WIDENING THE HORIZON: Pictures and Paintings

Eli Levin- View of Truchas Peak- Matthews Gallery blog

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what about a painting? For our exhibition WIDENING THE HORIZON: New Mexico Landscapes, we paired Southwestern landscape paintings with photographs of the places that inspired them. The results are fascinating, showing how artists interpret a setting based on style, sensibility and—particularly—sentiment. Explore the pairings below, and make sure to visit WIDENING THE HORIZON before it closes on June 30.

Eli Levin- Glimpse of Truchas Peak- Matthews Gallery Blog

A glimpse of Middle Truchas Peak from Eli Levin‘s studio in Dixon, New Mexico.

Alfred Morang- Possible view of the garden of Olive Rush- Matthews Gallery Blog This Alfred Morang painting may show artist Olive Rush’s garden on Canyon Road. Rush and Morang were close friends. Compare to the photograph at right. 

Alice Webb- San Francisco de Assissi Mission Church in Taos- Matthews Gallery Blog

Alice Webb‘s monotype of the iconic San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church in Taos, New Mexico gives us a sense of the surrounding landscape.

Eli Levin- Abiquiu Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog

Eli Levin‘s interpretation of Abiquiu’s colorful rock formations.

Dorothy Morang- Summer storm in Santa Fe- Matthews Gallery Blog

Dorothy Morang paints a Santa Fe summer storm in watercolor.

Maynard Dixon- New Mexico clouds- Matthews Gallery Blog

Maynard Dixon‘s pastel of New Mexico’s dramatic cloud formations.

Arthur Haddock- Mt Carmel Utah- Matthews Gallery Blog

Mt. Carmel, Utah, according to Santa Fe artist Arthur Haddock.

Tommy Macaione- Snowy Santa Fe street- Matthews Gallery Blog

Tommy Macaione brings out the purple and blue tones of a snowy Santa Fe street.

Barbara Brock- Taos sunset- Matthews Gallery Blog

Barbara Brock‘s monotype of a Taos sunset.

Click here to learn more about WIDENING THE HORIZON: New Mexico Landscapes, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news.

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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.

Roch-Hart-New-Mexico-Petroglyphs

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.

 

The Boundless Moment: Words and Images

Eric Thompson- The Photographer- Matthews Gallery blog

 Eric G. Thompson, The Photographer, Oil on Linen

For the past week, excited art pilgrims—determined to visit every gallery on Canyon Road—have marched purposefully into our front room and come to a screeching halt. Our Eric G. Thompson show ‘The Boundless Moment‘ is a little different from most of the exhibitions you’ll see on this famous art route. Accompanying many of Thompson’s serene realist paintings are writings by great American poets, from Elizabeth Bishop to Walt Whitman.

The interplay of words and images has compelled viewers to slow down and look twice, sparking many a fascinating observation. Most notably, journalist Alison Oatman of the Weekly Alibi attended our opening and wrote an elegant, poetry-filled review of the show.

Eric G. Thompson- Coffee Shop Girl- Matthews Gallery blog

Eric G. Thompson, Coffee Shop Girl, Oil on Panel

An excerpt from Oatman’s article:

Robert Lowell’s “Epilogue” [is] paired with the painting “Coffee Shop Girl.” Lowell writes: “I hear the noise of my own voice:/ The painter’s vision is not a lens,/ it trembles to caress the light” [emphasis original]. These lines are reflected in the Coffee Shop Girl’s illuminated face—as pale as rice paper.

Later on, the poem continues: “Pray for the grace of accuracy/ Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination/ stealing like the tide across a map/ to his girl solid with yearning.” Though large sunglasses hide her face and her meager mouth is expressionless, the Coffee Shop Girl is ravenous. We see her frayed emotional state in the feathery brushstrokes in the background, the squirming reddish-brown tendrils of her ponytail, and the sparkling clusters of dandelion-like fur attached to the hood of her puffy coat.

We spoke with Thompson on the phone today to fill him in on the big response his show has received. The artist was in Santa Fe last week for the opening reception, but now he’s back home in Salt Lake City, Utah. The long drive home gave him time to gather some thoughts on the exhibition. Read our interview below, and make sure to come see ‘The Boundless Moment‘ before it closes on August 28!

Eric G. Thompson- Half Light- Matthews Gallery blogEric G. Thompson, Half Light, Oil on Canvas

Describe your studio. 

My studio is just a few feet away from my house. It has windows with good natural light, so sometimes I can turn off the light and still get what I need. Sometimes I’ll set up my daughter‘s easel next to mine, and we’ll work next to each other. She gets to see what her dad does. Most of the time the kids aren’t allowed in the studio, though. I’ll play underground folk music, and when I’m really inspired it feels like the music is flowing straight through my brush.

You work in oil, egg tempera and watercolor. How do you choose which medium to use for a new painting? 

Between the three of them, if I want to capture something a little more loose and light I go for watercolor. If I want to capture something very solid, heavy and thick I’ll go with oil. If I want to capture something a little more photorealistic, I go with egg tempera. It gives you a lot of freedom to express the story or the emotion that you’re trying to convey with each medium.

It can be refreshing, but it can also be almost maddening. They’re all so different, it’s unbelievable. You have to switch your brain around and remember how to use that medium. It can be completely challenging, which I love. That’s one of the greatest thing about painting, is the challenge. I can always let a painting go as long as I have another challenge.

Eric G. Thompson- Nestled- Matthews Gallery

Eric G. Thompson, Nestled, Oil on Panel

Alison Oatman’s review in The Alibi begins with, “One question contemporary realist painters often get is, ‘Why not simply take a photograph?'” Over the course of the article, she critiques that particular line of thought. What’s your answer to that question? 

To a lot of artists, it’s not a great compliment when a viewer says, “That looks just like a photograph.” Maybe to a photorealist that would be flattering, but I think the greatest artists of all time have that balance of, it looks like a painting but it looks so ‘real.’ I’ve made it come to life.

Why does someone need a painting to look just like a photograph? What’s the power in that? Technically it’s amazing, but where’s the artistic freedom? I need artistic license to change things and blur edges and sharpen edges and change value to make it more ethereal.

I can make a painting look like a photograph but then there’s no energy, there’s no life to it. I think just adding a little more energy with brushstrokes or texture brings it more to life.

One of your influences is the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. How would you describe it? 

It’s what an object has been through, who used it, who touched it. It’s the patina objects acquire over time, like the rust on an oil can. It just adds to the whole character of the object—I see them as little characters. A cup on a windowsill, an oil can or even pumpkins can have little lives of their own.

Your works seem still at first glance, but a longer look gives me a sense of ‘unfolding,’ of motion. Is that one of our goals?  

It’s about capturing a moment in time that I’d like to freeze and experience for longer than the experienced moments.

I’ve definitely been experimenting with looser brushstrokes toward the outer edges of the painting to give it some energy. I need to experiment to see if I can get the perfect balance of detail and looseness. It’s a way of pushing myself as an artist, and it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.

Eric G. Thompson- Winter Moon- Matthews Gallery blogEric G. Thompson, Winter Moon, Watercolor

Which paintings in ‘The Boundless Moment’ are closest to your heart? 

A few of the watercolors are very powerful to me in an emotional way. Just reminding me of something in my past, at my Grandma’s house in Idaho. She had a farm with all of these different structures. They just remind me of that time, and different feelings come up from my childhood.

Raven’s Hair is a very powerful piece. It’s capturing this emotion of a woman laying on this bed. Her eyes are closed and she’s having a very pleasant thought. It seems to have some nice emotion to it.”

Morning Cup is a portrait of your wife Hilary, and inspired her to write a poem that we’re featuring in the show. Do you often inspire each other like that? 

 We’ve named my paintings every year for 12 years or more. We try to outdo each other with the most poetic titles. The title can say so much in just a couple words. What’s the best title, or the strongest? Hilary is amazing with words.

To learn more about Thompson’s show, connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Hannah Holliday Stewart: The Messengers

Hannah-Stewart-Blog1

Candid shots of the secretive artist with her sculpture “Survivor“, Hannah Holliday Stewart archives

At last Friday’s opening for Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered, art enthusiasts who saw the press coverage for the show came armed with a diverse array of questions.

“What was her family like?”

“Where did the full-scale models in those photos end up?”

“What’s ‘Ockum’s Razor‘ ?”

“Who’s Brad?”

Of course, the most frequent question was also Stewart’s most impenetrable mystery: why did the sculptor abruptly leave Houston, the launching point and epicenter of her nationally renowned artistic career? In our explorations of Stewart’s archives over the past few weeks, we’ve stirred up as many questions as answers.

Stewart was resolutely private, preferring to tightly focus on her artwork in interviews, exhibition materials and even her diaries. A catalog for her 1975-6 solo exhibition at the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum provides little more information on Stewart’s personal life than a birth year and a brief sketch of her educational history.

“Hannah was a very private person with a lot going on in her head,” close friend Dayton Smith told us. “I learned when to be around her and when not.”

Many of Stewart’s works, on the other hand, were always in the public eye. Kids lounged in the crook of her 11-foot sculpture in Hermann Park, students at St. Thomas University studied under her concrete-and-steel work on campus, and politicians were often photographed beside her “Libertad” fountain as they passed through the courtyard of Houston’s World Trade Center building.

For this week’s blog, we’re taking cues from Stewart’s ghost and focusing on the rich universe of her sculptures. Look below for new insight on five artworks, with behind-the-scenes materials from the artist’s files.

Hannah Stewart- Atropos Key Sculpture with Preparatory Sketch and Full-Scale Model- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

 Preparatory sketch for ‘Atropos Key’ and full-scale plaster model in Stewart’s studio

Atropos Key’ remains Hannah Holliday Stewart’s most well-known sculpture in Houston. Our maquette’s monumental counterpart stands on a hill in Hermann Park, measuring at 11 feet tall and 1,200 pounds. It debuted to much fanfare in 1972. From the Houston Chronicle’s August 11, 1972 edition:

“Out on the hill beyond Miller Theatre the blanket lollers who tune in to night concerts and shows from a horizontal position will have fresh ‘company.’ Overlooking the stage, now, is a bronze vertical figure.

‘Atropos Key,’ the title of which derived from one of the three fates in Greek mythology, was given to the city by Mrs. Patricia S. Woodward of Houston.

Strollers in the park may well stare at it and wonder what it all means…. Miss Stewart’s piece, in its new location, deserves the looking at, the ‘experiencing’ and the consideration of its meaning for you. Is it birth and, more encompassing than that, renewal?”

Hannah Stewart- Messenger Sculpture with Preparatory Sketch- Matthews Gallery BlogPreparatory sketch for ‘Messenger’ dated August 1973

Stewart’s ‘Messenger’ appeared on the cover of Houston Arts Magazine’s performing arts edition in October, 1982. Stewart was a fan of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, and often listened to classical music in her studio.

A blurb inside the magazine traces the musical roots of ‘Messenger’:

“Sculptor Hannah Stewart… sees her work as an artist’s shorthand using symbols to communicate complex and abstract ideas— like a composer uses the symbols of musical notes to convey a spiritual idea in a sensuous form.

In Messenger… Stewart sees a parallel between the structure-strength-shapes interplay of her work and compositions played by Nathan Milstein and Bella Davidovich.”

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Ockum's Razor Sculpture with Original Typewritten Label- Matthews Gallery BlogOriginal typewritten label for ‘Ockum’s Razor’

Stewart was known for her mythology-inspired artwork, but that was far from the only subject she explored.

“Her studies in literature, mythology, metaphysics, esoteric philosophy, religion, science, astrology, dance and yoga suffuse her output, revealing in form and textures,” wrote Stewart’s friend Dayton Smith in a letter to the gallery.

In ‘Ockum’s Razor’, Stewart turned to science for inspiration. The title refers to a problem-solving principle devised by 14th century logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham (c. 1287-1347). The principle states that “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” In other words, the simplest path to an answer is the best one.

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Maquette and Full-Scale Survivor Sculptures- Matthews Gallery blog

 

 Maquette and full-scale versions of ‘Survivor’

An article about Stewart’s work appeared in the local paper of her childhood home of Birmingham in 1994. In the story, Stewart explains the inspiration for ‘Survivor‘. From the August 1, 1994 edition of the Birmingham Post-Herald:

“I was teaching welding at the university, and I’d go to the welding studio and talk to friends of mine, and there were a lot of men coming down from Detroit who’d lost their jobs, and they were so tense and angry about having to reform themselves, to learn to do welding or something else at the age of 55, after having been an auto worker. I reacted to that force within them, and the drastic changes people have to make to survive.”

 Hannah Holliday Stewart- Einsteins Song and Polaroid of Hannah Holliday Stewart working on the sculpture in her studio- Matthews Gallery blog

Polaroid of Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Albuquerque studio working on ‘Einstein’s Song’

Stewart was 80 years old in the Polaroid above and still hard at work on her bronze forms, though she never exhibited again in her lifetime.

Here’s an excerpt from a typewritten artist statement Stewart wrote a year later:

“For me, the image should be an intellectual and emotional symbol plucked from the fringe of the imagination, it should suggest a classic truth and not be confused with social comment. The image at its most successful strikes a common chord of sensations in every viewer, and yet leaves each viewer with his/her own particular interpretation.”

See Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered through July 18, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more information on the artist.

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!

HART & SOUL: Fine Furniture with New Mexican Roots

Roch-Hart-Southwestern-Furniture

Roch in our Southwestern Art Room with his hand crafted pie safe and bench

Roch Hart‘s first steps into fine furniture making were the result of a big dilemma.

“I fell in love with Spanish colonial furniture. I had to have it, but I couldn’t afford it,” he says. He had never learned a craft before, but he was determined to do something. He started by buying all the books he could find on building furniture.

More than two decades later, Roch pulls up to Matthews Gallery in a big red jeep. He takes two impeccably hand crafted pieces of furniture from the trunk. One is a tall corner table emblazoned with a Cochiti Pueblo-inspired design, and the other is a pie safe with intricate latticework and a special type of dovetail joint in the door. Roch is the very first fine furniture maker to join our stable, and his mastery of the craft is truly spectacular. In a way, these beautiful objects are generations in the making.

Roch’s great grandmother came to Santa Fe in 1881. She was a single 16-year-old woman who braved the Old Santa Fe Trail, probably to escape an arranged marriage. Soon after her arrival she married a German man and they opened a mercantile near Canyon Road.

“She came from an aristocratic family. She had lots of money, but she chose the poor man’s way in,” Roch says. Her daughter, Roch’s grandma, grew up among the local tribespeople and learned their language and lifestyle. “My grandmother would go out and show me edible plants, and she could even butcher things,” Roch explains. “She could take a rabbit, take and a stick and ‘Bang!’ Then she would show you how to prepare it.”

She was also a great admirer of native art. She taught Roch about kachina dolls and paintings she collected. Roch’s mother took it one step further, trying her hand at retablo painting.

Roch took a different path, enrolling at New Mexico State University and then studying to be a police officer. He spent 20 years at the Albuquerque Police Department, but his love for New Mexico’s multicultural history always stuck with him.

Roch-Hart-Furniture-Corner-Table

Corner table with Cochiti design detail

When he got interested in furniture making in the early 1990’s, Roch started by studying the intricacies of the Spanish colonial style. He learned that a particularly sturdy joint, the mortise and tennen joint, was the only one Spanish colonists were legally allowed to use. He also discovered that the pervasiveness of trasteros (a Southwestern style cabinet) was due to a high colonial tax on closets.

“At the same time that I was learning all this, I realized I wanted to do something different,” Roch says. “I didn’t want to keep replicating colonial.” The budding craftsman’s big breakthrough came on a visit to the Nicolai Fechin House museum in Taos.

Fechin (1881-1955) was a Russian painter and craftsman who settled in New Mexico in 1927. He purchased a two-story adobe home and greatly expanded it over the next few years, carving intricate doors, windows and furniture pieces that were inspired by European and Native American aesthetics.

On that first visit to the museum, Hart was busy crawling on the floor and inspecting every angle of Fechin’s furniture when the artist’s daughter Eya appeared. They started talking, and she recognized his passion for the craft. “She had so much in-depth knowledge, and I didn’t even know who she was,” Hart says. She walked him through the house and pointed out different styles and techniques her father used.

“Fechin blew me away,” Hart says. “He took art and applied it to furniture. I had felt caged in by the things I was learning, but all of a sudden I realized I could do anything I want.” Just as Fechin had drawn from multiple influences in his work, Hart began to use styles and motifs from the different cultures around him.

Roch-Hart-Furniture-Pie-Safe

Pie safe with rosette detail 

Hart carries his latest works through the gallery to our freshly painted Southwestern art room, carefully placing two pieces in opposite corners. He’s eager to point out his stylistic choices. The rosettes on the sides of the pie safe are inspired by Native American metalworking techniques, his choice of joints was influenced by Fechin and the gridded design in the front is all his own. On the front of the corner table, a stepped carving bordered by elegant curves represents a Cochiti blessing.

“I incorporate my love for the Native arts, for the Spanish and for my European ancestry,” Hart says. “I try to tie a little bit of everything into every piece.” The works before us bear clear markings of the artist’s rich ancestry and influences, but they also hold a heaping dose of something else: Hart’s soul.

“I think furniture should be art,” Hart says. “It’s unique and really fits my love for Santa Fe and New Mexico.”

For more news about Roch Hart’s latest work, check out his artist page on our website and connect with Matthews Gallery on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.