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. 

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SPRING OF MODERNISM: The Circle

Mabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O'Keeffe- Matthews Gallery BlogMabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O’Keeffe

If you visit our SPRING OF MODERNISM show this month, two things will become abundantly clear about the 20th century artists in the exhibition. Firstly, they’re all linked, in one way or another, to the 1913 Armory Show in New York City. Secondly, they are all tied to each other. In fact, the modernists of the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies are so intertwined that we tried and failed to create a chart of their relationships. There are so many connections, it reminds us of Gertrude Stein’s Paris! Here’s just one line of the friendship chain, which begins with Stein herself:

Jan Matulka- Surrealist Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog
MATULKA
Jan Matulka (1890-1972) was born in Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic. He moved to New York City in 1907 and enrolled at the National Academy of Design soon after. A Joseph Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship enabled him to visit the Desert Southwest in 1917, where he was inspired by the cultures of the Pueblo Native American Tribes. He maintained studios in Paris and New York during the 1920s, befriending Gertrude Stein, Andre Lhote and Max Weber.
DASBURG
Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979) also knew Stein. He was born in Paris and emigrated to New York City in 1892. He studied at the New York Art Students League and spent time in Paris with Stein, Henri Matisse and Morgan Russell as a young man. In 1913, he exhibited Lucifer (above) at the Armory Show, and was later invited to New Mexico by Mabel Dodge Luhan. He moved to Taos in 1921, and was part of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz’s circle here.

 Cady Wells- Taos 1947- Matthews Gallery Blog Cady Wells, Taos 1947, Ink and Watercolor on Paper

WELLS

Cady Wells (1904-1954) knew Luhan and O’Keeffe and studied under Dasburg. He grew up in Southbridge, Massachussets and traveled extensively as a young man, studying music and the visual arts before deciding to become an artist in his late 20s. He moved to New Mexico in 1932, where he found an enthusiastic mentor in Dasburg and drew inspiration from the rich culture of the Desert Southwest. The Smithsonian American Art Museum writes:

Portraying the Southwestern landscape in watercolor, Wells moved through various modernist idiots. His early work incorporated gestural, calligraphic lines suggestive of Chinese ideograms. Later he investigated the structure of natural forms [and the] pattern-like appearance of the landscape. Influenced by Dasburg, Raymond Jonson and Georgia O’Keeffe, Wells developed a personal semi-abstract style that brought considerable praise from his peers.

 Raymond Jonson- Oil Number 12- Matthews Gallery BlogRaymond Jonson, Oil No. 12, 1958, Oil on Canvas

JONSON 

Wells’ friend Raymond Jonson (1891-1982) was born in Chariton, Iowa and grew up in Portland, Oregon. He attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Chicago Art Institute as a young man, but his true artistic breakthrough came when he attended the 1913 Armory Show and saw the artwork of early abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky.
Jonson traveled to New Mexico for the first time in 1922, and moved here two years later. Here he founded the Atalaya Art School and took a teaching position at the University of New Mexico.
Along with his friends Emil Bisttram, Agnes Pelton and others, Jonson formed the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG) in 1938. The collective was inspired by early abstract artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, as well as Theosophy, Zen Buddhism and Dynamic Symmetry. The TPG only lasted a few years, disbanding in 1942 because of World War II. However, the collective’s influence endures in the Southwest and beyond. Some consider the group an heir to Russian Constructivism, Gino Severini and the Bauhaus.
Emil Bisttram- After the Blizzard- Matthews Gallery Blog
BISTTRAM 
Jonson’s friend Emil Bisttram (1895-1976) was born in Hungary and immigrated to New York City with his family at 11. It wasn’t until his mid-30s that he visited Taos, but he fell in love with the area and would become a major player in the art colony when he moved there a year later.In 1933 Bisttram helped open the first modern art gallery in Taos and in 1938 he co-founded the Transcendental Painting Group. He promoted the ideas of the collective through the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism, where Janet Lippincott was one of his students.
Janet Lippincott- Llano Ridge- Matthews Gallery Blog
LIPPINCOTT
Bisttram’s student Janet Lippincott (1918-2007) was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and spent part of her childhood in Paris. There she learned about the aesthetic innovations of Picasso and Matisse. Back in New York, she took classes at the New York Art Students League as a teenager.During World War II, Lippincott enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and was wounded. She pursued art studies in Colorado and San Francisco on the GI Bill, and also attended the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism in Taos in 1949 and the Alfred Morang Academy of Fine Art. In 1954, she moved to Santa Fe permanently and lived here for over five decades.Lippincott was considered part of a “second wave” of New Mexico modernists, who ventured to the Southwest after WWII. She is known as an abstract expressionist, but her early modernist influences in Paris stuck with her, as evidenced in her career-spanning series of figurative prints.

Alfred Morang- Blue Mountain Yellow Sky- Matthews Gallery Blog Alfred Morang, Blue Mountain, Yellow Sky, Ink and Watercolor on Paper

MORANG 

As a young man, Lippincott’s teacher Alfred Morang (1901-1958) suffered from tuberculosis. He left his home in Portland, Maine in 1937 and came to New Mexico to recover in a dryer climate. The reports vary, but when Morang got off the train he was met by Randall Davey or Raymond Jonson, two of the city’s most established modernist artists. Morang’s bohemian manner quickly charmed the Santa Fe art world, and the City Different became his permanent home.

Late in his life, Morang moved to a Canyon Road studio just behind Claude’s Bar. Just across the street was an artist and writer’s compound run by Agnes Sims.

 Agnes Sims- Dance Rattles- Matthews Gallery BlogAgnes Sims, Dance Rattles, Watercolor on Paper

SIMS 

Morang’s Canyon Road neighbor Agnes Sims (1910-1990) was born in Devon, Pennsylvania. She managed a marionette theater and worked as a textile designer in Philadelphia before moving to Santa Fe in 1938 and founding a Canyon Road artist’s compound. In New Mexico, she took an interest in the ancient petroglyphs of New Mexico’s Native American Pueblos, and received a grant to study and sketch them. Her archaeological work inspired a series of paintings and sculptures in which she developed her own semi-abstract symbolism.

Sims’ longtime partner was the literary editor of Harper’s Bazaar, and helped popularize Truman Capote‘s work. Capote was friends (and sometime enemies) with Georgia O’Keeffe. And so the circle comes back around to Andrew Dasburg!

We could do this for ages, but you get the point. The New Mexico art community was a western frontier of avant-garde innovation, forged by a group of passionate friends whose efforts gave birth to the Land of Enchantment of today. And thank goodness for that!

Click here to see all of the artwork in our Spring of Modernism show, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for daily gallery news.

BIRTH OF AN ARTIST: Three Mentors of Eric Sloane

Eric Sloane- Hopi Country- Oil on Panel- Matthews Gallery Blog

PROLOGUE

When a historic artwork enters our collection, it’s the first clue in a grand investigation. A painting is a concrete piece of evidence that links to the artist’s evolutionary chain, leading us back through the years.

Eric Sloane’s Hopi Countrypictured above, helped us trace its creator from New Mexico to his hometown of New York City. Along the way we met three of Sloane’s mentors, who are all revered figures in American history.

Frederic W Goudy- Mentor to Eric Sloane- Matthews Gallery Blog

FREDERIC W. GOUDY

Eric Sloane was born Everard Jean Hinrichs in New York City in 1905. Meanwhile in Chicago, Sloane’s future mentor Frederic W. Goudy was experiencing a late-in-life rebirth. At 40 years old, he had quit his job as an accountant to open a publishing house called Village Press with his friend Will Ransom. He learned how to design typefaces and began building a portfolio.

“[Goudy started] almost from scratch at an age when most men are permanently set in their chosen vocations,” wrote Popular Science in 1942. Goudy’s new path would lead him from Chicago to Boston to New York, where he moved in next door to young Sloane.

As Goudy’s career took off with a series of hit typefaces—Kennerly Old Style, Goudy Old Style, Copperplate Gothic—young Sloane learned the tricks of the trade. Goudy would design 122 typefaces in his lifetime, topping Gutenberg and Garamond. His painting lessons for Sloane soon launched one of the great adventures of the budding artist’s life. But first, a scholarly interlude.

John Sloan- Mentor to Eric Sloane- Matthews Gallery Blog

JOHN SLOAN

Sloane changed his name while studying at the Art Students League of New York. He took the middle letters of “America” for his first name, and tweaked the surname of his mentor John Sloan. Sloan encouraged his students to adopt pseudonyms in order to sever ties with their earlier, less accomplished work. He was a passionate and sometimes volatile teacher who believed in art for art’s sake.  “I have nothing to teach you that will help you to make a living,” he would tell his students. Although he was a well-known artist who participated in groundbreaking exhibitions like the 1913 Armory Show, his artwork rarely sold.

Sloan’s circle came to be known for their realist depictions of poor neighborhoods in New York. Sloane never took to this subject matter, but finding a new name was transformative for the young artist. With his patriotic moniker and the skills he’d picked up from Goudy, he took off across the country in the summer of 1923, painting sings on barns and stores to make ends meet. Two years later he took another, longer adventure to New Mexico, one of Sloan’s favorite vacation spots.

Much like other students of Sloan, the light and colors of the New Mexico inspired Sloane to push his art in a new direction. He picked up oil painting and learned to capture the light, color and endless expanses of the High Desert, and returned to Long Island in 1927 with a new sense of purpose.

Wiley Post- Mentor to Artist Eric Sloane- Matthews Gallery Blog

WILEY POST 

Sloane grew up during the Golden Age of Aviation. By 1933, his fascination with aircrafts lead him to a job at the Half Moon Hotel, which was close to Long Island’s Roosevelt Field. The aviators who stayed at the inn became some of Sloane’s first patrons, paying him to make oil paintings of their planes. Aviator Wiley Post was so impressed by Sloane’s work that he offered to swap flying lessons for painting lessons.

Post had trained to be an aviator during World War I, but the war ended before he entered active duty. He worked as a parachutist for a flying circus and a barnstormer before becoming a private pilot for wealthy Oklahoma oilmen. The job earned him enough money to set out on a worldwide adventure, and he became the first pilot to fly solo around the globe.

Sloane was so inspired by his flights with Post that he began painting the sky, as seen from the cockpit of a plane. Amelia Earhart bought the first work in this new series, and one of Sloane’s largest cloud paintings is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. At 28 years old, Sloane had grown from an eager student to a full-fledged master.

Artist Eric Sloane under a New Mexico Sky- Matthews Gallery Blog

EPILOGUE

Sloane started painting landscapes in the style of the Hudson River School, a mode that fit his fascination with turbulent weather. Beginning in the 1950’s, he took up residence in Taos for part of each year. He built a home in La Tierra, New Mexico in 1975. Sloane captured the light and color of the Land of Enchantment with boundless enthusiasm. Hopi Country features every brilliant hue in a Land of Enchantment sunset.

Over the course of his career, Sloane produced over 15,000 artworks and 38 illustrated books. He died of a heart attack in 1985 on the steps of New York’s Plaza Hotel, on his way to a luncheon in his honor. The event was a celebration for the release of his biography, ‘Eighty: An American Souvenir.’

It’s quite a tale, and it all unwound from a single oil painting on our wall! Learn more about Eric Sloane on our website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for daily gallery news.

MORANG AND FRIENDS: Ghost Stories

El Farol- A Toast to Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

“There are ghosts at El Farol, there’s no question about it,” says Freda Keller with a playful smile. “There’s been a lot that’s happened over the years. In 1835 there were gunfights in the bar. People hear and see ghosts late at night.”

Keller is the general manager at Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant and cantina, and we’re on a hunt for a particular ghost. Alfred Morang (1901-1958) often haunted the establishment in his years among the living. This Thursday, El Farol and Matthews Gallery are throwing a special toast to his lingering spirit in the cantina, where Morang painted a series of stunning murals. The event will christen our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS, which features rare artwork and artifacts from the man who was known as Santa Fe’s Toulouse-Lautrec.

El Farol- A Toast to Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

“The biggest thing with El Farol, the reason why it’s been around so long, is that it’s family driven,” Keller says. “I think the customers feel like they’re family, and obviously [Morang] did too. Being an artist and offering to do these murals, you would have to be part of the family of El Farol.”

Like any proud clan, the El Farol staff is always happy to take guests on an art tour through their cozy rooms. In addition to Morang’s works, there are murals and paintings by Santa Fe legends William Vincent (a student of Morang), Stan Natchez, Sergio Moyano and Roland van Loon. Keller produces a little fact sheet that helps everyone keep the stories straight. Here’s the write-up on Morang:

El Farol- A Toast to Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

When you enter our rustic cantina, one of the first things to catch your eye will be the beautiful murals displayed throughout. The first artist to grace our walls was Alfred Morang.  On the long west wall of the bar and one behind the bar, are our oldest murals were painted between 1948 and 1952. Mr. Morang was already an established artist when he frequented El Farol during that period. He painted the murals to settle his tab at El Farol.  The scenes are of local landscapes and adobe homes in Santa Fe. We’ve chosen to reproduce our most famous mural of the flamenco dancer in the red dress accompanied by a guitarist as our poster for the 2004 Muralist dinner.  From 1968 to 1980 the owner at the time covered the murals with paneling.  When Bob Ward purchased El Farol in 1980 he removed the paneling to discover the beautiful murals beneath.  When David Salazar purchased El Farol in 1985 he was always mindful of the treasures on the walls.  Painting, re-stucco and remodeling were completed while protecting the murals.

Then comes the part of the tour that sends chills up our spines. Do you believe in ghosts? Maybe this will convince you:

On Easter morning in 1997 David and the staff were awakened by phone calls that El Farol had been burned.  The murals, though singed, had made it through the fire.

Morang died in a 1958 studio fire, so the news that some of his most notable works survived a blaze decades later is eerie to say the least. We walk over to the cantina to view the murals. When the hostess hears us mention Morang’s name, she lights up.

El Farol- A Toast to Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

“That’s right, the murals still have burn marks on them from the fire,” she says, pointing out subtle passages of missing pigment that were lost to the flames. “They still don’t know how that fire started. They think someone may have set it.”

El Farol has long since been restored to its elegant Old West aesthetic, much as it was when Morang would stop by for a shot of cognac and draw inspiration for his impressionistic paintings of Santa Fe’s wild 1940’s nightlife. On Thursday at 6:30 PM, Keller will join the gallery staff to tell stories and toast the artist with a new “Alfred’s Special” cocktail.

El Farol- A Toast to Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

“I read up on Morang and learned that he was born in Maine, and how beautiful the landscapes are there,” says Keller. “He did a lot of painting there. His first inspiration was that landscape.” Keller selected a cocktail called Remember the Maine (with rye whiskey, Cherry Heering liqueur and a splash of absinthe) in honor of Morang’s home state. Come have a drink and time travel with us to a true Santa Fe golden age!

Learn more about our Toast to Morang event on the El Farol website and on our gallery homepage, and connect with us Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about Morang.

MORANG AND FRIENDS: Alfred in Paris

Alfred Morang Portrait- Morang and Friends Exhibition- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, 1952

“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,” Santa Fe art collector Paul Parker said at the end of our interview last week.

As Parker will tell you, Alfred Morang’s death in a Canyon Road fire in 1958 was the end of an era in Santa Fe. From his arrival in 1937, Morang had helped cultivate a vibrant art scene in the City Different. His house parties of the 1930’s and 40’s earned him a reputation as “one of Santa Fe’s… most colorful Bohemians,” as the Santa Fe New Mexican dubbed him in his obituary. Morang was a masterful painter who drew inspiration from the French Impressionists, and a talented teacher who passed his knowledge to the next generation of Santa Fe artists. He was a great writer, musician and radio broadcaster.

However, towards the end of Morang’s life, he and his wife Dorothy divorced and he became increasingly isolated. He spent most of his time fervently painting in his Canyon Road studio. Santa Fe artist Bill Tate had this recollection of a frigid winter in the 1950’s:

Oh my, it was cold! The snow was pouring down unmercifully and as I walked into Alfred’s tiny studio, I pushed paintings aside to make a path, then found them sliding in behind me as I penetrated the cache of completed canvases. It appeared that paintings were everywhere. There in the middle was Alfred, happily painting away, bundled up like a Siberian monk—galoshes, muffler, sweater, heavy top coat which came to his ankles, and a woman’s hat pulled snuggly down over his ears and neck.

The studio had a sky light, but where the glass was supposed to be, there was none. Alfred had hung an old muslin sheet over the opening to shut out the falling snow. Evidently Alfred had let the fire go out in the small space heater. Or maybe had forgotten to pay his gas bill. I don’t know. But it was awful. I had been there just a few minutes when the muslin partially ripped loose from the ceiling and began flopping in the wind. Snow dumped all over Alfred as well as the canvas.

Alfred never looked up, never stopped painting. His blue-cold hands kept mixing painting and dabbing it on the canvas. Occasionally, he would lean back to assess the effect, but throughout, he was totally oblivious to my presence… or the muslin that danced in the bitter breeze.

I attempted to speak, but only a chatter came out. I retreated to the warmth of my own studio. To the day he died, Alfred never knew I was there.

This somber image of an artist in the winter of his life is not how Parker likes to think of Morang. Soon after he first visited Santa Fe in the 1990’s Parker developed a fascination for the Santa Fe icon that has taken him on many adventures, including a national treasure hunt that inspired our latest exhibition. The artifacts Parker discovered will appear alongside artwork by Morang and his contemporaries in our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS, evoking an era full of crackling creativity. Morang stood at its warm heart.

In the story below, Parker captures the Santa Fe zeitgeist before and after Morang’s death, and travels to Paris to complete a mission in Morang’s memory:

 Alfred Morang- Santa Fe Hillside 1949- Matthews Gallery Blog Alfred Morang, Untitled (Santa Fe Hillside) 1949, Oil on Canvas

HUNTING FOR ALFRED MORANG

by Paul Parker

I had been thinking about this mission for a long time and I finally find myself in the library seated in front of this antique microfilm viewer the size of a small refrigerator and I have loaded the reel containing the early 1958 issues of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

I was not sure why I had this unremitting need to know more about Alfred Morang. I had first seen his work painted on the adobe walls across from the bar in El Farol on Canyon Road and in Maria’s on Cordova, but I know the real inspiration came from my good friend Jim Parsons in Taos. Jim was an art dealer and appraiser forever and a friend and mentor for 20 years. When he mentioned that Alfred Morang was one of his favorites I knew I needed to pay attention. It was like Willy Wonka telling me about one of his favorite chocolate bars.

It helps that Alfred was such a compelling man, so well versed in music and literature as well as painting. He was the youngest person ever to perform a solo violin concert in the prestigious Jordan Hall in Boston. He was also an accomplished writer. The London Times once called him one of America’s leading non-political short story writers. Erskine Caldwell was a friend of his and he often visited Alfred and his wife Dorothy in Santa Fe.  Alfred’s short stories and poems were published alongside Frost, Poe and Mark Twain. I do know the main reason I am so drawn to him is that his art touches me. Behind that art is Alfred’s story, his life experience and that is what drove him to create the art that Jim and I and many others enjoy so much.

Alfred Morang- Untitled Portrait of a Woman 1950- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, Untitled (Portrait of a Woman) 1950, Oil on Board

There is a very sad part to his story and it is that part that drew me to the library. Alfred Morang died in a fire in his Canyon Road apartment studio on a cold January night at the age of 56. I had wanted to come here to the library and read the January 29, 1958 issue of the Santa Fe New Mexican for some time. I wanted to know the details, I wanted to read what people said, I wanted to know what page it was on and how big the article was. I was scrolling through the microfilm and as I started approaching the day he died I realized I was reading the papers that he probably read unaware he only had days to live.

The closer I got to the issue of the paper I had come to see the more time I took reading the articles and I even started reading the ads. I lingered the longest on Tuesday’s edition dated January 28, 1958. That was the last paper Alfred could have read.

There was an article on that day that I am sure must have caught Alfred’s eye and the headline read, “French Ballet loses Backing”. Alfred never made it to Paris, but his heart was there. His heroes were the French Impressionists and he considered himself to be one of them. Monet and Bonnard were his favorites. The article explained that the French Education Ministry had withdrawn the government subsidy for the production of Francoise Sagan’s ballet “The Broken Date”. The ministry’s action followed a storm of protest. Apparently one dance was performed in a bathroom setting designed by painter Bernard Buffet and was described by some critics as scandalously erotic. I would like to have gone to Paris with Alfred and attended that performance. A French ballet with a bathroom setting designed by Bernard Buffet coupled with scandalously erotic, I am sure we both would have enjoyed that.

That Tuesday the Lensic was showing “Pal Joey” starring Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. Kaune’s was having a sale featuring Pork Chops at 59 cents a pound and Swanson’s Pot Pies at four for a dollar with your choice of chicken, turkey or beef. Cherry Motor’s at 607 Cerrillos Road had an ad for the new Rambler American for $1789. The ad proclaimed that one had been driven from New York to Los Angeles using only 80 gallons of gas averaging over 30 mpg. I remembered that time. One week before this ad ran I had celebrated my 12th birthday and becoming a teenager was in sight. Unlike today I was looking forward to getting older and that was the time I began thinking about cars. Chevrolet had just introduced the 283 V-8 a year earlier in the now iconic 1957 Chevy. The fuel economy push left over from the war was fading fast and the Plymouth Hemi and the “Little GTO” were on the horizon. The economical 6 cylinder Rambler American never had a chance.

IMG_0474Alfred Morang, Pecan Grove, Oil on Panel

I read every bit of that Tuesday’s paper. It was as if I felt that Alfred would be okay as long as I did not turn the page, but I knew it was time to see what I had come to see. I took a last look at the classifieds and marveled at an ad for a 2-bedroom adobe with wall-to-wall carpet “close in” for $16,500 and then I hit the button and watched the microfilm reel turn slowly.

The first thing I saw positioned on the top left side of the front page of that Wednesday edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican was a large photograph of a cat crouching on the corner of a charred mattress. The rest of the bed was strewn with papers and tubes of paint. Underneath the right half of the photo was a caption “Mourning for Her Master…This lonely cat was found wandering through the charred ruins of the home of her master Alfred Morang who died in the fire early this morning. The cat is on the bed where he died.” Morang’s friends had commented on his love of cats and noted that he often went hungry himself so he could afford to feed them. Two other cats perished in the fire with him. Unfortunately I discovered that the cat on the mattress in the picture had to be put down because it had extensive lung damage. There was also a picture of Alfred. A cigarette in a holder was hanging from the corner of his mouth dangling over his scraggly beard and he was wearing a black hat with a brim that was tilted slightly to the left making him look decidedly like an artist and decidedly French. The story next to the photo read “Well Known Artist Dies In Home Fire… Alfred Morang, 56, one of Santa Fe’s best known and most colorful Bohemians died at about 1:30 am last night in a tragic fire at his home in the 600 block of Canyon Road.”  Friends reported they had last seen Alfred in Claude’s bar around midnight. His apartment was just up the alley out back.

Five days after the fire the New Mexican noted…“Funeral services were held Saturday at the Fairview Memorial Park Crematorium in Albuquerque for Alfred Morang, widely known Santa Fe artist, writer and critic who was burned to death early Wednesday morning in a fire at his home here. The body was escorted to Albuquerque by a group of close friends, including Randall Davey, Will Shuster, Harlan Lizer, Walter Dawley and William Currie. Alfred was transported in a Spanish Colonial coffin made by Abolonio Rodriguez, custodian of the art museum.”

IMG_0505Alfred Morang, Guadalupe Plaza 1947, Oil on Board

Alfred was born in Ellsworth, Maine in 1901 and came to Santa Fe in 1937. Like many who came here he suffered from TB. He immediately became a fixture in the Santa Fe art scene. He wrote a weekly column for the newspaper and he produced a weekly radio program for 17 years on KVSF called “The World of Art with Alfred Morang.” Most of all he was famous for his enthusiasm for art and his ability to teach and many benefited from “The Morang School of Fine Art”.

Walt Wiggins authored a book published in 1979 appropriately titled “Alfred Morang…A Neglected Master”. Walt uncovered several quotes during his research for his book and my favorites include the following.  “When Alfred Morang’s life came to a tragic end in January of 1958 nothing before or since has so shaken the New Mexico art colony. Some say it was a sense of guilt that struck the community for not having shown a greater sense of appreciation for one who, by destiny, was different.” One Santa Fe artist reasoned, “Why shouldn’t Santa Fe be stunned with the loss of Alfred?  After all, he taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see.”

The February 10th 1958 issue of the Santa Fe New Mexican carried the report of the local memorial service for Alfred in Lorraine Carr’s column “It Happened in Old Santa Fe”. Dr. Reginald Fisher, director of the Art Museum spoke first. “Friends this is not a funeral, we are simply gathered here for a creative expression of merit and appreciation of a spirit that has been active in an activity that we in Santa Fe like to call art. Alfred was an inventive, searching and daring spirit as French as Lautrec, yet he never saw Paris. Last week his restless spirit found peace.”

Painter and close friend Randall Davey was next. “I have known Alfred since he arrived back in 1937. He was a kind, a gentle and a humble soul and in all those years I never heard him speak unkindly of his fellow man. He was a great painter; many of you did not think so, because often he sold his work for a mere pittance through necessity. Nevertheless it was great art and the happiest work I have seen in New Mexico. He had a love and a delight for painting and I doubt that anyone will surpass him in this field.”

IMG_0495Alfred Morang, Untitled (Mountain Landscape), Oil on Board

I hope Alfred enjoyed himself on that Tuesday. I hope he spent some time with friends and some extra time petting his cats. I hope he wrote another poem and put the final touches on his most recent favorite painting before he headed down the alley to Claude’s that evening.

Claude James ran the well-known Canyon Road bar where he often spent time and, as legend has it, her rowdy spirit was just what was needed to run that place. I would love to have met Alfred there that fateful night for a few drinks. I’m sure we would have talked through the evening about art and life as we cast occasional glances at the ever present ladies that were often the subject of his paintings and when Claude said “It’s midnight, would you fellows like another one?”  I would nod and say, how about a couple of shots of your best cognac. I would love to take a sip, lean back and turn to him and say “Alfred I know you often say that you don’t believe in art for art’s sake, but you believe in art for people’s sake. Can you explain to me what you mean by that, and please…take your time?”

A few weeks after I finished writing this story I found myself engrossed in the details of planning a trip to Paris. I was not sure why, but suddenly it came flooding over me with incredible clarity. Human life really is very fragile and it really is all going to come to an end someday and we do not know when. I knew then I needed to go to Paris and I needed to go now. Unfortunately most people have that epiphany too late in life. They start thinking about the things they never got to do after it’s too late to do them. I knew then that this sudden obsession with Paris was a message from Alfred. Paris was his promised land, but he never made it there and I was going to go for both of us.

I told a friend in Santa Fe this story and he said, “You should do something for Alfred in Paris.” It was a great idea, but what would I do? I had been in Paris 5 days when I suddenly knew. I found an image of a Morang painting on my laptop. I printed it and wrote a bit on the back about Alfred and headed off to the Musee d’Orsay. This time as I enjoyed the paintings I was also searching for a repository for Alfred’s work and I finally found it. I can tell you that a fine example of the genius of Alfred Morang now has a home in Musee d’Orsay on the banks of the Seine and it will take a jackhammer to find it. He is close to Monet and Bonnard, the masters he so admired. Alfred, you finally made it.

Source: Bill Tate’s tale first appeared in the 1979 book Alfred Morang: A Neglected Master by Walt Wiggins.

COLLECTOR’S FORUM: Join the Network

Get Connected- Collector's Forum Workshops- Matthews Gallery blog

Seats are filling up for our free COLLECTOR’S FORUM workshops, which begin next Friday as part of the Santa Fe Gallery Association’s Art Matters lecture series. The events have already given us the opportunity to connect with art lovers of all stripes. As the news spreads from person to person, a network is forming with links to local art legends like Alfred Morang and Fremont Ellis.

Gertrude Stein with her famous Picasso portrait- Matthews Gallery blogGertrude Stein with Pablo Picasso’s famous portrait of her

That’s why this lovely friendship map of Parisian modern artists and patrons from the early 20th century caught our eye on Twitter the other day. Celebrated salonniere Gertrude Stein is the spider at the center of the web, of course, with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and Joseph Stella and Henri-Pierre Roche entangled around her. Mabel Dodge and Marsden Hartley appear too, and their later New Mexico adventures tie this famous circle directly to our own rich cultural history. Forget six degrees of separation, we’re down to one!

The art world is beautifully interconnected, but that doesn’t mean it has to be exclusive. Our workshops are designed for anyone who’s ever considered dipping a toe into the art market, whether you have a full array of masterpieces or a virtual wish list of art treasures on Tumblr. We’ll cover every angle of the art business, including:

  • How the price of artwork is determined
  • How the primary art market differs from the secondary market
  • The importance of provenance
  • When conservation should be considered for an artwork and what is involved
  • How to insure your artwork
  • How to receive an accurate art appraisal
  • How to negotiate the purchase of art
  • The best strategies for buying or selling art at auction

The workshops will feature fascinating behind-the-scenes stories from our gallery, and tales of tricky art conservation projects from special guest Matt Horowitz. Shoot us an email to reserve your seat and become a link in the long chain of art connoisseurs, from the City of Light to the City Different!

Learn more about COLLECTOR’S FORUM on our exhibition page, and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter 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.