MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Bohemians

Alfred Morang Art Exhibition- Matthews Gallery Blog

How did you get this many Morangs together?”

That’s the most frequent question we’ve received from Alfred Morang fans who’ve come to our show in the past few weeks. It’s common to see one or two works by the Santa Fe master in a gallery’s collection, but it’s quite a special experience to view 37 pieces in one place.

Truth is, we called our exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS because we thought Morang’s contemporaries would dominate the show. It was only through a huge response from the Santa Fe community—private collectors, dealers, galleries—that it all came together. We’re so grateful to everyone involved for working with us, with special thanks to El Farol, Silver Sun Gallery, the Matt Kuhn Collection and our co-curator Paul Parker.

And what a show it was! As we take the paintings down today, we’re feeling quasi-nostalgic for the Santa Fe golden age that Morang’s diverse body of work evokes. For the last 21 days, we’ve been transported to a City Different full of wild saloons and drunken shootouts, free-flowing absinthe and spooky ghosts.

For our final blog post on the show, we thought it would be fitting to spotlight the colorful clique of bohemian artists who surrounded Morang during his time here in the 1930’s- 50’s. Morang was a brilliant art teacher who passed his knowledge to the next generation of Santa Fe artists. They ensured that his influence still ripples through the New Mexico art world today…

Portrait of Alfred Morang by Tommy Macaione- Matthews Gallery Blog

 TOMMY MACAIONE

This portrait of Alfred Morang appeared in the exhibition courtesy of the Matt Kuhn Collection. It was made by another colorful Santa Fe character, Thomas S. Macaione (1907-1992), also known as ‘El Diferente’. Macaione’s mature painting style was heavily influenced by Morang’s teachings, and they also had similar lifestyles. They lived as true bohemians, devoted to art above all else.

“[Macaione’s] passion for plein-air painting was not entirely appreciated at first in the town’s lingering Wild West atmosphere,” wrote the Santa Fe New Mexican in 2013. “Once, when painting a garden on Acequia Madre, he was scared off by the property owner, who fired a pistol in the air in his flowers’ defense.” A photograph of this bust appears on the final page of Walt Wiggins’ essential biography of Alfred Morang, A Neglected Master, along with a quote from Margaret Turner Williams:

 [Morang] died as he lived: alone. Yet he was never lonely, for he was a creator, and creators learn early in life to bridge the gap between the pain of loneliness and the peace of solitude.

With no material wealth, he was one of the richest human beings who ever lived. Everyone who knew him, and some who didn’t, feel a sense of loss at his passing.

Alfred Morang- Into Tomorrow- Matthews Gallery Blog

TRANSCENDENTAL PAINTING GROUP

A small group of New Mexico artists including Raymond Jonson, Emil Bisttram, and William Lumpkins formed the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG) in 1938. The collective was inspired by early abstract artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, as well as Theosophy, Zen Buddhism and Dynamic Symmetry. Their goal was to validate and promote abstract art by transcending their senses to explore spiritual realms. The group organized lectures, published articles and mounted exhibitions in New Mexico, San Francisco and New York. Alfred Morang was not a founding member of the group, but he acted as their press secretary for a number of years. An excerpt from Morang’s November 4, 1938 article “Transcendental Foundation Plans Extensive Activities” in the Santa Fe New Mexican:

It is deeply significant that in this time of readjustment in almost every stratum of life, a few people are intent upon an important branch of cultural development. In Santa Fe the founding of the ‘American Foundation for Transcendental Painting, Inc.’ marks the start of a new phase of American art. […] Briefly, transcendental painting is no school or ism. It is a phase of art that, out of many more or less isolated experiments, has evolved toward non-objective painting, the type of painting that is not dependent upon an object, in nature, but is deeply concerned with forms conceived by the imagination.

The TPG only lasted a few years, disbanding in 1942 because of World War II. However, the collective’s influence endures in the Southwest and beyond. Some consider the group an heir to Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus. Morang completed a number of abstract works inspired by the group’s philosophy, including the oil painting above titled “Into Tomorrow“. Click here to see more.

Janet Lippincott- Alfred The Painter- Matthews Gallery Blog

JANET LIPPINCOTT

 “Alfred Morang was one of the few people who encouraged me in my abstract expressionism,” said Janet Lippincott (1918-2007), one of Morang’s  best-known pupils. Lippincott came to New Mexico in 1946 and studied at the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism in Taos. Bisttram was a founding member of the Transcendental Painting Group (1938-1942), a collective of abstract painters with a spiritual, non-political approach to art, for which Morang served as press secretary. Santa Fean Magazine interviewed Lippincott for an article on Morang in their April 1978 issue:

He was an excellent painter and inspiring teacher “and he had a good mind,” Janet Lippincott says. She studied landscape painting with him for three months one summer, and she remembers that “he had something about him that could draw out the best you had in you.”

This portrait of Alfred Morang isn’t the only artwork by Lippincott that appeared in the show. Click here to see more.

Dorothy Morang- Untitled Abstract 1935- Matthews Gallery Blog

DOROTHY MORANG

Dorothy Morang (1906-1994) was born in Richmond, Maine. She met Alfred in 1925, and they were married in 1930. They lived in Portland, Maine for a number of years, and moved to Santa Fe in 1937 to alleviate the symptoms of Alfred’s tuberculosis.

Dorothy and Alfred divorced in 1950, but she looked out for him for the rest of his life and arranged the transfer of his estate to a Morang relative after his death in 1958. Dorothy was an impressive painter in her own right—here she draws inspiration from the Transcendental Painting Group, for which her husband acted as press secretary. She worked for many years at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, primarily as a curator. An excerpt from an oral history interview with Dorothy Morang by Sylvia Loomis in the Archives of American Art:

SYLVIA LOOMIS: Were you painting after you got to
Santa Fe?

DOROTHY MORANG: Yes, I started even more seriously. I’d been working quite steadily in Portland, Maine – Alfred and I lived there for about seven years before we came here – and I went on and worked very seriously with some criticism from Alfred and from Raymond Jonson, who was living in Santa Fe then. […] Alfred had also taken up writing, and he was very active, as you know, on radio, too, interviewing artists on the radio. He had an interview program for several years. He was extremely active.

William Vincent Kirkpatrick- Upper Canyon Road- Matthews Gallery Blog

WILLIAM VINCENT KIRKPATRICK

“[Alfred Morang] taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see,” remarked an unknown Santa Fe artists after Morang’s tragic death in 1958. The Morang School of Fine Art was instrumental in the development of a new generation of Santa Fe artists. At the time of Morang’s death, William Vincent Kirkpatrick (1939-2004), one of his star pupils, was studying at the Taos School  of Art. He returned to Santa Fe, rebuilt his master’s studio and worked on a series of canvases inspired by Morang’s vivid hues and painterly textures. Vincent Kirkpatrick also did a painting on the wall at El Farol near Morang’s series of murals, ensuring that their work would hang side-by-side for years to come!
Learn more about Alfred Morang and his contemporaries on the Matthews Gallery website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news. Also keep your eye out for our 2015 exhibition schedule, which will explore other corners of the Santa Fe art colony. Coming very soon!

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Hannah Holliday Stewart: Letter from Houston

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Houston Studio- Matthews Gallery

Our exhibition Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered
begins with an opening reception on Friday, July 4 from 5-7 pm

“In a day in which so many things in Art are merely exercises in Media and devoid of any real significance, it is refreshing to discover an expression which transcends the cerebral prison of its own time and manifests itself in forms poetically germane to a more cosmic significance,” wrote Dayton Smith, with poetic flair of his own, in a typewritten statement dated March 22, 1991.

Smith was referring to the sculptures of his close friend Hannah Holliday Stewart (1924- 2010), whose monumental forms caught the eye of the nation in the 1970s and 80s. As chronicled in our last blog post, Smith and Stewart met in Houston in the late 1960s as Stewart’s career was taking off. He assisted Stewart in various ways for a number of years, and watched as the artist found success in galleries and museums across the country.

More from the note:

Her art mirrors a consciousness expanded beyond the pragmatic doctrinal limits of our milieu. Her commissions stand to prick our higher sensibilities in a world which, it would seem, affords little for the pursuit of what may be a neglected cosmic heritage. In an age in which “symmetry does not balance make” (but which, nevertheless seems to be the applied solution for everything), her bold compositions embody a superbly balanced abstract expression of form and function suggestive of the anthropomorphic with its attendant graces and imperfections.

More than two decades later, Smith admits with a chuckle that the write-up can be a bit “over the top”, but it survives as an illuminating statement about an artist whose cosmic creations were at times misunderstood. After we contacted him, Smith was inspired to return to the typewriter—or, keyboard—and draft another statement on Stewart’s work. His musings provide new insight into the life and artwork of the dynamic sculptor.

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Houston studio- Matthews Gallery

From Dayton Smith:

Hannah Remembered

It can be said with clarity and confidence that the monumental sculptural work of Hannah Holliday Stewart is cosmic in scope and spiritual in dimension and process. At the peak of her production in the 1970s and ’80s, there emerged from her studio great plaster forms, many well over ten feet in height. These graceful mammoths, cast in bronze, would weigh hundreds to thousands of pounds, and command public spaces in Houston and other cities. A major exhibition of these large plasters was mounted in January 1976 at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and another in the ’80s at One Houston Center. In the 1990s, she established studios in Flagstaff, Arizona, and later in Birmingham, Alabama, and finally in Albuquerque.

Born in 1924 in Marion, Alabama to a prominent family, she studied art in Alabama and Georgia (BFA), and at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan (MFA); studied ceramics in California with the legendary Bauhaus potter Marguerite Wildenhain; worked in foundries in Florida and Mexico; moved to Texas to teach at Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the University of Houston, and the University of St. Thomas. Her notable public works include Atropos Key, installed in 1972 on the hill at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park; Libertad, a smoothly elegant birdlike bronze at World Trade Center Houston; works in Samuels Park in Dallas and New Harmony in Indiana; and Passage, at University of St. Thomas Houston. Her public commissions are claimed as example of landmark achievement by women in the arts. Respected among Houston architects and adept in various media she developed sand-blasted and sand-cast relief panels for specific architectural settings. Her works of smaller scale are to be found in notable private collections.

Her studies in literature, mythology, metaphysics, esoteric philosophy, religion, science, astrology, dance and yoga suffuse her output, revealing in form and textures. Her earlier smaller works reflect ineffable humanity, humor, elegant charm and always superb craftsmanship. She was disciplined, intelligent and well-read, possessed of an intense work ethic, compassionate and understanding and encouraging of others, and an inspiring teacher, respected and loved by friends in business, academia and the arts. Whether attired in her usual studio denim or occasional Dior, she moved among interesting people and was an accomplished host and gourmet. Music was her creative keynote and the atmosphere mystical, always stimulating and, on occasion, convivial. On so many occasions when I would assist her in some project: photographing, gallery installation and lighting, foundry, studio, even building repair, I was aware that I was only facilitating much greater work. I think she really did come to ‘see’ the wind, and must have stood in awe of that which materialized from her consciousness and hands. I can still hear her warm southern voice and motto – Nil desperandum!, and her memory, towering as her work, is quite, quite treasured.

D.A. Smith
Public Broadcasting, University of Houston, retired

Make sure to attend the opening reception of our exhibition Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered on Friday, July 4 from 5-7 pm. To learn more, check out our previous blog post and our Hannah Holliday Stewart artist page. For daily gallery news, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Houston studio- Matthews Gallery

HANNAH HOLLIDAY STEWART: Cosmic Mysteries

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her studio- Matthews Gallery

It’s not a stretch to call Hannah Holliday Stewart‘s (1924-2010) sculptures cosmic. In the artist’s heyday, the bronze forms that emerged from her Houston studio were often over 10 feet tall and thousands of pounds. She aspired to create physical manifestations of complex ideas in science, mythology and other fields, a system of “pure [abstract] symbols as constant as numbers and letters of the alphabet,” as Paul Klee said in one of Stewart’s favorite quotes. The themes she explored were so vast that Stewart’s work was at times cosmically misunderstood.

In preparation for our posthumous solo exhibition of Stewart’s work this July, we’ve been digging through the sculptor’s carefully organized personal files. One folder marked “Press” holds a 1994 newspaper article from Stewart’s childhood home of Birmingham. By that time Stewart had lived far away from Alabama for a lifetime, building a reputation in Texas and the Desert Southwest as one of the first female sculptors to win competitive public art commissions. “Ms. Stewart talks of such abstract notions as harmony and energy and spiritual awakening,” puzzled the Birmingham Post-Herald reporter. Throughout the rest of the article Stewart scratched out or rewrote swaths of the writer’s analysis in black ink, clarifying concepts and modifying terms. “[I] always go back to classical order and laws,” she scribbled at the bottom.

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Artist Process 1- Matthews Gallery

Stewart was born in 1924 in Marion, Alabama. She studied art in Alabama and Georgia for her BFA, and completed her MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. After working at foundries in Florida and Mexico, she landed a teaching job at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and later at the University of Houston.

By the 1960s Stewart’s work had grown to a monumental scale, and a passionate group of Texas art enthusiasts rose to support it. In an era when female sculptors had to fight for recognition, Stewart’s bronze monoliths were popping up all over Houston—and beyond. In 1962 a swooping, Brancusi-esque bird form called “Libertad” appeared in the courtyard of Houston’s World Trade Center, and in 1972 an 11-foot-tall sculpture titled “Atropos Key” landed on a hill in Hermann Park. A commission for a monumental work in Dallas’ Samuels Park spread her name across the state.

“I found myself devoted to her work very early, I think,” says Dayton Smith, who befriended Stewart around 1969 when he was working for a Houston photography studio. “I realized the significance of it, the weight of it, shall we say.” Over the next few years Smith helped Stewart in various ways, photographing her artwork, transporting sculptures, and organizing a 1973 solo exhibition at Houston’s Jamison Gallery on Hermann Park.

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Artist Process 2- Matthews Gallery

“As I got to know her, I became aware that she was a very literate person, very intelligent,” says Smith. “Her work really did relate to what she encountered in her learning.” Smith noted that Stewart explored many fields of knowledge, from science and architecture to music and mythology, allowing concepts in each field to influence her three-dimensional objects. In 1975 and 1976 she mounted her first major solo show at the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum, exhibiting a series of large plaster models (including “Adam’s Rib“, from the photographs in this blog post) that were based on smaller bronze maquettes. But even as Stewart’s legend grew, Smith says misconceptions about her work persisted.

“The word spiritual often comes to mind, but spiritual is such a misunderstood term in our society,” explains Smith. “If you look at the word itself, the Latin root of it is ‘spiritus’. That means ‘wind.’ We can see the wind when it carries things, when it moves things.” Stewart worked to bring the invisible—a musical note, kinetic energy or a wisp of air—into the physical world.

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Artist Process 3- Matthews Gallery

More mysterious still to many of Stewart’s friends in Houston was her abrupt disappearance from the art world. Smith last saw Stewart in the late 1980s, when she was teaching at St. Thomas University and exhibiting in an impressive array of art institutions across the country. A few years later Stewart packed up and moved away from Houston, settling in Arizona, Alabama and then Albuquerque, New Mexico. She never exhibited her artwork publicly again. Why would a woman who once showed at the Smithsonian Institution, the Getty Museum and prominent galleries in New York, New Orleans and many other cities suddenly leave it all behind?

Smith has a few hunches. Stewart often said that she was inspired by the Desert Southwest, and sent Smith an image of her working in her new studio in Flagstaff. The move to Birmingham probably had to do with the declining health of Stewart’s brother and two sisters, who lived in the area. When it came to her art career, Smith thinks Stewart may have needed room to spread her wings and find new inspiration.

“Once we were talking about something she’d observed,” recalls Smith. “That sometimes to make it in your own town you have to leave and come back with something big. That people could get too used to you, but that perhaps you could come back and be accepted. Maybe she was planning that.”

Follow our blog in the coming weeks as we unravel the mysteries of Hannah Holliday Stewart’s life and artwork, and make sure to attend the opening of HANNAH HOLLIDAY STEWART: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered on July 4 from 5-7 pm.  Also pick up the July/August issue of American Fine Art Magazine to read more about the show, and follow our investigations on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.