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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THE STORYTELLER: From petroglyphs to pinewood

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture- Matthews Gallery

 Roch Hart with his pie safe “The Storytellers”

“Furniture is art,” says Roch Hart. It’s a credo the Albuquerque fine furniture maker repeats every time he brings a new creation to the gallery. In Hart’s case, it’s true: each hand-carved piece of sugar pine is as unique as a painting on our wall. This is nothing you’d find at IKEA.

Check out our blog post chronicling Roch’s journey from Spanish Colonial furniture enthusiast to bona fide sculptor, and then delight in the details of his latest creation. This pie safe, dubbed “The Storytellers“, holds quite a few tales…

SPIRAL

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

Hart often draws inspiration from New Mexico petroglyphs.

“A spiral can mean a lot of different things depending on its context, but here it represents eternity or travel,” Hart says. In particular, this symbol refers to a journey from the depths of the earth.

FACES

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

These symbols on the sides of the pie safe tend to appear together in glyphs. The one on the left with its mouth shut tight is the “listener”, and the one on the right is the “storyteller”. It’s the yin-yang of cultures that depend on the voice to pass down vital knowledge.

The designs surrounding the faces also have an important meaning. Just like the Zia on the New Mexico state flag, they represent the sacred, pervasive number four: four compass directions, four seasons, four stages of a person’s life.

PATTERNS

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

“This is mimicking the Navajo rugs,” explains Hart. “I thought it would be a great border for the faces.”

Hart uses white ash to make his patterns bolder, rubbing it into the cracks by hand atop a layer of shellac. The finishing touch is a light coat of wax.

JOINTS

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

Near the beginning of his journey to furniture mastery, Hart visited the Nicolai Fechin House in Taos. Fechin was a Russian painter and carpenter who moved to New Mexico in 1923 and purchased a small adobe home that he would greatly expand over the years. The home is now a museum, and when Hart visited to study the furniture he had a chance encounter with Fechin’s daughter Eya. She taught him about the different joints that her father used, including the sliding dovetail joint pictured here.

“That changed my life,” Hart says.  “I looked at [Fechin’s work] and said, ‘I can do anything. Nobody told him what to do.'”

WINDOW

Roch Hart- Fine Furniture Detail- Matthews Gallery

The grid Hart uses as a window for the pie safe doesn’t have an age-old legend behind it. It’s one of Hart’s signature designs that appears in many different manifestations in his work. Myriad influences come together in Hart’s exquisite furniture, but each piece is imbued with his unique sensibility.

See more of Roch’s creations on his artist page, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery updates. Also, check out our upcoming exhibition FOUR CENTURIES: European Art from 1600 to 1950, opening June 13!

NEW RELEASE: Fremont Ellis of Los Cinco Pintores

Fremont Ellis- La Plata Mountains- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

In 1921, Fremont F. Ellis and his friends Jozef Bakos, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash and Will Shuster founded an avant garde art society that would change Santa Fe forever. The five men were in their early 20s, and most of them had recently migrated there from the East Coast. They chose a name inspired by their new life in the Southwest: Los Cinco Pintores (The Five Painters).

In December of that year, Los Cinco Pintores mounted their first group exhibition at Santa Fe’s Museum of Fine Arts. Their work was diverse in subject matter, but their rallying point was modernism and the art of early Taos painters Robert Henri and John Sloan of the Ashcan School.

“These men believe in color and are not afraid to use it,” wrote a critic who attended the inaugural show. “Upon entering the galleries, visitors are greeted with a great shout of color that’s almost stimulating.”

Fremont Ellis - Watercolors - Matthews Gallery Blog

Over the next few years, Los Cinco Pintores worked together to build a row of casitas along Camino del Monte Sol near Canyon Road. This earned them another nickname, “The Five Nuts in the Adobe Huts”. Meanwhile, word of their exploits had reached other artists back home.

By 1923 another group called the New Mexico Painters was exhibiting paintings of sweeping Southwestern landscapes across the Midwest and the East Coast. Artists like Randall Davey, Andrew Dasburg and Theodore Van Soelen settled in the area, and the Santa Fe Art Colony was born. The City Different has fostered a vibrant art community ever since.

Fremont Ellis- Watercolor Diptychs- Matthews Gallery Blog

These newly released works on paper are by Fremont Ellis (1897-1985), who was the last surviving member of Los Cinco Pintores. Ellis grew up in Montana and was inspired to become an artist at 14 when he saw Albert Bierstadt’s paintings on a trip to New York City. He worked as a photographer in California before settling in Santa Fe, and used his photographs of landscapes to inspire his painted compositions. This body of work holds the vigor and immediacy of the artist’s many outdoor adventures.

Learn more about Fremont Ellis on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for daily gallery news. Also, don’t forget to mark your calendar for our exhibition NEW MEXICO MODERNS: The Lumpkins Files, opening next week!

NEW HORIZONS: Landscape Art Speaks

NEW HORIZONS- Focus on Landscapes- Matthews Gallery

For our NEW HORIZONS: Focus on Landscapes show, running now through October 27, Tesuque sculptor Frank Morbillo‘s latest body of work engages with our diverse collection of contemporary landscape art. Throughout the exhibition, you’ll find observations by Morbillo and seven other artists, many of whom are inspired by the same severe desert expanses and infinite skies. Below is a selection of works and quotes from the show:

Sprung- Frank Morbillo- Matthews Gallery

Kate Rivers- Reflections- Matthews Gallery

PATTERN

Frank Morbillo finds patterns wherever he looks in the natural world.
Kate Rivers uses manufactured patterns to form fractured reflections of nature.

“What’s a pattern? Something that might be predictable. When I observe things, that’s what I see. As an artist, you take all of these different things and see how they work together.”

-Frank Morbillo

 “I’m using this history of text and image as something that is beautiful, and weaving the words together.”

-Kate Rivers

Frank Morbillo- Cool Encounter- Matthews Gallery

David Grossmann- Snow Rhythms- Matthews Gallery

RHYTHM

David Grossmann abstracts his landscapes to lay bare underlying rhythms.
Frank Morbillo traces the formation and disruption of natural rhythms.

“My paintings… are simplified rhythms of color, light, and shape. On the surface they are quiet whispers, but I hope that they convey a depth of emotion to anyone who takes the time to stop and listen.”

-David Grossmann

“Entropy is the introduction of chaos and disorder. That’s a root of what I’ve done over the years. You take something that could be highly organized, and understand that everything, all things, are subject to entropy. As much as we feel like we’ve created something that defies that, there’s no chance. Everything is subject to it.”

-Frank Morbillo

Frank Morbillo- Unraveling- Matthews Gallery

Terry Craig- Burning Questions- Matthews Gallery

TEXTURE

Terry Craig blends materials to mimic natural textures.
Frank Morbillo places materials with contrasting textures side-by-side.

“It took a long time… to develop the formulas and get the materials to do what I wanted them to do. You can scrape into it and get all sorts of these wonderful organic qualities.”
-Terry Craig

“Glass is a beautiful material that sets up this nice contrast with the metal. If you add texture to it, it takes on a different color. The light behaves differently going through it.”
-Frank Morbillo

Frank Morbillo- Traverse II- Matthews Gallery

Jamie Chase- Two-Horizons- Matthews Gallery

COLOR

Jamie Chase uses multiple layers of paint to reveal and obscure different hues.
Frank Morbillo relies on the properties of glass to enhance his palette.

“There are so many narratives underneath the final painting. It starts out as something really dark or really dramatic in contrasting colors, and by the end it’s almost neutral colors, but there’s something moving under the surface.”
-Jamie Chase

“The glass introduced color into the work that really isn’t achievable in metal. The cobalt blues and reds and ambers have a quality that you can’t get with any of the metals.”
-Frank Morbillo

See NEW HORIZONS: Focus on Landscapes now through October 27 at Matthews Gallery. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to see more material from the show.

NEW IN THE GALLERY: The evolution of David Grossmann

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“Almost” by David Grossmann

David Grossmann always knew he wanted to be an artist. Even before his first painting lessons with his grandmother at 10 years old, he was an avid sketcher, filling notebooks with intricate drawings of dragons and the floor plans of medieval castles. By 16, David was taking portrait commissions and doing book illustrations for a publishing company. Still, he couldn’t quite discern a path that would turn his passion into something more.

“I didn’t know how to get there as far as making a living as a professional artist,” the 29-year-old says. Finding that bridge would take a while, but it’s safe to say that he’s officially crossed it. We’re proud to be the first gallery to represent David and his work. It’s just the latest high point in an already impressive artistic career.

David was born in the United States and moved to Chile when he was two years old. It’s a place of stunning, harsh natural beauty that would inspire in David a lifelong passion for the outdoors. His grandmother was a landscape painter who lived in El Paso, Texas. When they saw each other, she would teach him oil painting techniques with a brush and palette knife.

When David was 14, the family decided to relocate to Colorado. It was a move that the teenager fiercely resisted.

“When we left, I didn’t say goodbye because I hadn’t accepted that we weren’t going back,” he says. “I’m sure for anyone, being 14 is probably a tough age. On top of that, adjusting to a new culture and new everything was really difficult.”

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“Away” by David Grossmann

The move marked a big shift in David’s art. Not long after he arrived the young artist started receiving requests for commissions, and he enrolled in his first formal drawing classes with artist Valorie Snyder. His grandmother was an art director of a Christian publishing company and gave him a job illustrating Bible study curriculums.

“It became more of an outlet for me than it had been before,” David says. “It was a lot more serious, a lot more figurative works. I also started drawing more landscapes at that point.”

Despite his early success, David still didn’t see art as a viable career. In college he studied business and Spanish, focusing primarily on his studies instead of his artwork. During his last year at university, struck by the fear of being trapped in a cubicle, he finally committed to giving art school a shot.

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“When Leaves are Falling”, David Grossmann

At the Colorado Academy of Art, David learned classical painting techniques and took his first plein air painting class.

“I’ve always loved the outdoors, but until I took that class I felt like I couldn’t contain the landscape. It’s so huge, and I didn’t know how to make it into a composition,” he says. After he learned how to capture the beauty of nature on canvas, he knew that he’d be doing little else in his work. “That combination of being outdoors and painting, which were two of my favorite things, were just perfect for me,” he says.

Three years after David enrolled at the art academy, it abruptly closed. The artist once again found himself full of doubt; he’d learned a lot about painting, but he wasn’t sure how to sell his work. That’s when he started an apprenticeship with artist Jay Moore.

“In art school, my training was very much based on technique but not a lot on the professional side of things,” David says. Being in Moore’s studio gave him a window into the life of a working artist, and showed him that a fine art career was possible. “I didn’t know how long it would take to get there, but I knew that I could get there,” he says. “I remember being so excited. I’d been thinking about and dreaming about this for most of my life.”

David Grossmann, Matthews Gallery
“Over the Aspens”, David Grossmann

Since then, David has developed a unique style that the artist calls “visual poetry”. Using a gentle, glowing palette, he paints abstracted visions of forests that are melodic in their focus on rhythm and symmetry. Sprawling swaths of landscape transform into flat, smooth planes while scattered trees lend a profound sense of depth. These contrasting perspectives set the works slightly off-balance, sending the eye on an endless quest to consolidate them. The compositions may seem serene, but they contain the same mysterious kinetic energy that tugs our eye from one stanza of a poem to the next.

“I think both poetry and paintings can capture an essence of something and stir emotion and imagination at a very deep level,” David says. “In some ways it’s very simplified and thought out, but hopefully it reaches to that level that connects with someone’s heart.”

David has since shown his work in many exhibitions, including national shows sponsored by Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society, and Salon International. Southwest Art Magazine featured him as an “Artist to Watch” and his work has been featured in Plein Air Magazine and American Art Collector Magazine.

The artist is also an avid traveler, and has journeyed with sketchbook in hand through the Western United States, Eastern Europe, Africa and Central America. In 2011, he finally had the chance to return to Chile. He saw old friends and spent 11 days backpacking through Patagonia in Southern Chile. It was the first time he’d brought along a full painting set on a trip.

“It’s very rugged country and I was carrying a backpack that weighed over 60 pounds,” David says. “Having to paint under those circumstances where there’s just forceful gusts of wind nonstop, it really made me appreciate that every painting is a miracle. It brought out a new level of confidence in my work.”

David had come full circle. He left Chile as a child and returned as an artist.

Click here to see more of David Grossmann’s work, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for subsequent updates.