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!

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PICASSO GETS BURNED: 5 strange facts about the Vollard Suite

Pablo Picasso- Personnages Masques et Femme Oiseau- Matthews Gallery blog

Pablo Picasso, Personnages Masques et Femme Oiseau, aquatint and etching

When it came to marketing himself, art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) was a pro. He had a knack for scouting out young artists with rockstar potential and he wasn’t afraid to ask for favors later on. Vollard gave Pablo Picasso his very first gallery show in 1901. By 1930, Picasso was world-famous and Vollard enlisted him for a special commission. In exchange for paintings by Renoir and Cezanne, Picasso would create a series of 100 etchings ending with three portraits of Vollard.

What better way to immortalize yourself? Picasso completed the Vollard Suite over the next seven years, and it would become one of his most famous print suites. The first etchings in the series are in the neoclassical style and show a sculptor in the studio with his beautiful muse. As World War II set in, Picasso turned to darker subject matter culled from Greek mythology. A friendly minotaur appears, but soon grows agitated and violent. By the end of the series the minotaur has lost his vision and wanders aimlessly.

At Matthews Gallery we have the 24th print from the series, titled “Masked Characters and Bird Woman“. In our research on the print, we’ve discovered some pretty weird facts about the Vollard Suite. Five things you (almost surely) didn’t know:

1.  Armed Art Critics Attack! 

Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey tear down Picasso's Vollard Suite- Matthews Gallery Blog

Spanish paramilitary group Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey on the march

Aside from Steve Wynn 0r Olga Dogaru, Picasso’s most violent critics might just be fascist paramilitary group Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey. Picasso finished the Vollard Suite in 1937, but Vollard’s untimely death in 1939 and World War II prevented the prints from going on the market until the 1950s. In the 1970s, the series starred in a short-lived exhibition in Madrid. In protest of Picasso’s political views on the Spanish Civil War the Guerrilleros stormed the show, tore down the prints and burned them with acid. Ouch.

2. Death by Foot

Honore de Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece inspired Picasso's Vollard Suite- Matthews Gallery Blog

Image from Honore de Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece

Sometimes, art kills. Scholars have tied the Vollard Suite to Honore de Balzac’s short story “The Unknown Masterpiece.” The tragic tale chronicles an artist’s frustration at his inability to capture a model’s supreme beauty on canvas. He manages to paint her foot, but soon gives up and commits suicide in despair. Picasso explores similar themes in his etchings. His lover Marie-Therese Walter appears throughout the series, at first as his adoring model and then as a girlish guide to the blind minotaur. The artist has lost his power to capture his model in his art, and now she nimbly leads him toward death.

3. Sweet Art

Pablo Picasso used a sugar life aquatint technique in his Vollard Suite- Matthews Gallery Blog

Sugar lift aquatint from the Vollard Suite

It seems Picasso had a sweet tooth. The ever innovative artist experimented with new printmaking techniques for the Vollard commission, including dry point and aquatinting. The latter method allows the artist to create varying tones on the print using particles of rosin and an acid. Sugar lift aquatinting is a sweet variation. A layer of sugar syrup is applied to parts of the print and then burned off with acid to create dark fields on a white ground (see the dark patches in the image above).

4. Clairvoyant Pablo

Was Pablo Picasso psychic? - Matthews Gallery Blog

Picasso possessed many artistic talents, but was he also a fortune-teller? One of the Vollard prints shows a model who is a doppelgänger for Picasso’s lover Francoise Gilot, though it prefigures their relationship by over ten years. Third eye or not, the artist noted Gilot’s resemblance to his archetypal female figures when he met her. It made quite the flattering pick-up line.

5. Vollarchitecture

Vollard Suite in Brazil named after Picasso Print Series - Matthews Gallery

The Vollard Suite in Curitiba, Brazil

In more recent news, the world’s first rotating building is named after the Vollard Suite. The futuristic residential complex in Brazil opened in 2001 with an exhibition of Picasso’s prints. Its design resembles a Greek pillar, a reference to Picasso’s neoclassical style in the suite (check out the bird lady’s perch in our print). The skyscraper’s $400,000 apartments turn 360 degrees every hour. It might sound dizzying, but something tells us the extravagant artist would approve.

Learn more about our Vollard print here, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more news from Matthews Gallery!

STATE OF THE ART: A Survey of New Mexico Artists

The very first artists who came to work in New Mexico found themselves on a harsh frontier. Harold Elderkin and his wife moved to Santa Fe in 1886 to run a gallery and teach painting lessons, but left for El Paso two years later. An artist named George Stanley tried the same thing in 1897 and failed even faster.

The 1920s saw an influx of artists who had already established their careers on the East Coast. The Southwestern landscapes they sent home would build this region’s reputation for stunning natural beauty and great art. Nowadays, Santa Fe is one of the nation’s largest art markets and New Mexico is a magnet for artists from across the globe.

Though New Mexico has changed a lot since those first creative pioneers settled here, the independent spirit of the frontier lives on through art. Our April 5-18 exhibition “State of the Art”showcases the work of seven recognized contemporary masters who work in New Mexico. Their art may be as diverse as our desert sunsets, but it’s all influenced by the Land of Enchantment.

Jamie Chase moved to Santa Fe in 1980 from his home state of California. He initially found success here painting traditional landscapes, but started exploring other styles and subject matter as he developed his own visual vocabulary. His current work includes non-objective paintings, abstract landscapes and abstracted figurative paintings. “State of the Art” will feature his elegantly abstracted female figures, who roam among dazzling color fields in search of transcendence.

The landscape-based abstract paintings of Terry Craig are literally rooted in the earth. He uses powdered pigment, marble dust and other materials to explore the tension between careful geometric order and wild gestural strokes. The Albuquerque artist draws inspiration from colors and patterns he sees in nature, but when he puts brush to surface he surrenders to his subconscious.

Annie O’Brien Gonzales was born and raised in Oklahoma and got her BFA in painting and art history at Oregon State University. She pursued fiber arts for many years but recently switched back to painting. You can still see traces of her fiber work in the bold patterns and colors she incorporates into her still life paintings.

Form and line, and observation, are the tools of the passage of my self-discovery,” says 89-year-old Santa Fe artist Robert W. Hinds. The sculptor worked as an illustrator and graphic designer before deciding to explore the third dimension. His bronze sculptures are of animals and people, and often show surreal interactions between them. Hinds’ abstracted style is contemporary, but the stories he tells through his sculptures recall Classical myths.

Frank Morbillo was raised on Long Island, but moved to Montana and then Santa Fe as a young adult. His sculptures speak the same language of entropy and change as New Mexico’s majestic rock formations, with an added element of political dialogue that you’ll find in his inquisitive titles. “I often find myself walking the line between artist and activist,” he says.

You’ll find old letters, candy wrappers, bits of string and other flotsam and jetsam in Kate Rivers‘ mixed media works. The artist, who grew up in Ohio and now lives in Santa Fe, uses these often overlooked objects to investigate memory and metaphor. Her most recent works are enormous collages made of dozens of stitched-together book bindings. Fragments of titles jumble together, encouraging new associations between the stories and characters behind them.

Diane White may be well versed in traditional still life techniques, but a closer look at her serene paintings of ceramic pots and other vessels will lead to fantastical discoveries. The Santa Fe artist, who worked for many years as a potter before studying painting at the Loveland Art Academy, weaves elements of magical realism into her works right under the viewer’s nose. Magical realism is a literary genre made famous by writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez that illustrates extraordinary events in the context of a quotidian setting. Pay attention to every detail in White’s work and you’re sure to discover something supernatural, from a leaf transforming into a butterfly to a bouquet of lilies melding with the night sky above it.

State of the Art” opens Friday, April 5 from 5-7 pm and runs through April 18, 2013. Check out our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information.

Hannah Holliday Stewart (1924 – 2010) A Sculptor Who Forged The Way

Hannah Holliday Stewart (1924 – 2010) had her sculpture exhibited in over 40 venues including The Smithsonian, Washington, DC; the San Francisco Museum of Art; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and others. Her work and her career were instrumental to the increased recognition of women sculptors in the United States. The International Sculpture magazine wrote :

“(She) forged the way for serious women sculptors. Uniting Greek mythology and contemporary energy concepts … (her) work fuses both primitive and futuristic sensibilities.”

At a time when the art world marginalized women artists, she chose to create her own world from metal and stone and helped lead the way for a generation of women sculptors. Though she had achieved a high level of success and recognition, she eventually turned her back on the art establishment and continued to work in isolation for the last twenty years of her life. After her death in 2010, sculptures, consisting of work that spanned her entire career, were discovered in her studio – from pieces that are only a few inches tall to one bronze that is over nine feet.

A written statement discovered in one of her notebooks eloquently records her own thoughts on the origins and principles underlying her art work:

When I was eight years old, I asked my mother what the wind really looked like. I remember spending hours … days … sitting with my hands open wide or running with my lightning-bug jar, hoping to catch the wind. I wanted to SEE the wind, that magical force that could bend the huge oak tree in a summer storm, gently caress me on a hot summer day or sing to me as it played through a tree or around the house.

This early interest in natural forces has sustained me throughout my life as a sculptor. My goal is to render visible the hidden realities of pent-up contained energy. The direct fields of reference are Sacred Geometry, Astronomy, Myth & Physics … Each Sculpture is an energy form, the movement arrested in space, a form sustaining an energy. My work is a response to these patterns and delineations and communicates with viewers through the universality of symbolism and form.

The Matthews Gallery is pleased to show this pioneering artist and reacquaint the world with her work. If you would like to learn more about Hannah Holliday Stewart, we have created a website dedicated to her life and work which includes a 163 page online catalog of her work. Click Here to visit the site.