ROCH HART: Mystery of the Petroglyphs

Roch-Hart-New-Mexico-Jeep-Tours Roch Hart’s jeep outside Matthews Gallery

Roch Hart is the first and only fine furniture maker in our stable, but he also has a pretty awesome day job. As the owner of New Mexico Jeep Tours, Hart takes visitors on rugged expeditions across a 20,000 acre private ranch between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The property is home to wild horses and numerous petroglyphs left behind by ancient Pueblo cultures.

We first met Hart through the image sharing website Flickr, where he posts stunning photographs from his adventures. We had no idea that he was also a master craftsman until he reached out to us. Not long after, a big red jeep full of beautiful hand-carved benches appeared outside the gallery. When we saw how good Hart’s work looked in our Southwestern art room, we knew it was a perfect match.

It didn’t take long to realize that Hart’s adventurous occupation and his impressive hobby were connected. As chronicled in previous posts, many of his works feature symbols from the petroglyphs he discovers on the ranch. The ancient marks are part of a complex language, and their meanings are partly lost to history. Luckily, Hart is a passionate detective. We asked him to show us some of his photos and tell the stories of petroglyphs that have inspired his work.

Take it away, Roch:

New-Mexico-Flag-Roch-Hart

New Mexico state flag, and a cross from Roch’s pie chest ‘The Way

In petroglyphs, the same symbol can hold multiple meanings. Take for example the Zia symbol on our state flag. Our European or Western paradigms might lead us to interpret the Zia as a simple, decorative depiction of the sun, but in the Pueblo culture these symbols were a communication form rather than an art form.  The circle of the Zia represents the circle of life. The four rays radiating from the circle represent many different things: the four directions, the seasons, the elements or even four stages in a person’s life. In the Pueblo culture, the four is a sacred number. I have found petroglyphs with faces whose mouths are in a square shape, perhaps speaking of the fours.

Roch-Hart-The-Way-Petroglyphs

Roch Hart with New Mexico petroglyphs, a similar design on Hart’s pie safe ‘The Way

Sometimes petroglyphs mimic the lines and rhythms of nature. I’ve been told by a trusted, unnamed native source that the triangular petroglyphs in the photo above represent mountains. The straight lines below the mountains may represent mesas, and below that is a mark that resembles a body of water. This could be a map of sorts. Not far from this petroglyph, there is a small pond with a view of mesas and the Jemez Mountains. On my latest pie safe, ‘The Way, I carved a similar pattern to represent mountains.

Roch-Hart-Petroglyph-Shield-WarriorShield Warrior petroglyph, photo by Roch Hart

In the world of petroglyphs there is a common theme of anthropomorphism (I really just like saying that word). Humans will sometimes take on the form of an animal, insect, or warrior shield. In the simple petroglyph above, a circled cross with a head and eyes represents a Shield Warrior. If we were still doing petroglyphs, this one could have represented me during my days as a cop. As you can see, this little guy also has the cross in his shield, representing the fours or ‘the way.’

Roch-Hart-Bear-Claw-PetroglyphsBear claw petroglyphs with storyteller and listener faces, photo by Roch Hart

 

Another common theme in petroglyphs is the ‘yin and yang.’ For instance, every storyteller needs a listener. The images above show petroglyphs that represent bear tracks. The tracks come in pairs, and each track has a face inside it representing a storyteller or a listener.

Roch-Hart-Storyteller-Faces

 ‘Marriage’ petroglyph, faces on Hart’s pie safe ‘The Storytellers

I call the petroglyph above ‘The Marriage.’ You can see two distinct people occupying one checkerboard body. If you look carefully, the square head appears to be speaking while the round head has its mouth closed. My pie safe called ‘The Storytellers‘ explores this theme of opposites. The listener and the speaker depend on each other.

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New Mexico petroglyphs, a spiral design on a bench by Roch Hart

Another common symbol is the spiral.  Spirals or concentric circles often represent time or travel.  I have found that cracks are often incorporated into these petroglyphs and I will find a spiral with the outer end going to or ending in a crack.  A common legend amongst the Pueblo natives is that they originated under the earth’s crust and made the journey to surface.  I believe these spirals convey that journey.  On one of my early pie safes, I placed a spiral on the door with the tail leading up to the middle joint of the door.

 Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 6.22.02 PMNew Mexico petroglyphs

Petroglyphs are very complex and have multiple layers of meaning and legend.  This blog post just scratches the surface, so to speak.  We have lost much knowledge of petroglyphs because early Spanish priests saw them as spiritualism apart from Catholicism. Catholicism was the state religion and the only legal one, so petroglyphs were outlawed.  In fact we often find crucifixes etched into the stones near these sites, placed there by the early priests to exorcise the place of evil spiritualism and to remind the Pueblo natives that this was not longer an accepted practice.

While part of me is upset about how we lost the knowledge of these ancient symbols, I enjoy that I don’t completely understand the mystery.  I love the idea that in some respects it is open to the interpretation of the beholder. Only the maker knew.

To make my fine furniture, I blend influence from the native cultures with my knowledge of Spanish colonial carpentry laws. That’s how I arrive on how to make a piece down to the joinery. But that’s for another blog post!

To see more photos by Hart, make sure to check out his Flickr account. See all of his furniture on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news.

 

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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

THE STORYTELLER: From petroglyphs to pinewood

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture- Matthews Gallery

 Roch Hart with his pie safe “The Storytellers”

“Furniture is art,” says Roch Hart. It’s a credo the Albuquerque fine furniture maker repeats every time he brings a new creation to the gallery. In Hart’s case, it’s true: each hand-carved piece of sugar pine is as unique as a painting on our wall. This is nothing you’d find at IKEA.

Check out our blog post chronicling Roch’s journey from Spanish Colonial furniture enthusiast to bona fide sculptor, and then delight in the details of his latest creation. This pie safe, dubbed “The Storytellers“, holds quite a few tales…

SPIRAL

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

Hart often draws inspiration from New Mexico petroglyphs.

“A spiral can mean a lot of different things depending on its context, but here it represents eternity or travel,” Hart says. In particular, this symbol refers to a journey from the depths of the earth.

FACES

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

These symbols on the sides of the pie safe tend to appear together in glyphs. The one on the left with its mouth shut tight is the “listener”, and the one on the right is the “storyteller”. It’s the yin-yang of cultures that depend on the voice to pass down vital knowledge.

The designs surrounding the faces also have an important meaning. Just like the Zia on the New Mexico state flag, they represent the sacred, pervasive number four: four compass directions, four seasons, four stages of a person’s life.

PATTERNS

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

“This is mimicking the Navajo rugs,” explains Hart. “I thought it would be a great border for the faces.”

Hart uses white ash to make his patterns bolder, rubbing it into the cracks by hand atop a layer of shellac. The finishing touch is a light coat of wax.

JOINTS

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

Near the beginning of his journey to furniture mastery, Hart visited the Nicolai Fechin House in Taos. Fechin was a Russian painter and carpenter who moved to New Mexico in 1923 and purchased a small adobe home that he would greatly expand over the years. The home is now a museum, and when Hart visited to study the furniture he had a chance encounter with Fechin’s daughter Eya. She taught him about the different joints that her father used, including the sliding dovetail joint pictured here.

“That changed my life,” Hart says.  “I looked at [Fechin’s work] and said, ‘I can do anything. Nobody told him what to do.'”

WINDOW

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

The grid Hart uses as a window for the pie safe doesn’t have an age-old legend behind it. It’s one of Hart’s signature designs that appears in many different manifestations in his work. Myriad influences come together in Hart’s exquisite furniture, but each piece is imbued with his unique sensibility.

See more of Roch’s creations on his artist page, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery updates. Also, check out our upcoming exhibition FOUR CENTURIES: European Art from 1600 to 1950, opening June 13!