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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NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS

New Landscapes New Vistas- Women Artists of New Mexico- Matthews GalleryNEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Women Artists of New Mexico
opens with a special reception on Friday, May 8 from 5-7 pm. 
We hope to see you there!

The history of women artists in New Mexico stretches back countless generations, to the early Pueblo artisans who developed innovative ceramics and weaving techniques. That’s just the starting point of our spring exhibition NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Women Artists of New Mexico. From Native women potters to pioneers of New Mexico modernism, all the way up to trailblazing women artists of today, the May 8-31 show tells stories of incredible persistence and beauty in the Land of Enchantment.

“The Southwest gave me a whole new language, new vistas to paint,” said Henriette Wyeth, who moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1939. At the beginning of the 20th century, the isolated Santa Fe and Taos art colonies offered a fresh start for women artists who had struggled to find recognition back East. In the same era, Maria Martinez of Northern New Mexico’s San Ildefonso Pueblo worked to combine various traditional Pueblo pottery styles and techniques, bringing the age-old tradition to new audiences.

The efforts of Martinez and her contemporaries meshed well with inquisitive new transplants like Agnes Sims, who studied Pueblo petroglyphs and used them as inspiration for paintings and sculptures. Meanwhile, artists like Beatrice Mandelman and Janet Lippincott came to the Southwest to pave new paths, experimenting with abstraction. Dorothy Eugenie Brett, Doris Cross and Dorothy Morang became powerful voices among the Santa Fe and Taos avant-gardes, while arts champions such as Mabel Dodge Lujan and Mary Cabot Wheelwright acted as powerful patrons and creative muses.

Scroll down for a preview of the artwork, and follow our blog in the coming weeks for stories of women artists across New Mexico history.

Nampeyo- Black Red Hopi Seed Jar Sculpture- Matthews Gallery

Nampeyo

Agnes Sims- Petroglyph- Matthews Gallery Blog

Agnes Sims

 

Beatrice Mandelman- Nova- Matthews Gallery blog

Beatrice Mandelman

Beulah Stevenson- Place of the Drums- Matthews Gallery blog

Beulah Stevenson

 

Dorothy Morang- Summer Storm- Matthews Gallery blog

Dorothy Morang

 

Doris Cross- Untitled Portrait- Matthews Gallery blog

 Doris Cross

Janet Lippincott- The Edge- Matthews Gallery blog

Janet Lippincott

Annie OBrien Gonzales- Green Vase Ivory Tulips- Matthews Gallery blog

Annie O’Brien Gonzales

Heidi Loewen- Back to Egypt- Matthews Gallery Blog

Heidi Loewen

Learn more about NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS on our homepage, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news.

New Mexico Connections: Hondius and Cowles

Cowles-Dasburg-Hondius-ArtistsFrom top: Cowles, Dasburg and Hondius 

You’d be surprised at how often we find New Mexico links in the biographies of our historic artists, even if they never lived here. The latest paintings to appear on our walls are good examples. Gerrit Hondius and Russell Cowles were celebrated modern artists in New York: both exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the World’s Fair, and their works are now part of the permanent collections of numerous major museums. Their mutual friend Andrew Dasburg, whose career also took off in New York, would move to Santa Fe in 1921 and help usher in the region’s modernist period.

It goes to show that New Mexico was a major player in the American modernist movement, far beyond Georgia O’Keeffe’s significant contributions. Read on to learn more about these influential artists and their ties to the Land of Enchantment…

Russell Cowles- Untitled Modernist Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog

Russell Cowles, Untitled (Modernist Landscape), Oil on Panel

“When an artist sees something he wants to paint, his first step should be to look- to look long and sensitively- to feel what nature has to say,” said Russell Cowles (1887-1979). Wherever the modernist set up his easel—from New Mexico to East Asia—he followed this philosophy with the passion of an artist and the intellectual focus of a scholar.

The Iowa-born artist graduated from Dartmouth College in 1909. He studied painting in Paris and Rome, drawing inspiration from the artwork of Cezanne and Gauguin. Cowles returned to the United States in 1920, exhibiting his artwork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art soon after. In 1925, he received a medal from the Art Institute of Chicago. These honors marked the beginning of a long and illustrious career that took Cowles as far as China to study with a master of Chinese painting, and Bali to experiment with abstract painting.

Cowles began living in Santa Fe for part of each year in 1930, and befriended John Marin, Andrew Dasburg, Marsden Hartley and other New Mexico modernists. He received a prize at the World’s Fair in New York City in 1937, and his artwork appeared in LIFE Magazine in 1948. He died in New York City in 1979.

Gerrit Hondius- Untitled Modernist Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog

Gerrit Hondius, Untitled (Modernist Landscape), Oil on Panel

Gerrit Hondius (1891-1970) was born in the Netherlands and studied painting at the Royal Academy in The Hague. It was there that he developed a passion for Georges Rouault and the French expressionists, but he found a true match for his style and creative energy in New York City.

Hondius moved to New York in 1915, and studied at the Art Students League with Max Weber and Andrew Dasburg. He first caught the eye of the art world with a massive WPA mural in brilliant Fauvist and expressionist hues. In the mural, colorful city people tangled with masked figures, clowns and ballerinas, inviting Old World allegorical figures to frolic in the capital of New World modernity.

In the following years, Hondius split his time between New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts, and exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the World’s Fair, the Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Center and over fifty other venues across the United States and Europe. His artwork is in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum and other institutions across the world. His wife Paula donated his sketchbooks, letters and other personal effects to the Smithsonian Institution after his death.

Check out our website to learn more about Gerrit Hondius and Russell Cowles, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for daily gallery news.

MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Fire

Santa Fe Master Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

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

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

Alfred Morang- Dancers at Midnight- Matthews Gallery Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alfred Morang- Mitzi Cat- Matthews Gallery Blog

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

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

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

Alfred Morang- Gormley Lane Santa Fe- Matthews Gallery Blog

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

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

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

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

Hannah Holliday Stewart: Letter from Houston

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Houston Studio- Matthews Gallery

Our exhibition Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered
begins with an opening reception on Friday, July 4 from 5-7 pm

“In a day in which so many things in Art are merely exercises in Media and devoid of any real significance, it is refreshing to discover an expression which transcends the cerebral prison of its own time and manifests itself in forms poetically germane to a more cosmic significance,” wrote Dayton Smith, with poetic flair of his own, in a typewritten statement dated March 22, 1991.

Smith was referring to the sculptures of his close friend Hannah Holliday Stewart (1924- 2010), whose monumental forms caught the eye of the nation in the 1970s and 80s. As chronicled in our last blog post, Smith and Stewart met in Houston in the late 1960s as Stewart’s career was taking off. He assisted Stewart in various ways for a number of years, and watched as the artist found success in galleries and museums across the country.

More from the note:

Her art mirrors a consciousness expanded beyond the pragmatic doctrinal limits of our milieu. Her commissions stand to prick our higher sensibilities in a world which, it would seem, affords little for the pursuit of what may be a neglected cosmic heritage. In an age in which “symmetry does not balance make” (but which, nevertheless seems to be the applied solution for everything), her bold compositions embody a superbly balanced abstract expression of form and function suggestive of the anthropomorphic with its attendant graces and imperfections.

More than two decades later, Smith admits with a chuckle that the write-up can be a bit “over the top”, but it survives as an illuminating statement about an artist whose cosmic creations were at times misunderstood. After we contacted him, Smith was inspired to return to the typewriter—or, keyboard—and draft another statement on Stewart’s work. His musings provide new insight into the life and artwork of the dynamic sculptor.

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Houston studio- Matthews Gallery

From Dayton Smith:

Hannah Remembered

It can be said with clarity and confidence that the monumental sculptural work of Hannah Holliday Stewart is cosmic in scope and spiritual in dimension and process. At the peak of her production in the 1970s and ’80s, there emerged from her studio great plaster forms, many well over ten feet in height. These graceful mammoths, cast in bronze, would weigh hundreds to thousands of pounds, and command public spaces in Houston and other cities. A major exhibition of these large plasters was mounted in January 1976 at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and another in the ’80s at One Houston Center. In the 1990s, she established studios in Flagstaff, Arizona, and later in Birmingham, Alabama, and finally in Albuquerque.

Born in 1924 in Marion, Alabama to a prominent family, she studied art in Alabama and Georgia (BFA), and at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan (MFA); studied ceramics in California with the legendary Bauhaus potter Marguerite Wildenhain; worked in foundries in Florida and Mexico; moved to Texas to teach at Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the University of Houston, and the University of St. Thomas. Her notable public works include Atropos Key, installed in 1972 on the hill at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park; Libertad, a smoothly elegant birdlike bronze at World Trade Center Houston; works in Samuels Park in Dallas and New Harmony in Indiana; and Passage, at University of St. Thomas Houston. Her public commissions are claimed as example of landmark achievement by women in the arts. Respected among Houston architects and adept in various media she developed sand-blasted and sand-cast relief panels for specific architectural settings. Her works of smaller scale are to be found in notable private collections.

Her studies in literature, mythology, metaphysics, esoteric philosophy, religion, science, astrology, dance and yoga suffuse her output, revealing in form and textures. Her earlier smaller works reflect ineffable humanity, humor, elegant charm and always superb craftsmanship. She was disciplined, intelligent and well-read, possessed of an intense work ethic, compassionate and understanding and encouraging of others, and an inspiring teacher, respected and loved by friends in business, academia and the arts. Whether attired in her usual studio denim or occasional Dior, she moved among interesting people and was an accomplished host and gourmet. Music was her creative keynote and the atmosphere mystical, always stimulating and, on occasion, convivial. On so many occasions when I would assist her in some project: photographing, gallery installation and lighting, foundry, studio, even building repair, I was aware that I was only facilitating much greater work. I think she really did come to ‘see’ the wind, and must have stood in awe of that which materialized from her consciousness and hands. I can still hear her warm southern voice and motto – Nil desperandum!, and her memory, towering as her work, is quite, quite treasured.

D.A. Smith
Public Broadcasting, University of Houston, retired

Make sure to attend the opening reception of our exhibition Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered on Friday, July 4 from 5-7 pm. To learn more, check out our previous blog post and our Hannah Holliday Stewart artist page. For daily gallery news, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Houston studio- Matthews Gallery

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.

The Architect’s Secret

If you’ve spent any time in Santa Fe, you’ve probably seen something John McHugh made. The young architect was passing through Santa Fe on a cross-country road trip in 1946 when his Ford broke down.

He took a job at a local architecture firm so he could earn enough to fix it. Ten years and several cars later, he started his own company with Van Dorn Hooker and won commissions for the first Santa Fe Opera House, the remodeling of the parish hall at St. Anne’s Church and the Kearny School, among many others.

While John’s largest works are still viewed by thousands of people each year (save the opera house, which burned down and was reconstructed), some of his most colorful creations have been hidden away since his death in 1995.

“Come in, come in,” says John’s widow Gillian when she opens the door to the home they shared. She points me past the living room where a Gustave Baumann painting hangs and down a hallway that leads to a sprawling room. Leaning against every vertical surface are dozens of canvases that will soon grace the walls of the Matthews Gallery.

“When we first moved here, he converted the garage into his studio right away,” Gillian says. There are still traces of the artist all around the room. Tins full of brushes sit on a tabletop, a near-empty cigar box is perched on the mantle and one painting is still on its easel. Hidden in a stack of dusty pictures next to the window is an old invitation to an exhibition of John’s work at St. John’s College, one of the only shows he ever had. Most of the paintings in our exhibition of his work, starting Friday, March 15, have never been seen by the public.

“I felt that it was extremely important to have a show,” Gillian says. “These paintings shouldn’t just be gathering dust.”

John’s path was always architecture, but art naturally came along with it. He was orphaned at 7 years old and spent the rest of his childhood under the care of his aunts in Springfield, Ohio. Though money was tight, he used his earnings as a paperboy to plant a garden in his yard. He graduated cum laude in architecture from the University of Notre Dame in the 1941, and took an apprenticeship in Ohio before serving in the Air Force.

When John returned, he taught in the art department at Notre Dame for two years before heading off on the fateful road trip that would land him in Santa Fe. Gillian and John met in 1953 and married a year later. She’s an acclaimed pianist who was born in Great Britain and traveled to Santa Fe with the International Scouting organization in the early 1950s. While Gillian practiced for hours at her piano, she remembers John spending every spare moment with brush or pencil in hand.

“He would come back from the office and go in the studio. It was very simple,” she says. “He loved painting. He would stand there the entire evening at his easel. He loved the shapes and patterns and colors.”

John’s oeuvre is captivating in its diversity. As I explore his studio, I find landscapes and abstract paintings, a work that was inspired by cubism and another that looks to have been done with Cezanne in mind. One dramatic landscape is signed Baumann-McHugh, and was started by the former and finished by the latter. The thread that ties it all together was John’s strong emphasis on the framework of whatever he was portraying. You can see the hand of an architect in the bold patterns he employed again and again.

“I think the architecture does enter into his paintings a good deal, because of the form and shape that he was always working with, and the fascination with that,” Gillian says. “It could be from anything. It could be something growing by the wayside or it could be a giant building.”

On drives around New Mexico, John would often park the car and pull out his sketchbook. “He’d stop in the middle of nowhere,” Gillian remembers. “If there was a telephone pole that he liked, he’d get out and say, ‘Do you mind if I just draw this?’ All of a sudden half an hour later… something really wonderful would come out of the shape or color.”

All of John’s creative endeavors came to an abrupt halt in 1985, when he suffered a severe left hemisphere stroke. “After the stroke, he was trying to come back to being whole again. He would work in very small ways,” says Gillian.

John could see Sandia Mountain from the windows of St. John’s Hospital, and he challenged himself to learn to draw it again. “Sandia was really his lifeline. The mountain called to him. He was eventually able to draw the whole thing, which took a long, long time. This was a lovely beginning to his route back to health.” Later on, John did a lecture series on art at St. John’s College that further built his confidence. He continued painting and sketching until the very end of his life.

Gillian folds up her walker and takes a seat in the living room next to her piano. One of John’s aspen paintings hangs above her head. She’s 89 years old, but when Gillian talks about John’s upcoming retrospective at our gallery, she seems full of energy. The works are close to her heart, as is the cause that the show will be supporting.

“When I heard about the wonderful work that the Bob Woodruff Foundation was doing for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, I was fascinated,” she says. “My brother had been a prisoner of war under a different situation. I thought perhaps…. some of the paintings that John did could be used, and some of the proceeds could be given to this foundation.”

I ask Gillian something I’ve been wondering the whole time I’ve been there: how did John have the time and energy to accomplish all of this?

Gillian shakes her head and smiles. “It wasn’t really hard work, you see. It was total love,” she says. “Architecture and art were his life.”

The Matthews Gallery will present an exhibition of the art of John McHugh from March 15th through March 28, 2013. Gillian McHugh will be in attendance during the opening reception on Friday March 15th from 5-7 pm. A portion of the proceeds of the sales of the artwork will be donated to the Bob Woodruff Foundation. Click here for more information, and follow our Twitter and Facebook feeds for updates.