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.

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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: 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

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.