MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Fire

Santa Fe Master Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

Alfred Morang’s life ended with a fire. That’s where the story of our upcoming exhibition begins.

It was a frigid January evening in 1958, and Morang was up late at Claude’s Tavern. The saloon was on Canyon Road’s 600 block, just down the street from Matthews Gallery. Its owner Claude was a burly woman known for ejecting unruly patrons by slinging them over her shoulder. She presided over a wild scene: legend has it someone once rode a horse straight through the bar.

Alfred Morang- Dancers at Midnight- Matthews Gallery Blog

This was a fitting final evening for Morang. Claude’s was one of his favorite haunts, a place that still captured the dwindling spirit of his legendary house parties of the 1930’s and 40’s. Back then, he and his wife Dorothy were the toast of the Santa Fe art colony. Morang was a revered painter, art teacher, art critic and radio personality. His impressionistic paintings of colorful soirées filled with dancing ‘Ladies of the Evening’ and skeletal gentlemen had earned him the nickname ‘Santa Fe’s Toulouse’.

Morang’s studio apartment was directly behind Claude’s, and he returned there around midnight. It was a tiny space so packed with canvases that you could barely navigate it. Sometimes the heating broke, and when it snowed Morang would haphazardly pin a muslin cloth over the open skylight.

At around 1:30 am, smoke filled the air. Here’s Santa Fe artist Drew Bacigalupa‘s account of what happened next:

I was in the neighborhood bar the night his house caught fire. An old army buddy from Chicago had come to town and wanted to down cognac while viewing local color. There wasn’t much to view. It was a bitterly cold night, the streets deserted, the bar almost empty and quite cheerless. My bachelor friend dredged up memories of a thousand other cafes in France and Germany while my thoughts strayed to demands at home. Three weary women at the other end of the long bar seemed to be nowhere waiting for nothing.

The sound of sirens startled us all. Fire engines skidded past the door, we could hear them screeching to a halt in a compound behind the bar. I knew Alfred’s small adobe casita was there.

Nothing could be done. The roof had already crashed in and flames leaped high in the sky. I was thinking how very, very strange it was to be standing beside this war comrade watching helplessly, just as we’d done in Europe, as property and life were devoured by fire. And even stranger—later—when stretcher carriers fled the still-blazing ruin and rested their burden on the frozen ground. For firelight, like streaks of red and yellow pigment, crawled erratically over the sad tableau. And looking up from the bearded profile on the stretcher, I saw the women from the bar had joined us. Harsh, bright colors spiraled over their tawdry dress and hennaed hair, highlighting them against the black night. They were exactly like his painting […] his Ladies of the Evening.

Alfred Morang- Mitzi Cat- Matthews Gallery Blog

The next morning, the Santa Fe New Mexican printed a photo of one of Morang’s cats perched sadly atop a blackened mattress. The caption read, “Mourning For Her Master… this lonely cat was found wandering through the charred ruins of the home of her master Alfred Morang. The cat is on the bed where he died.”

The Santa Fe art community was distraught. There was a sense of guilt among Morang’s closest friends, a grave regret that the masterful artist had received only a fraction of the recognition he deserved. “Why shouldn’t Santa Fe be stunned by the loss of Alfred?” said one local artist. “After all, he taught half of us how to paint; the other half how to see.”

Art luminaries Randall Davey and Will Shuster helped escort the body to Albuquerque for the funeral, and Davey spoke at the Santa Fe memorial service in early February. “He was a great painter; many of you did not think so because he sold his art for a mere pittance through necessity,” said Davey. “Nevertheless it was great art and the happiest work I have seen in New Mexico. He had a love and delight for painting and I doubt that anyone will surpass him in his field.”

Alfred Morang- Gormley Lane Santa Fe- Matthews Gallery Blog

Meanwhile, the City of Santa Fe was having a hard time finding Morang’s heirs. He and Dorothy had divorced in 1950, and he wasn’t close to any of his relatives. Morang’s ashes sat in a closet in the New Mexico Museum of Art for two years before they were scattered over Canyon Road. Eventually, Dorothy helped locate a distant family member to send a box of Morang’s possessions that had been plucked from the ashes of the deadly fire.

Decades after Morang’s death, local art scholar Paul Parker conducted a national search for that box, which had passed down through the Morang family. The ephemera he discovered—including a charred violin, sketches and extensive writings—will appear alongside artwork by Morang and other New Mexico modernists of the period in our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG & FRIENDS.

As the show approaches we’ll tell the story of Parker’s treasure hunt, and recount colorful chapters from the life of Alfred Morang. Make sure to subscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for additional updates on this exciting project.

Source: Drew Bacigalupa’s tale first appeared in the 1979 book Alfred Morang: A Neglected Master by Walt Wiggins

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The Boundless Moment: All Together Now

Eric-Thompson-Artist-Family

Eric G. Thompson’s ‘The Boundless Moment
opens Friday, August 15 from 5-7 pm
and closes August 28.

Eric and Hilary Thompson’s daughters dash around Matthews Gallery, exploring their father’s new solo exhibition ‘The Boundless Moment.’ They’ve just finished a long car ride from Salt Lake City but they’re bursting with energy.

Over the past year the children have grown alongside these canvases and panels, watching as thousands of brushstrokes transformed into rolling landscapes and rosy skin. Now these familiar images have magically appeared in our lofty, brightly lit space, sparking the girls’ curiosity. They stop before each work, craning their necks to get a good look.

The girls’ vivacity matches Hilary’s temperament. She keeps an eye on them as she chats and laughs with us. Eric is a quieter presence. He strolls around the gallery, analyzing the arrangement of the work and reading the legendary poems we paired with them. Eric likes to think of his paintings as ‘visual haikus,’ which inspired us to select writings by Frost, Dickinson, Lowell and others to display during the show.

‘The Boundless Moment’ is something of a family act. Hilary was Eric’s model for the painting ‘Morning Cup,’ and wrote an accompanying poem that will debut at the opening reception. ‘The Chiseled Mother’ is a passionate meditation on parenthood and aging. As Eric cradles one of his daughters in his arms, you can tell that he’s just as inspired by the radiant spirit of his children. 

Read Hilary’s poem below, and make sure to attend Eric’s artist reception on Friday, August 15 from 5-7 pm.

Eric G. Thompson- Morning Cup- Matthews Gallery blog Eric G. Thompson, Morning Cup, Oil on Panel

From Hilary Thompson:

The Chiseled Mother

I honor this body
This matryoshka

The delicate lines of my eyes
Like tissue paper
Crinkled from sun beams
Washboards slow the momentum
of tears

These ears, these conches
That entombed the beeping screaming alarms
Echoing endlessly on exhausted drives home
Mercifully quieting with age

Eric G. Thompson- Waiting for a Song- Matthews Gallery blog

 

Eric G. Thompson, Waiting for a Song, Oil on Panel

This mouth
Which broadcasts comforts, screeches, praise
Fractures the tightrope of vexation

These beautiful, perfect arms
That embraced defeat
Carried a child to the surgeon’s knife
Willing arms
That waved, furrowed, aching
Sturdy farewells

This heart that beats out
The anthem of the womb
I Am
I Am
I Am

Eric-Thompson-Art-CoffeeshopGirl

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

A womb
That is the definition of Creation
Bringing forth what does not exist
Into existence
Torn out of me
With upheaval and sanguine waves of nurture

These knees that caught me
When my frame buckled
Unable to support my grief

These marks, stretched
Yawning tiger stripes
Where my body gave room
Shimmer as silver reminders of a past shape

EricGThompson-Art-Evening

Eric G. Thompson, Evening, Oil on Panel

These feet
Planted.  Supporting.
Rooted even in motion, substantial
Pacing halls, hospital rooms
Threshing carpets bare-threaded

I am the red rock slot canyon
Worn smooth, fissured, curved
Sculpted
By this flawed life

This body is a shrine
A Holy place, a pilgrimage
A masterpiece painted stroke by stroke
By the breathtakingly exquisite nourishment
Of not getting what I want.

Breathe that in,
Chiseled edifice of the Mother,
Slather it like salve into your stripes,
You silver tiger.

 Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about Eric G. Thompson.

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.

NEW TRADITIONS: Matthews Gallery Online Art Auction

History of the art auction- Matthews Gallery blog

The world’s oldest auction house opened in Stockholm, Sweden in 1674. Art auctions in Great Britain gained popularity a few decades later when the Earl of Oxford’s collection appeared on the block in 1742. That particular sale featured the full range of odd and valuable items you might find in a dusty old castle, from a bust of an unknown bishop (five shillings) to a series of van Dyck paintings (165 guineas).

The beat of the auction mallet has marked the rhythm of the secondary market ever since. It’s a tradition that’s full of strange pageantry and heart pumping excitement. Auction kingpins Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which were both founded in mid-18th century England, often draw the ire of art world players for their tightly controlled sales. “They know exactly how many people will be bidding on a work and exactly who they are,” wrote art critic Jerry Saltz in 2012 after a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream sold at Sotheby’s for $119.5 million. “In a gallery, works of art need only one person who wants to pay for them.”

Online auctions have meanwhile been swiftly democratizing the centuries-old process, and that’s where the Matthews Gallery decided to jump in. We launched the EUROPEAN MASTERS, AMERICAN AND SOUTHWESTERN ART AUCTION on July 25 and it runs through July 29. Come browse our virtual auktionsverk of art and, if you’re inspired, make a bid. You’ll find art by European modernists such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro, Southwestern legends including Emil Bisttram and Alfred Morang, and notable contemporary artists like Jamie Chase, Eric G. Thompson and Kate Rivers among the lots. Here are some notable pieces from the catalogue:

EUROPEAN MASTERS 

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Click to see the works on our auction site:

HISTORIC SOUTHWESTERN ART

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Click to see the works on our auction site:

  •  Untitled (Landscape #1), Emil Bisttram
  • Untitled (Landscape #2), Emil Bisttram
  • Untitled (Landscape #3), Emil Bisttram
  • Untitled (Santa Fe Landscape), Alfred Morang
  • Riders at Sundown, Gene Kloss
  • Return of the Wood Gatherers, Gene Kloss

CONTEMPORARY ART 

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See more lots from the auction here, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for auction updates all week!