways, this job is like being a tourist. It’s interesting to see what is the same and what is different, what has changed and what is new.

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

Orphan photos are catalogued in several ways: by location (left, New Mexico), collector (center, Forrest Fenn) or subject (right, portraits)

 

Where did the stack of orphan photos we’re looking at come from? 

We have a set of collections that exist in this limbo land between the old cataloguing system and the new cataloguing system. We might know something about them, or they might just be a box of photographs sitting on a shelf. This box says “Forrest Fenn“, so he probably donated them. Some have a photographer’s name on the back and some don’t. The stack of files is catalogued by location or subject— “New Mexico Towns” or “Portraits”.

Is there a way to estimate how many of your photographs are “orphaned”?

No, there’s not. Most of the stuff that we have, we know at least one thing about, so they’re not completely orphaned. Usually we know the photographer. Their name will be on the back, or the collection will be from their studio. Sometimes we don’t know anything about the photographer, but we know the location. When we seek things out for our collection, we’re usually looking for things where we know the photographer or the subject matter. But people also donate stuff to us. Those items that come in bulk collections, we know less about. The date is usually the thing that is the least identified about a photo.

What is the attitude among archivists towards orphan photos? 

Over the past 20 years, a lot of people who work in archives have adopted a philosophy called “MPLP.” That means “More Product, Less Processing.” It’s a way to deal with the huge volume of material that’s coming in. The volume of records that got created over the 20th century exponentially increased as the technology of production became cheaper. In the 1960s a photo archivist here might have spent four hours trying to identify a building in a photo. Now, we just don’t have time to do that. That’s one reason things get orphaned.

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

 Mysterious beauty

 

The found photo collectors we interviewed find the element of mystery alluring. Do you get excited sometimes when you’re looking through orphan photographs, even though you don’t know their origins? 

Yeah! I’ll be looking through 100 unremarkable photographs from the past, and there’s one that seems more interesting or outstanding than others. There might be something aesthetically different about that photograph, but we’re also looking for historically interesting things. It doesn’t have to be a historical event, it could be about social history: why are these people together in this scenario? There are all sorts of social or technological things that could be interesting, even with orphan photographs.

In a blog post for FAMILIAR STRANGERS, we wrote about different roles people take when they’re looking at vernacular photographs: voyeur, detective, surrealist, even humanist. What would you add to that list? 

I’d add sociologist or social historian, particularly with the vernacular photography. We have a book called “Dressed for the Photographer” that’s a huge study of what people were wearing in daguerrotypes. You can date them based on their class and their region, so you can pin it a little more closely to the decade. It’s a way to find out what kinds of people passed through different places. We have portraits of Chinese men from Las Vegas, New Mexico that we don’t know much about, but their presence captures a bit of railroad history in the Southwest.

The photo collectors we interviewed also talked about the importance of bringing long-forgotten memories into the digital world. Do you feel similarly as an archivist? 

One of my main job duties is digitization. If you wanted to see and study some of these things, you would have to come to Santa Fe, New Mexico on an afternoon between Tuesday and Friday. Through digital cataloguing, we can post that stuff online and people can search from their houses. However, we have over 1,000,000 images and we’ve digitized maybe 30,000 of them. There’s still a huge mismatch between what we have and what is searchable online.

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

Adelbeck flips through photographic glass plates in the archives. “As long as you don’t drop them, these will last forever.”

 

On the flip side, photo enthusiasts also stressed the importance of holding the physical object in their hands.

Having the original copy is very important for us in our ability to archive things. There’s something called digital obsolescence. For a physical photograph, if we put it in an archival mylar sleeve and keep them in a climate controlled environment, that is 95% of the preservation job. Digital objects are not that way, they need constant babysitting. Things periodically need to be switched over or upgraded. The CD is already an obsolete technology, so if you created a digital photograph in that format you have to migrate it to something else. With digital objects, there is a risk of the object disappearing within 15 years.

Do you have any stories of people identifying themselves or family members in an orphan photo? 

I just posted a picture on Facebook last week of two kids playing baseball. We knew the photographer and the date, and we knew it was in New Mexico somewhere. Someone recognized his brother in the photo. It’s really cool when that happens, but it’s bound to happen sometimes. We have all of these photos of unidentified people, and someone out there must know who they are. Those people existed at some point.

Is it frustrating when you encounter photographs that have recently left the range of “living memory”? 

It’s kind of interesting, because you start to understand the process by which photos get made, and how that affects what we can recover from the past. In the past, the occasions of photography were more constrained. You got a photo taken at an important event, like a wedding. As technology makes photography more accessible to the average person, you see a much larger growth of everyday captured moments that are not remarkable. At the same time, even within the proliferation of photography, there are things that happen that people don’t think to take pictures of. The process of painting a house might be interesting to future historians, but no one bothers to document that. There are a hundred billion photographs taken of the Santa Fe Plaza or the Palace of the Governors—and people are still taking them today—but there might be a storefront somewhere that no one has really photographed. It’s really interesting what people are choosing to document, and what they don’t document. We try to fill in those gaps by collecting photographers like Robert Christensen, a deliveryman who captured obscure stretches of road in rural New Mexico.

So this is just the tip of the iceberg?

Oh, yes. We have many, many, many more unidentified photos. If you needed pictures of ancestors and didn’t have any of your own, you could just come pick some. (laughs) “This is my great grandmother.”

Burro Photograph- Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

 Caption: Leaving Las Vegas During the Small Pox Scare, 1898; filed under Transportation, Land, Burros

You can follow Abeldeck and Kosharek’s exploits on the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives Facebook and Tumblr pages. Also, make sure to come to the opening of FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography this Friday from 5-7 pm. Read more about the show in this week’s Santa Fe Reporter.

FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Almost Lost

Familiar Strangers Found Photography Show- Matthews Gallery Blog

Editor’s Note: No original photographs were harmed in the making of this blog

The messages were all the same. “Why do found photographs hold allure for you?” we wrote to members of Flickr’s robust vernacular photography community. “What is it about anonymous photographers and their subjects that makes collecting these artworks special or important?” 

As we explained in our last blog post, we’ve been wearing many different hats as we prepare for the May 16 opening of FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography. Judging by the diverse answers we received from this query, it seems longtime found photography fans follow a similar process.

“At the time they were taken, they meant something to the photographer,” writes Gary Moyer, who runs a Flickr Group called Found Photos. “It’s a shame to think they can’t live on in this digital age.” But although part of Moyer’s mission is to bring this ephemera to the virtual realm, he’s also charmed by the objects themselves. “The photos are real, something to hold in your hand,” he concludes. 

For John Van Noate, administrator of several vernacular photography groups, it’s more about the immediacy of the image. “They provide a slice of life unfiltered, unmediated,” he writes. “Life in the raw, so to speak.”

Dave Bass‘ interest in vernacular photography started with a childhood fascination for taking snapshots. “I still recall the anxiety felt when retrieving a processed roll from the drugstore and opening the package to discover my treasures,” he recalls. Hunting down “orphan” photos seemed like a natural extension of his passion, and over years of collecting he’s learned a lot about human nature from the pictures he’s found.

I truly believe that such photographs are authentic cultural artifacts that portray who we as humans were, who we have become, and where we will likely go,” Bass writes. He uses Flickr group Vernacular Photo to connect with like-minded folks across the world. 

All of these intrepid collectors’ answers did have one thing in common: a sense of loss, and a desire to subvert it. As Moyer puts it, “Each [photograph] represents a moment that is gone forever.” In a way, these collections preserve memories that would otherwise have vanished long ago. 

On that hopeful note, we leave you with an excerpt from Paul Jackson‘s correspondence. The UK resident runs the Flickr group Found Photographs, and has a lot to say about vernacular photos and the power of the online community to uncover their secrets. It’s enough to make you believe that nothing is lost forever. Attend our FAMILIAR STRANGERS exhibition, opening May 16 from 5-7 pm, to untangle more mysteries!

Familiar Strangers Found Photography Show- Matthews Gallery Blog

From Paul Jackson:

I went to art school here in the UK in the 1970s and my interest in vernacular photographs stems from then. In those days you could often buy old postcards and snapshots in charity shops for virtually nothing. Often just arranged in old shoe boxes. You can rarely do that now as these things have become very collectable.

I think it is a shame when dealers break up old photograph albums as all the clues that would help place these images in context get wiped away. You may be interested in some subsidiary groups we run on Flickr. One is called “What’s That Picture” where we invite people to post pre-1945 images that they want help identifying. Sometimes this is a tall order but the Flickr community acts a bit like a hive mind and we have had some astonishing successes. A lot of these can be found in another group “The Astonishing Power of Flickr“. Here many images that have been successfully identified have been posted and some other extraordinary events such as people recognising themselves or other serendipitous events have occurred. 

You ask what the allure is for me. Well, there is something awfully poignant about old snap shots/vernacular photographs. The lives of strangers’ births deaths marriages, love, hearth and home..all life is there and with the knowledge that all that life has probably by now slipped away. These things end up in sales almost always through a death and the death of someone who either has no remaining family, or a family that cannot or will not preserve these fragile family histories. It is a very sobering thought.

I am at a period in my life when I am beginning to realise that even my own family photographs and the ones of my parents and grandparents are going to be vulnerable to be “lost” when I die and it does make you dwell on the ephemeral nature of life, the impermanence of the structures we build around ourselves and how easily it can fade away.

One of my favourite quotes is the famous one in Blade Runner when Roy Batty the replicant is dying:

“I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those. moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time… to die…”

Looking at so many old and found photographs I often think that “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” the person behind the camera has seen these things, lived that life..you know, we can sometimes almost taste it.

 

Familiar Strangers Found Photography Show- Matthews Gallery Show

THE LUMPKINS LEGACY: Bill’s Last Request

William Lumpkins Jr- Matthews Gallery Art Opening

William Lumpkins Jr. next to his father’s serigraph “Abstract Landscape #3

At last Friday’s opening of NEW MEXICO MODERNS: The Lumpkins Files, William Lumpkins Jr. was a quiet presence. He stood to the side surveying his father’s work or chatted softly with visitors, many of whom were family friends. One woman had known his dad, who died in 2000, through an art discussion group that met at local coffeehouses. “Whenever Bill spoke, we all had to lean in. He was such a lovely, gentle man,” she said.

Will’s father may have passed down his mild temperament, but both men are also legendary for their fierce artistic passion. Will has carefully preserved the artwork in The Lumpkins Files show for years, and meanwhile has developed his own artistic style. The jacket he wore to the show was emblazoned with intricate celtic knots and a dragonfly.

When we asked about his dad, the more colorful side of Will’s personality emerged. Here’s William Lumpkins’ son on his father’s never-before-seen artwork, and why he decided to release it more than 15 years after Lumpkins’ death.

 What’s it like to see your dad’s work hanging in the gallery? 

Well, his work was all around us growing up, so it’s not that strange. The gallery did an excellent job though.

When did you first bring the work to Matthews Gallery?

About a year and a half ago. I had shopped around and didn’t relate to anybody until I met Larry.

Where did you keep it for all these years? 

I had it in a case between sheets of acid-free paper. When I was teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University, I was in charge of museology. It was a whole print and painting conservation training program. So my dad knew that I could take care of them. Watercolors in particular are a sensitive thing for archiving.

Why didn’t he want you to release them until now? 

It didn’t have to do with the work. He said to me, ‘Okay, you wait until after you’re 70 because by then your personal artistic statement will be you. You won’t have to mimic me.’ So at 70, my artwork was me and I brought these out again.

Were you ever tempted to release them before that? 

No, it just didn’t seem right until I started looking around recently. I trusted you guys.

One of the biggest surprises in this body of work was the watercolor from 1937. That’s one of the earliest Lumpkins pieces we’ve ever seen. Did you know it was in there?

I knew that the work spanned a lot of time. When Dad was closing down the studio, he picked these out because these were the ones that he really liked from different points in his career. He felt that they were significant, and that they weren’t typical. His typical work is pretty well-known, but these he wanted to hold out so that they’d be totally new.

What was your vision for this show? 

I gave the work to Larry and said, ‘Do you what you think is best.’ I just want them to be out in the open where they can be seen. If people want them enough, if people like them a lot, that’s good.

Hear more from Will Lumpkins in this week’s Pasatiempo, and visit the show at Matthews Gallery through Friday, April 25. For more images from the opening, check out our photos page and connect with us on Facebook and Instagram.

ERIC’S WORLD: Breaking Through with Light

Andrew Wyeth- Christina's World- Matthews Gallery blog
Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth

One of our Facebook fans recently drew a line between our artist Eric G. Thompson and revered American realist painter Andrew Wyeth.  That’s a common observation among visitors to the Matthews Gallery: both artists have muted palettes, a reverence for the even glow of the early morning and late afternoon sun, and, of course, a keen eye for the smallest of details.

Perhaps the element that best ties the two men together is their approach to the portrait. Their subjects stare pensively into the distance, lost in bittersweet memories as they lounge about in windswept landscapes. You can enter Eric’s Wyethian worlds this Friday from 5-7 pm at the opening for his new show “Breaking Through with Light“. Scroll down for a preview of the works in the exhibition, with accompanying quotes by Thompson and Wyeth:

Autumn Solace, Eric G. Thompson, Matthews Gallery
Autumn Solace, Eric G. Thompson

“As a child, I would search out a patch of light entering the room and sit there forever in total bliss”

-Eric G. Thompson

Lunch Break, Eric G. Thompson, Matthews Gallery

Lunch Break, Eric G. Thompson

“It’s a moment that I’m after, a fleeting moment, but not a frozen moment.”

-Andrew Wyeth

Pondering, Eric G. Thompson, Matthews Gallery
Pondering, Eric G. Thompson

 “In a world of pop culture that seems to be anti-silence, people seek the stillness they need without even realizing it.”

-Eric G. Thompson

Shadow Play, Eric G. Thompson, Matthews Gallery
Shadow Play, Eric G. Thompson

“I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the texture around it… I always want to see the third dimension of something… I want to come alive with the object.”

-Andrew Wyeth

Evan, Eric G. Thompson, Matthews Gallery
Evan, Eric G. Thompson

“I feel that every one of my paintings is essentially a study of light or lack thereof—light coming into a room, light hitting an object, stretching a shadow, lighting an edge. All of this can be very powerful and moving in a painting,”

-Eric G. Thompson

Learn more about Eric G. Thompson’s “Breaking Through with Light” here, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for updates on his show.