NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Four Women

NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Women Artists of New Mexico ends on May 31st. Over the course of the exhibition, we’ve blogged about early women potters of New Mexico and their influence on women artists who migrated here. Here are the tales of four 20th century women who came from near and far to turn over a new leaf—or a new canvas—in the Land of Enchantment. Through their efforts, the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies were forever changed. 

Beulah Stevenson- Signature Detail- Matthews Gallery

Beulah Stevenson (1891-1965) grew up in Brooklyn Heights, New York. After studying at the Pratt Institute, she enrolled at the Art Students League where John Sloan became her mentor. Sloan invited Stevenson to summer in New Mexico, where she was inspired to create modernist landscapes and wild abstract works in the vibrant palette of the Desert Southwest. She returned to New Mexico many times throughout her life.

Stevenson worked as a printmaker, painter, illustrator, art teacher and Brooklyn Museum curator. She was a staunch advocate of modernism and the avant-garde, working with the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors and numerous other artist organizations.

Ila McAfee- Artwork Detail- Matthews Gallery Blog

Ila McAfee (1897-1995) was born in Colorado, and first visited Taos on a road trip to California in 1926. She fell in love with the mountain village and its thriving art scene, and settled there with her husband Elmer Turner. They quickly befriended influential members of the Taos Society of Artists such as Blumenschein, Berninghaus, Hennings and Higgins. McAfee was a rare Western-born artist in Taos, where many artists were transplants from the East Coast. She captured the spirit of the West through her paintings of sweeping landscapes and the wild horses that roamed them.

Dorothy Morang- Signature Detail- Matthews Gallery Blog

Dorothy Morang (1906-1994) was born in Richmond, Maine. She met Alfred Morang in 1925, while studying at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Alfred was a violinist and Dorothy a pianist. They married on June 13, 1930 and moved to Portland, Maine soon after.

The couple moved to Santa Fe in 1937 in an effort to alleviate Alfred’s tuberculosis. In the City Different, they landed in the center of a colorful circle of artists. They threw Saturday night salons at their home not far from Canyon Road and taught music and painting to make ends meet.

In addition to painting, Dorothy Morang worked for many years at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, primarily as a curator.

Doris Cross- Signature Detail- Matthews Gallery Blog

In her three decades in Santa Fe, beginning in 1972, Doris Cross (1907-1994) was known as the City Different’s “most avant-garde artist.” An excerpt from a 1990 biography by Anna Christine Hansen traces the artist’s New York roots and her early days in New Mexico:

Doris Cross began her career in New York City with the Art Students League. After meeting Hans Hoffman, who was known for encouraging artists to investigate their own ideas and unique styles, she went to the Hans Hoffman School of Art. “Hans Hoffman was it,” Doris said of him as a teacher. “…The possibility of discovery! That was the important thing, discovery.” […] 

In the mid-1940’s, Doris received the Turner Award from the National Association of Women Artists for a painting which made the leap to large-scale. […] Like many women, she was married and raising a family in the 1940’s—a son and a daughter. In the early years of her development, while living in Woodstock, she painted a series of Madonnas. Later, she taught painting in a basement in Brooklyn in order to afford supplies to paint. 

Click here to view all of the artwork in NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS, and make sure to stop by tomorrow if you haven’t seen it. You can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news.

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NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Southwest Premodernism

Nampeyo- Hopi Potter- Matthews Gallery Blog

This is part 2 of our blog series on the history of women artists in New Mexico.
Read part 1 here, and learn more at our May 8-31st exhibition
NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Women Artists of New Mexico.

“I have alluded to Nampeyo as a ‘modern artist,’ because the more I understood her life and work, the more her extraordinary career seemed to parallel that path,” writes Steve Elmore in the last chapter of his book In Search of Nampeyo. Elmore stepped in as our guest blogger last week, which gave us some time to study the links between Pueblo aesthetic innovations and the diverse New Mexico art movements that emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries.

What did romanticist painters of the early Santa Fe and Taos art colonies learn from Pueblo traditions that had been around for centuries before they arrived? How did the elegant abstract patterns on San Ildefonso jars and bowls influence abstract expressionists like Beatrice Mandelman and Janet Lippincott?

Nampeyo- Hopi Pottery- Matthews Gallery Blog

Elmore provided the first clues to this investigation in his biography of Nampeyo (1856-1942), a Hopi-Tewa potter whose innovative images bridged the ancient and modern worlds. Here’s more from In Search of Nampeyo:

While much of Nampeyo’s life was that of a traditional Hopi woman, we need to consider her life and work outside of the academic fields of archaeology and anthropology, which have heretofore defined how Nampeyo has been perceived by the public. Today, her masterpieces are mostly displayed in natural history museums next to Anasazi jars or in anthropological exhibits of Pueblo Indians—not in art museums—and certainly not as modern art.

Yet, in the end, Nampeyo was not an ancestral potter, nor even a traditional Pueblo potter, although these conditions were the context for her achievements. While she was trained as a traditional potter, she evolved into a unique artist using modern marketing techniques to sell her work to a new Euro-American audience.

As Elmore stresses, it’s important to understand Nampeyo, Maria Martinez and other influential Pueblo potters not as isolated traditionalists but as artists who interacted with newcomers and adapted to the cultural changes they affected. The realities of frontier living necessitated a constant dialogue between the first artists who emigrated from the East Coast and Pueblo artisans. This interchange continued as the market for Pueblo arts and crafts grew and shifted based on the demands of visitors.

IlaMcAfee

Ila McAfee (1897-1995), one of the early “Euro-American” transplants, drew inspiration from Pueblo traditions in her work. McAfee often painted wild horses in profile, echoing the stark monochrome of pottery designs. In The Golden Triad, three beasts hover before a textured golden-brown field that captures the hues of high desert clay.

Taos art dealer Robert Parsons interviewed McAfee about her early years in Taos:

It was so different then. There was nothing between me and the mountain when we first got here. The village was small and the Indians remained uninfluenced by the invaders. Once I asked one of them, ‘What did you call this country before the Europeans came?’ ‘Ours,’ he told me.

Dorothy-Brett-Artist-Matthews-Gallery

Other early Taos artists such as Helen Greene Blumenschein (1909-1989) and Dorothy Brett (1883-1977) also interacted with the nearby Pueblo. Blumenschein meditated on the relationship between the new settlers and the natives in her Taos memoirs, and Brett spent years making genre paintings of the Taos Poblanos. Later on, Brett switched to more mystical subject matter that was inspired by Native American spirituality. Her paintings Cat Shaman and Moon Ray reflect her mature philosophies that link humanity and nature.

Agnes Sims Artwork with New Mexico Petroglyphs- Matthews Gallery

In the 1930s, Santa Fe artist and archaeologist Agnes Sims (1910-1990) arrived in New Mexico and began studying the ancient Pueblo petroglyphs. As she pondered the mysteries of the lost language, she began developing her own abstract symbol system in a series of paintings and sculptures.

Sims’ abstract experiments prefigured the innovations of Beatrice Mandelman (1912-1998) and Janet Lippincott (1918-2007), abstract expressionists who helped bring a bold new aesthetic to the Desert Southwest in the 1940’s. This wave of modernists surely took note of Pueblo aesthetic innovations that had spread from Nampeyo’s studio to the San Ildefonso Pueblo and beyond. From Elmore:

Nampeyo’s abstract drawings are strangely prescient of the abstractions of Euro-American modern art. This remains a large part of her mystique. In particular, critics have noted the comparison between Nampeyo’s abstractions of birds to Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s invention of Cubism, wherein an object is shown from multiple views at the same time.

Elmore’s observations complete the circle of influences, revealing a far more interconnected aesthetic evolution than we originally imagined. Check back next week for the continued tale of women artists in New Mexico, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news.

Nampeyo and Pablo Picasso- Matthews Gallery Blog*Images of Nampeyo’s pottery courtesy of Steve Elmore. Image of New Mexico petroglyph courtesy of Roch Hart.

NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Early Pueblo Pottery

 Maria Martinez- Revolutionary San Ildefonso Potter- Matthews Gallery Blog- Photo Courtesy Steve ElmoreThe tale of our current exhibition NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Women Artists of New Mexico begins twenty-three miles northwest of Santa Fe in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, population 458. The village has a long legacy of women potters, whose innovative ceramics techniques and designs inspired traditional and modernist artists who traveled to New Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. San Ildefonso is known as the epicenter of Pueblo pottery for good reason, as discussed by our guest blogger Steve Elmore. Elmore’s extensive pottery collection appears in the show. 

From 1875-1925, the polychrome or multicolored pottery produced at San Ildefonso reached a distinguished peak in the creative history of Pueblo pottery in the Southwest. Indeed, the residents of this small Pueblo village on the Rio Grande, northwest of Santa Fe, are direct descendants of the prehistoric Pueblo peoples of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, whose tradition of potting spans a thousand years of human history.

Juana Leno- Acoma Polychrome Olla circa 1965- Matthews Gallery BlogJuana Leno, Acoma Polychrome Olla, c. 1965

San Ildefonso remains a small village. In 1900 there were only 30 households and in 1910 eight women are noted in the census as potters. We are fortunate to the know the names of these early potters. At the turn of the century, the most established potters were the husband and wife team of Martina Vigil (1856-1916) and Florentino Monotoya (1858-1918). Martina’s excellent molding combined with Florentino’s skilled painting produced many exquisite jars, including many fine large storage jars. Most are polychromes. Born in the 1850s, they were certainly potting by the 1870s if not earlier, and their joint efforts became a model for the production of San Ildefonso polychromes: a family effort involving both partners.

Traditionally, San Ildefonso pottery was decorated with black designs over a gray slip on a bulbous rounded form. The use of red clay was confined to the rim and a narrow band around the base of the jar. With arrival of the Santa Fe Railway in the region, potters at San Ildefonso began introducing red clay into the painted design on the main body of the jars. What prompted this introduction of red is unknown, but most scholars suggest that the arrival of thousands of travelers from the Eastern United States on the new railroad sparked the change. The tourists were eager to purchase pottery, and the polychrome wares of Acoma Pueblo quickly led the market. Acoma pottery, with precise four-color drawings on thin symmetrical jars, set the standards for the tourist trade.

Acoma Polychrome Olla- Matthews Gallery BlogAcoma Polychrome Olla

Certainly the innovators of their time, Montoya and Vigil might have been the first at San Ildefonso to use red with the black design. Perhaps a trader suggested it directly or merely showed them the brightly colored Acoma pieces which were their competition. By the early 1880s, hundreds of polychrome jars were being produced annually by the skilled potters of San Ildefonso for the tourist and museum trade. In response to this demand, and for almost fifty years thereafter, the potters of San Ildefonso created well molded pots traditionally decorated in black and red, whose size and beauty have not been surpassed.

Most traditional San Ildefonso water jars were painted with a mix of black geometric and floral patterns. With the addition of red paint, the drawings themselves begin to develop into elaborate flowing motifs covering the entire jar. The addition of red heightens the intensity of the black design and seems to urge the painter on to larger, more complex drawing. Previously simple designs are repeated in a larger and more intricate manner.

Nampeyo- Black on Red Hopi Seed Jar, c. 1900- Matthews Gallery BlogNampeyo- Black on Red Hopi Seed Jar, c. 1900

Beginning in the 1880s, an amazing array of both realistic and abstract bird motifs are also introduced along with other pictorial elements. I suspect Nampeyo‘s Sikyatki Revival in Hopi pottery influenced this emphasis upon bird designs. Her seed jar form was clearly copied repeatedly by at least one San Ildefonso potter along with her curvilinear drawings. The shape of the San Ildefonso vessels also evolves, from bulbous jars with small necks to elegant tapered vases with small bases and flared out rims: the classic “Tunyo” form. For fifty years of San Ildefonso pottery making, we can study the steady growth and development of an art form as it crests into a peak!

As Pueblo pottery enjoyed increasing popularity with the American public, many distinguished potters took the polychromes to new heights of creativity and expression. Among these were Maria (1887-1980) and Julian Martinez (1879-1940), Maria’s sister Anna and her husband Crescencio, and Tonita and Juan Roybal. Montoya and Vigil were perfect role models for the younger Martinezes who built upon their success.

Maria and Julian Martinez- San Ildefonso Blackware Plate circa 1925- Matthews Gallery BlogMaria and Julian Martinez, San Ildefonso Blackware Plate, c. 1925

This florescence of polychrome production was brought to an abrupt halt by the Martinezes’ invention of painted blackware around 1920. As Ruth Bunzel, author of The Pueblo Potter, observes, the attraction of the blackware is the minimized painted matte designs which emphasize a dominant polished slip. This subtle, monochromatic aesthetic is the exact opposite of the polychromes where intricate black and red designs were sharply contrasted against the midtone grey sip. In time the blackware style won the marketing war and by 1925 Bunzel could no longer find a single piece of polychrome ware in the village.

It is perhaps ironic that the Martinezes, known best for their blackware, themselves began as polychrome potters and were among the greatest of them. Although most of their output became blackware, Maria and Julian continued to produce occasional polychrome masterpieces up until Julian’s death in 1943. One cannot help but wonder if the bold artistic tradition of the polychrome pottery didn’t occupy a special place in their hearts. Martinez family members and other San Ildefonso potters have continued to produce the polychromes in limited numbers, particularly Popovi Da, his son Tony Da, and today, of course, Cavan Gonzales and Russell Sanchez.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog, where we’ll explore the links between early Pueblo pottery designs and modernist aesthetic innovations. See all of the artwork from NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS on our homepage, and connect with us on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news. 

NEW ARMORY: Modernism’s Western Frontier

A severe sculpture by Andrew Dasburg, which appeared in the 1913 Armory Show, contrasts with his soft pastel snow scene that will appear in SPRING OF MODERNISM- Matthews Gallery Blog
A severe sculpture by Andrew Dasburg, which appeared in the 1913 Armory Show,
contrasts with his soft pastel snow scene that will appear in SPRING OF MODERNISM.
The 102nd annual Armory Show opens in New York City this weekend. Its history stretches back to 1913, when the exhibition introduced the European modernist movement to the United States. Featured artists included Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Vincent van Gogh Gogh and other Europeans. The show also included American artists such as Randall Davey, John Sloan, Paul Burlin, Andrew Dasburg, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley and more who had been influenced by the artistic revolution taking place across the Atlantic.
Not-so-coincidentally, we’re launching a modernism show of our own this Friday, and it features several New Mexico artists who participated in the original Armory show. During the first half of the 20th century, Davey, Sloan, Dasburg and a great variety of their East Coast contemporaries ventured to New Mexico and reshaped the Taos and Santa Fe art colonies into Western outposts for bold aesthetic innovation. The Taos Moderns, the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG) and other collectives engaged with new developments in the movement, gaining an influential presence on the international art stage.
Our SPRING OF MODERNISM exhibition will follow every twist and turn of New Mexico’s modernist movement through significant artworks by Davey, Dasburg, Max Weber, Doris Cross, Russell Cowles, Howard Schleeter, Rolph Scarlett, Paul Burlin, Cady Wells, Jan Matulka, Dorothy Brett and others. It features TPG mavericks Raymond Jonson, Emil Bisttram and William Lumpkins, Taos Moderns such as Beatrice Mandelman, and pivotal Santa Fe modernists including Alfred Morang and Janet Lippincott.
The scope of the show is as ambitious as its title suggests— we’re highlighting 50 transformative years of New Mexico modernist history. SPRING OF MODERNISM shows how New Mexico’s art community became one of the largest and most influential in the nation.
Look below for some of our favorite works from the exhibition, and check out a special preview on our website. Also, make sure to attend the opening on Friday, March 6 from 5-7 pm!
 Emil-Bisttram- Orbs and Arrows- Encaustic- Matthews Gallery Blog
Jan Matulka -Landscape - 1923- Watercolor- Matthews Gallery Blog
Doris Cross- Untitled- Mixed Media- Matthews Gallery Blog
Alfred Morang- Untitled Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog
Howard-Schleeter- Pueblo- 1949- Gouache
Randall Davey- Leaving Paddock- Lithograph
Beulah Stevenson- Place Of Drums- New Mexico - 1940-5- Matthews Gallery Blog
Paul Burlin- Look-No Fish- Oil on Canvas- 1949- Matthews Gallery Blog
Thomas Benrimo- Nymph of the Sea- oil on board- 1949- Matthews Gallery Blog
Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more gallery news, and stayed tuned for information on our modernism-themed dinner at Coyote Cafe!

SPRING OF MODERNISM

We’ve had some unseasonably warm days after last weekend’s snowstorm, and it’s making us excited for the end of winter. It’s the perfect time to release our spring exhibition schedule, which is a period of exciting growth at Matthews Gallery.

In light of Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s brilliant Modernism Made in New Mexico exhibition and New Mexico Museum of Art’s recent emphasis on Southwestern modernists, we’re declaring a ‘Spring of Modernism’ in Santa Fe. It begins with our exhibition of influential New Mexico modernists, and features women artists of new mexico, rare artifacts from legendary artists’ studios and much more. Check it out:

Spring of Modernism Show- New Mexico Modern Art- Matthews Gallery

Spring of Modernism: Seminal New Mexico Modernists
March 6-31, Opening Reception: Friday, March 6, 5-7 pm

Matthews Gallery declares a “new spring” of modernism, as this rich period in New Mexico art history returns to the spotlight. Featured artists include Emil Bisttram, William Lumpkins and Raymond Jonson of the Transcendental Painting Group, Alfred Morang and Randall Davey of the Santa Fe art colony, and Beatrice Mandelman of the Taos Art Colony.

Collectors Forum- Art Collecting Workshop- Matthews Gallery Blog

Collector’s Forum Workshop
April 17, 6:30 pm

We offer an inside look at art collecting for this special Art Matters event. The workshop is for anyone who’s ever considered buying, selling or caring for fine art and has questions about the inner workings of the art world. Forum participants will get an inside look at every step of the process from one of Santa Fe’s top galleries. The event is free but seating is limited, so give us a call if you’d like to participate – 505-992-2882. Read about our past Collector’s Forum workshops here and here.

New Landscapes New Vistas- New Mexico Women Artists Show- Matthews Gallery

New Landscapes, New Vistas: Women Artists of New Mexico 
May 8-31, Opening Reception: Friday, May 8, 5-7 pm

In the first half of the 20th century, a number of women artists who were frustrated by a lack of the recognition on the East Coast packed up and left everything behind. In New Mexico’s isolated art colonies, they found the freedom and social acceptance to excel. Matthews Gallery presents the stories and artwork of Janet Lippincott, Agnes Sims, Doris Cross and other women who found a powerful voice in the Land of Enchantment.

Artists Toolbox- Artwork and Artifacts of New Mexico Artists- Matthews Gallery

The Artist’s Toolkit: New Mexico Artists at Work 
June 4-10, Opening Reception: Friday, June 5, 5-7 pm

This special exhibition features rare artifacts of legendary New Mexico artists alongside their work, giving visitors insight into the complex process of conceptualizing, mixing and applying color. Visitors will get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view Tommy Macaione’s paint palette, John McHugh’s brushes, Alfred Morang’s notes on color, Hilaire Hiler’s color wheel and other behind-the-scenes ephemera from Santa Fe private collections.

Widening the Horizon- New Mexico Landscape Show- Matthews Gallery Blog

Widening the Horizon: New Mexico Landscapes
June 12-30, Opening Reception: Friday, June 12, 5-7 pm

New Mexico’s endless vistas offer an opportunity and a challenge to artists. Matthews Gallery looks back at legendary artists’ attempts to capture and reimagine the High Desert horizon, from early Santa Fe and Taos art colonists including Datus Myers and William Vincent Kirkpatrick, to modernists including William Lumpkins and Beatrice Mandelman, who evoked the spirit of the landscape through the language of abstraction.

Learn more about our exhibition schedule here, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news.

ONE WORK OF ART: Beatrice Mandelman’s ‘Cool Wind’

Beatrice Mandelman- Cool Wind circa 1950- Matthews Gallery

Beatrice Mandelman, Cool Wind c. 1950, Casein with Collage on Masonite Panel

When John Sloan invited Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak to visit Santa Fe in 1944, the two artists were on the rise among New York City’s avant-garde. They had ties to Hans Hoffman and Fernand Leger, and were often mentioned in the same breath as Jackson Pollock. Sloan, who had been summering in New Mexico for years, had a reputation for spiriting away his favorite artists to the Desert Southwest. During their trip the recently married duo took a train to Taos and decided to stay.

The move marked a radical change in Mandelman and Ribak’s artwork. “We had to start all over again,” Mandelman said. “We spent the first couple years painting landscapes.” They were known for their figurative paintings in New York, but in this radically different environment their focus shifted to pure abstraction. They were trailblazers for a new wave of artists called the Taos Moderns, a movement that enlivened the Taos art colony but enraged an older vanguard of academic painters with ties to the Taos Society of Artists of the 1910’s and 20’s. To this tight clique of romanticists, the newcomers stuck out like colorful cacti—particularly Mandelman.

Portrait of Beatrice Mandelman in her Taos studio circa 1950- Matthews Gallery Beatrice Mandelman, 1950

“She worked with full abstraction at a time when most artists were not daring enough to do so,” writes David L. Witt in his book Taos Moderns, noting that Mandelman considered herself “the first of the second generation of artists in Taos.” The voice of a young, female abstract painter had never been part of the remote art community.

Far from the big city, Mandelman developed a new appreciation for the natural world and humanity’s relationship with it. By the late 1940’s she was developing an abstract symbol system to express her emotional responses to the landscape. Her elegant compositions didn’t mimic the lines or palette of the high desert, but they perfectly evoked the strong, solitary spirit of its inhabitants.

The mixed media painting in our collection was likely done in the 1950’s. Early in her experiments with abstraction Mandelman chose a muted palette, but here brighter colors poke through. This more expressive style was inspired by Henri Matisse and Mandelman’s former teacher Leger, and allowed her to explore the highs and lows of human experience with great vigor. Cool Wind‘s undercurrent of chilly blues and bright accents of orange and red call forth the sensation of a shiver passing up the spine.

As the evenings get cooler in Santa Fe, we’ve developed an ever-evolving passion for this piece and the innovative artist who created it. Learn more about Beatrice Mandelman on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news.

Hannah Holliday Stewart: Open-Ended Questions

Houston Chronicle's article on Hannah Holliday Stewart among her sculptures- Matthews Gallery

Our exhibition Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered
runs through July 24, 2014

Two weeks ago, Houston Chronicle arts editor Molly Glentzer appeared at our door with a camera around her neck and notebook in hand. We figured that if anyone could find answers to our burning questions about Hannah Holliday Stewart’s life, it would be a reporter from the city where she rose to prominence. Last Sunday her findings appeared on the front page of the Chronicle. Early on in the article, Glentzer outlines the challenges she faced in her investigation:

Stewart left Houston without saying goodbye in 1987, just as the art scene she helped establish finally began to blossom. Few friends knew where the pioneering sculptor went: not her most recent art dealer, nor her agent, nor people who’d been close enough to visit her weekly.

The beautifully detailed report lays out the highlights of Stewart’s art career. As Glentzer discusses Stewart’s accomplishments—from monumental public art commissions to solo exhibitions at prestigious institutions across the nation—she’s careful to outline the sculptor’s struggle for recognition:

Her success came at a time when women sculptors were rare birds in a man’s world. […] it was a coup when Houston accepted “Atropos Key” …. in 1972. Stewart’s sculpture was unlike anything else in the landscape.

When it comes to Stewart’s departure from Houston and the art world, Glentzer arrives at the same conclusions we did. Stewart first returned to Birmingham to care for her ailing brother, and chose the Southwest as a part-time home because she was drawn to the “light and open landscape”. However, her move to Albuquerque in the final years of her life hinted at grander plans.

“How many people do you know who at age 80 would move 1,000 miles away, where they had no relatives, and build a house and studio with 20-foot ceilings?” [Stewart’s nephew Rusty Stewart] said. “She wasn’t out there to retire.”

Sculptor Hannah Stewart with her cocker-poodle, Major, in 1967- Houston Chronicle

Stewart with her cocker-poodle, Major, in 1967; Photo from Houston Chronicle

And so the answer to one question opens up another mystery. What did Stewart plan to do next? Her friend Dayton Smith told us she may have intended to complete some larger projects and return to Houston. In her sketchbooks from the 2000s Stewart often mentioned a series of sculptures called ‘Harmonic Resonance’ that may have been her forthcoming magnum opus.

Other friends of Stewart who have called or visited us since the appearance of the Chronicle article had few answers. An acquaintance who took yoga classes with Stewart for years said he’d lost contact with her in the 1980s before she left Houston. Another friend who stopped by told us vivid stories from Stewart’s life in Houston, but had just as many questions about her Southwestern exploits.

Last week we switched gears and teased out some of the mysteries of Stewart’s artwork. As Smith told Glentzer, Stewart “always preferred her work be talked about rather than her life.” Perhaps she didn’t want us to know what happened in Houston, or what her future plans were. In a note from Stewart’s sketchbook dated 2007, the 83-year-old artist wrote,”Tired—work to finish FINALLY!! Move on to others in series…”


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Stewart with “Atropos Key” in Hermann Park; Houston Chronicle

Then, late last week, we received a call from Dr. Liam Purdon in Nebraska. We recognized his name from an elegant essay in Stewart’s files. In the 1980s, Purdon was working on a PhD in medieval literature from Rice University. He had seen Stewart’s “Atropos Key” sculpture in Hermann Park and was inspired to contact her.

“I literally stumbled upon it as I walked up the hill in the park,” he said. “You come over a rise and suddenly there it is in front of you. You’re startled by it, and the first question you ask yourself is, ‘What is it, and why is it here?’ When you read the name of it, then you suddenly realize it’s tied to Greek mythology.”

Purdon said the shock and curiosity he experienced was Stewart’s overarching goal. “She wanted to startle the observer into recollecting the whole mythology of a time when humans lived in harmony,” he explained. Stewart agreed to let Purdon observe her in the studio for three weeks, but kept a careful distance from the scholar. Later on they became good friends, and Stewart told Purdon her plans for the future.

“She felt that being in the Southwest… would be more supportive of her vision,” he says. “She loved the natural beauty of the Southwest. In some of her pieces, you do see it. In others you may not recognize it, but if you look at them for a while and meditate on them, it starts to become apparent.”

The two stayed in contact after Purdon took a teaching job at Doane College in Nebraska, and Stewart expressed interest in applying for public art commissions from the Nebraska Arts Council. When nothing materialized, Stewart was discouraged.

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Stewart in 1960 with a sculpture she recently completed; Houston Chronicle

“I think that probably underscored the fact that she felt… uncomfortable revealing the work until the time was right, until we re-cycled into an age when we wanted to hear the narrative again,” Purdon said. “She would have to wait for a period of time to introduce her work to people who were ready to understand.”

That’s the closest we’ve gotten to answering the ever-shifting riddle of Stewart’s twilight years, but perhaps it’s enough to know that people are ready to hear the artist’s stories again. We’ve had a huge response from collectors in Houston who read the article, and art lovers from across the country have discovered her work as a result of the press coverage our show has received.

“In general, i think that people are wanting narrative more,” said Purdon. “It is so remarkably different, her work… That’s why it needs a narrative. There has to be a starting point.”

Come see Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered through Thursday, July 24, and learn more about the artist on our website. Make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more gallery news!