MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Bohemians

Alfred Morang Art Exhibition- Matthews Gallery Blog

How did you get this many Morangs together?”

That’s the most frequent question we’ve received from Alfred Morang fans who’ve come to our show in the past few weeks. It’s common to see one or two works by the Santa Fe master in a gallery’s collection, but it’s quite a special experience to view 37 pieces in one place.

Truth is, we called our exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS because we thought Morang’s contemporaries would dominate the show. It was only through a huge response from the Santa Fe community—private collectors, dealers, galleries—that it all came together. We’re so grateful to everyone involved for working with us, with special thanks to El Farol, Silver Sun Gallery, the Matt Kuhn Collection and our co-curator Paul Parker.

And what a show it was! As we take the paintings down today, we’re feeling quasi-nostalgic for the Santa Fe golden age that Morang’s diverse body of work evokes. For the last 21 days, we’ve been transported to a City Different full of wild saloons and drunken shootouts, free-flowing absinthe and spooky ghosts.

For our final blog post on the show, we thought it would be fitting to spotlight the colorful clique of bohemian artists who surrounded Morang during his time here in the 1930’s- 50’s. Morang was a brilliant art teacher who passed his knowledge to the next generation of Santa Fe artists. They ensured that his influence still ripples through the New Mexico art world today…

Portrait of Alfred Morang by Tommy Macaione- Matthews Gallery Blog

 TOMMY MACAIONE

This portrait of Alfred Morang appeared in the exhibition courtesy of the Matt Kuhn Collection. It was made by another colorful Santa Fe character, Thomas S. Macaione (1907-1992), also known as ‘El Diferente’. Macaione’s mature painting style was heavily influenced by Morang’s teachings, and they also had similar lifestyles. They lived as true bohemians, devoted to art above all else.

“[Macaione’s] passion for plein-air painting was not entirely appreciated at first in the town’s lingering Wild West atmosphere,” wrote the Santa Fe New Mexican in 2013. “Once, when painting a garden on Acequia Madre, he was scared off by the property owner, who fired a pistol in the air in his flowers’ defense.” A photograph of this bust appears on the final page of Walt Wiggins’ essential biography of Alfred Morang, A Neglected Master, along with a quote from Margaret Turner Williams:

 [Morang] died as he lived: alone. Yet he was never lonely, for he was a creator, and creators learn early in life to bridge the gap between the pain of loneliness and the peace of solitude.

With no material wealth, he was one of the richest human beings who ever lived. Everyone who knew him, and some who didn’t, feel a sense of loss at his passing.

Alfred Morang- Into Tomorrow- Matthews Gallery Blog

TRANSCENDENTAL PAINTING GROUP

A small group of New Mexico artists including Raymond Jonson, Emil Bisttram, and William Lumpkins 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. Their goal was to validate and promote abstract art by transcending their senses to explore spiritual realms. The group organized lectures, published articles and mounted exhibitions in New Mexico, San Francisco and New York. Alfred Morang was not a founding member of the group, but he acted as their press secretary for a number of years. An excerpt from Morang’s November 4, 1938 article “Transcendental Foundation Plans Extensive Activities” in the Santa Fe New Mexican:

It is deeply significant that in this time of readjustment in almost every stratum of life, a few people are intent upon an important branch of cultural development. In Santa Fe the founding of the ‘American Foundation for Transcendental Painting, Inc.’ marks the start of a new phase of American art. […] Briefly, transcendental painting is no school or ism. It is a phase of art that, out of many more or less isolated experiments, has evolved toward non-objective painting, the type of painting that is not dependent upon an object, in nature, but is deeply concerned with forms conceived by the imagination.

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 and the Bauhaus. Morang completed a number of abstract works inspired by the group’s philosophy, including the oil painting above titled “Into Tomorrow“. Click here to see more.

Janet Lippincott- Alfred The Painter- Matthews Gallery Blog

JANET LIPPINCOTT

 “Alfred Morang was one of the few people who encouraged me in my abstract expressionism,” said Janet Lippincott (1918-2007), one of Morang’s  best-known pupils. Lippincott came to New Mexico in 1946 and studied at the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism in Taos. Bisttram was a founding member of the Transcendental Painting Group (1938-1942), a collective of abstract painters with a spiritual, non-political approach to art, for which Morang served as press secretary. Santa Fean Magazine interviewed Lippincott for an article on Morang in their April 1978 issue:

He was an excellent painter and inspiring teacher “and he had a good mind,” Janet Lippincott says. She studied landscape painting with him for three months one summer, and she remembers that “he had something about him that could draw out the best you had in you.”

This portrait of Alfred Morang isn’t the only artwork by Lippincott that appeared in the show. Click here to see more.

Dorothy Morang- Untitled Abstract 1935- Matthews Gallery Blog

DOROTHY MORANG

Dorothy Morang (1906-1994) was born in Richmond, Maine. She met Alfred in 1925, and they were married in 1930. They lived in Portland, Maine for a number of years, and moved to Santa Fe in 1937 to alleviate the symptoms of Alfred’s tuberculosis.

Dorothy and Alfred divorced in 1950, but she looked out for him for the rest of his life and arranged the transfer of his estate to a Morang relative after his death in 1958. Dorothy was an impressive painter in her own right—here she draws inspiration from the Transcendental Painting Group, for which her husband acted as press secretary. She worked for many years at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, primarily as a curator. An excerpt from an oral history interview with Dorothy Morang by Sylvia Loomis in the Archives of American Art:

SYLVIA LOOMIS: Were you painting after you got to
Santa Fe?

DOROTHY MORANG: Yes, I started even more seriously. I’d been working quite steadily in Portland, Maine – Alfred and I lived there for about seven years before we came here – and I went on and worked very seriously with some criticism from Alfred and from Raymond Jonson, who was living in Santa Fe then. […] Alfred had also taken up writing, and he was very active, as you know, on radio, too, interviewing artists on the radio. He had an interview program for several years. He was extremely active.

William Vincent Kirkpatrick- Upper Canyon Road- Matthews Gallery Blog

WILLIAM VINCENT KIRKPATRICK

“[Alfred Morang] taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see,” remarked an unknown Santa Fe artists after Morang’s tragic death in 1958. The Morang School of Fine Art was instrumental in the development of a new generation of Santa Fe artists. At the time of Morang’s death, William Vincent Kirkpatrick (1939-2004), one of his star pupils, was studying at the Taos School  of Art. He returned to Santa Fe, rebuilt his master’s studio and worked on a series of canvases inspired by Morang’s vivid hues and painterly textures. Vincent Kirkpatrick also did a painting on the wall at El Farol near Morang’s series of murals, ensuring that their work would hang side-by-side for years to come!
Learn more about Alfred Morang and his contemporaries on the Matthews Gallery website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news. Also keep your eye out for our 2015 exhibition schedule, which will explore other corners of the Santa Fe art colony. Coming very soon!

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MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Saloon

Wild Tales of a Legendary Santa Fe Tavern- Matthews Gallery Blog

Special announcement: We’ve officially extended our MORANG AND FRIENDS exhibition through Friday, January 2nd. Come trace the legacy of ‘Santa Fe’s Toulouse-Lautrec’! 

Cheryl Ingram strolls into Matthews Gallery and beams up at a sign that hangs high on the wall. “There it is, Claude’s Bar,” she says. Ingram is the co-owner of Silver Sun Gallery, which is just down the street from us. Her gallery once housed Claude’s Bar, and this Santa Fe relic is usually on display there. Ingram kindly lent it to us for our MORANG AND FRIENDS exhibition. Though Claude’s was established just two years before Alfred Morang’s death, he quickly took a liking to the tavern and its charismatic owner, Claude James. In fact, Claude’s was his last stop before the fire that ended his life in January, 1958.

About two decades after Morang’s death, Ingram and her business partner Deanna Olson arrived in Santa Fe. They were retired school teachers who had been traveling around the country selling handmade Native American jewelry. When they reached the City Different, they stuck around and founded Silver Sun. In the years since 1980 when they opened the business, they’ve become the keepers of countless stories about the infamous saloon that preceded them. As Ingram strolls around the gallery smiling at the colorful canvases, she can’t help but pass on some fascinating tales of Canyon Road.

Artwork by Legendary Santa Fe Painter Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

Ingram analyzes a painting of ladies dancing on a stage, concluding that it’s probably a view of El Farol. She and Lawrence linger by a watercolor of a bustling restaurant and try to identify where it might have been. She finally stops before a large painting titled ‘The Women at Claude’s’, and the stories really start rolling.

“Claude’s mother was French, and she married an editor at the New York Times whose last name was James,” Ingram says. In the 1950’s, Claude and her mother embarked on a road trip to California along Route 66. On their way back they took a detour to Santa Fe and never left.

Claude followed in her father’s footsteps and took a job as a journalist for the Santa Fe New Mexican. One year her house caught fire, killing her two corgis. A reporter snapped a photo of the dead dogs and published it in the paper the next day. Claude was so disturbed that she swore off journalism. She and her mother bought a building on Canyon Road’s 600 block and opened a bar and restaurant.

At first it was a fancy establishment where Claude’s mother hosted intellectuals from Paris, but later it was better known for midnight parties and wild bar brawls. “The Santa Fe police were always hoping it would burn down,” Ingram says. “Whenever they got a call about it, they were disappointed that there hadn’t been a fire.”

 Alfred Morang- The Women at Claude's- Matthews Gallery Blog Alfred Morang, The Women at Claude’s, Oil on Canvas

Ingram stares intently at ‘The Women at Claude’s’ and warm recognition spreads across her face. “Claude had dark hair, and she was short and squat like the woman in the center of the painting,” she says. In fact, with a little more analysis, Ingram concludes that the woman probably is Claude. “She’s standing behind the bar, so it very well may be Claude serving the clientele. That would be her lover behind her.”

Claude often tended bar barefoot with a pack of cigarettes folded into the sleeve of her shirt, Ingram says. She would throw patrons out of the bar “by the belt and shoulder” if they got too rowdy. “Canyon Road wasn’t paved then, so the landing was a little softer, but you didn’t mess with Claude,” Ingram says with a laugh.

As she continues, we flip our tape recorder on:

She was a handsome woman, but not a pretty woman. She was short but you didn’t mess with her.

A guy came into Silver Sun about 1982, looking for Claude’s Bar. I told him he was a little late, and he told me a story about Claude.

He said he had ordered a beer and Claude was working the bar. He noticed this pretty woman sitting at the other end of the bar. He tried to hit on her, and next thing he knew, his tie, shirt and coat were pulled across the bar. “You leave my woman alone,” Claude said. He was so upset, he didn’t finish the beer and left.

Each corner of the bar had its own persuasion. You had the gay men over here, the gay women over here, and the three piece suits were over there with the ladies of the night. Claude was like a teacher in the classroom: one corner did not mess with any of the other corners, or your fanny was out of there.

There was an ambiance that was going on in there that was truly Santa Fe of the period, and that’s why she was so popular. You were okay if you got in there. Even if you got stumbling drunk, someone would be there to protect you from some nasty politician or a cowboy with a gun.

There were honest-to-god cowboys who wore guns. A fight broke out between them and the gay guys once, and everyone had guns. There were two lines of guns, about ten or twelve feet apart, and they were drunk and shouting. That story came from a lady who was hiding under the bar. She was the barkeep on Saturday night. It looked like they were shooting around each other, trying to scare each other. One guy did take a hit in the fanny, however. When the cops got there, they just took the whole batch. The next day, the barkeep quit.

Towards about 1970 or 1971, there was a dance floor way in the back where a sculpture garden is now. A guy named Jimmy was up there playing—his wife told me this story—and looked past all the drunks to the door. Here was this lanky guy with a guitar case who saunters over to Jimmy. “Mind if I play along?” he says. Jimmy just had a cow. They played all the rest of the night together, and no one besides Jimmy recognized him. It was Jimi Hendrix. They were all too drunk.

Claude eventually lost interest in bar tending and hired someone else to manage the establishment. The saloon closed in the late 1970’s but its charismatic owner remains a legend among Santa Feans. It’s fascinating to hear Ingram’s tales, especially because they’re rare firsthand accounts. They’re all from people who have passed through Silver Sun over the years to pay tribute to Claude’s.

Since MORANG AND FRIENDS opened two weeks ago, we’ve had visits from many people with Santa Fe stories like these. We’d like to thank everyone who shared with us. Your words have helped inspire our upcoming exhibition schedule, which will delve into many corners of the Santa Fe art colony. Stay tuned!

For more gallery news, make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Violin

Alfred Morang's Violin will appear in the Morang and Friends exhibition- Matthews Gallery Blog

When Alfred Morang was a teenager he took to the nightclubs of Boston with his trusty violin. He had been a sickly child, bedridden and unable to attend school, but his mother and uncle recognized his fiery creativity and hired private music and painting tutors. Morang grew from a talented tot to a full-fledged young Renaissance Man, and his passionate musical performances earned him enough money to thrive. It was the beginning of a lifelong artistic journey.

A century later, Morang’s fiddle launched yet another adventure. Santa Fe art collector Paul Parker was researching Morang’s life when he came upon a letter by the artist’s longtime wife Dorothy. After Morang’s tragic death in a studio fire, Dorothy was having a hard time finding an heir to his worldly possessions. She’d finally contacted a distant relative, and was arranging the shipment of a few things collected from the ruins of Morang’s Canyon Road casita.

Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang Playing the Violin- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang playing his violin

The letter was Parker’s first clue in a treasure hunt that spanned the nation and stretched to the farthest branches of the Morang family tree. At the end of the trail was a treasure trove that connected the dots of Morang’s life, from his early years as a celebrated musician and writer to his time as an iconic Santa Fe artist. Morang’s well-worn violin, blackened by the fire, is perhaps Parker’s most striking find. It will appear alongside Morang’s artwork in our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS.

We interviewed Parker about his search for the fascinating artifacts that will anchor our exhibition to this legendary Santa Fe master:

Paul Parker Inspects a Painting by Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog Paul Parker inspecting a painting by Alfred Morang

 

 How did you first get interested in Alfred Morang?

I came to Santa Fe in the 1990’s, and met Jim Parsons in Taos not long after. He had a little booth with a rack of prints and drawings and things, and he had a pile of books called The Art Fever. We hit it off and just talked and talked, and I bought a copy of his book. I took it home and read it, and realized who I was talking to.

There was a time when Jim Parsons was the most powerful person in the Western art business. Back in the day, he had a little art gallery in his Denver apartment. He convinced Philip Anschutz to start a Western art collection, which is now the largest and most prestigious collection of Western art in private hands in the world.

Jim was a giant Morang fan, and he showed me his work. I became instantly fascinated with Morang’s story. I had seen his paintings in El Farol but didn’t know anything about him until Jim told me.

Tell me about Morang’s childhood.

He was born in a little town called Ellsworth, Maine. There’s still a Morang Chevrolet in Ellsworth that his father owned with another partner. He and his mother had a very close relationship.

Even as a child, Morang was something of a polymath.

 Yes, he learned from Carrol S. Tyson and other American Impressionists. He was also the youngest-ever solo violinist to play at Jordan Hall in Boston. I mean, he was a very accomplished musician. His wife Dorothy was a member of the music conservancy in Boston. That’s where he met her.

Alfred Morang- The Artist's Studio Portland Maine- Pen and Ink- Matthews Gallery Blog

Alfred Morang, Artist’s Studio-Portland, 1932, Pen and Ink

 

He and Dorothy lived in Portland, Maine before his tuberculosis forced them to move to Santa Fe in 1938. Morang had a successful a writing and painting career back East. What are your thoughts on his early work?

I’ve seen some of his work from back then. Like a lot of artists, when Morang came to New Mexico and saw the color and the light and everything, it inspired him. I think that’s the biggest thing.

It’s almost akin to my life. I thought I enjoyed art, but until I moved to Santa Fe, until I drove by 100 galleries every night on my way home and everybody that I associated with and talked to was in the business in some way, shape or form, something about that was really inspiring.

Artifacts of Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang to Appear in December Exhibition- Matthews Gallery BlogSanta Fe New Mexican columnist Lorraine Carr covered Morang’s memorial service in February, 1958

 

How did you start hunting for the box of Morang’s possessions?

I was writing a story about Morang, and I went to the library to find out what the newspaper said when he died in 1958. I was reading all of the articles and eulogies and things, and I thought, ‘This is an amazing man.”

After I went to the library that day, I realized I needed more research, so I went to the New Mexico Museum of Art and searched their archives for anything I could find in Alfred Morang’s folder. That’s when I found Dorothy Morang’s folder, and saw her letter. It said that she had sent this box of Morang’s possessions away to Carrie Morang Robinson in Atlanta, Georgia. All I had was the name Carrie Morang Robinson and this address in Atlanta. I did my research and found out that she was deceased. I couldn’t find any relatives, and her former house had a different owner.

 That must have seemed like a dead-end.

Yeah, I made several phone calls and then just kind of gave up for a while. Then something hit me a couple months later and I said, “Damn it, I’m going to try again.”

I did some more research and tried to find Alfred’s relatives. Carrie Morang Robinson was the daughter of one of Alfred Morang’s uncles because she was a cousin and had the family name. I found one uncle’s name through the Morang Chevy dealership in Ellsworth, but then I ran into another dead-end.

A couple months later I got a Maine antiques publication, and there was something about ancestors in it. I got some other names of who Carrie Morang Robinson’s father might have been. I found some members of the Robinson family, and started researching them.

You were making some headway!

 I just start calling people again, and this woman whose name was Robinson came up. I called her, and she said, “Oh, our cousin Alfred. Our mother used to tell us about him.” I started telling her a little bit of the story, and she said, “You have to talk to Gwen.” I just lit up, because Gwen was Carrie Morang Robinson’s granddaughter and lived with her grandmother in the final years of her life. Now Gwen owns Carrie’s house.

I called Gwen up, and she had all of these family stories about Alfred, that he used to go through the woods with his violin and his cats following him. “Weird cousin Alfred” or something like that. She said, “Well, if my grandmother owned the box, it’s probably still up in the attic.” Then I got excited.

You were one step away. It must have been tantalizing. 

Well, Gwen was renting the house, so she told me she’d search for the stuff the next time she was in Atlanta. A month or two goes by, and I call her up again. She says, “We’ll be selling the house, so I’ll look for it then.” A long period of time goes by, and all of a sudden I hear the phone ring one day. “Well, I found your box,” she says. “I’ve got a couple more things—a violin and a painting.”

 Paul Parker Surveys Artifacts of Legendary Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery BlogParker surveys sketches and other artifacts of Alfred Morang

 

How did it feel when Morang’s artifacts finally arrived at your door? 

It was absolutely phenomenal. It was like the biggest Christmas ever. To see that violin and just to touch it. Talk about personal.

The box was full of many different short stories and manuscripts, which he submitted to radio stations to be read as radio plays. Many of these stories were never published, and might have been lost forever.

Did this elaborate hunt make you wonder why someone didn’t try to keep the artifacts in Santa Fe? 

Dorothy and Alfred got divorced in 1950, but even then Dorothy kind of watched out for him. When he died, she knew about this cousin Carrie Morang Robinson, who was the only rightful heir to his possessions. Dorothy stepped up to help contact her, and at the time it wasn’t a big deal to send them away.

One of the stories that Morang’s adopted daughter Claire LaTour has told me is that they didn’t know what to do with his ashes. They left them in a closet in the art museum after the last memorial service. Claire came back, and somebody flew her over Canyon Road and she dumped his ashes out the window of the airplane, which was a difficult task. She told me, “I was wearing a fur coat, and I always laughed that forever afterward I was brushing Alfred out of my coat.”

Alfred Morang- Autumn in the Park- Oil on Canvas- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, Autumn in the Park, 1954, Oil on Canvas

 

Morang’s colorful personality often overshadows his artwork. Is that frustrating for you, as a big fan of his work ?

It’s the same frustration that I have now with van Gogh. I know from all my research that van Gogh was not a crazy man. He had epileptic fits that affected his life and personality, but he was a very brilliant man and definitely not insane.

It’s almost the same thing with Alfred. People like the story of a bohemian alcoholic, something that fits better with the story of Toulouse-Lautrec. He wasn’t an alcoholic. He couldn’t have done the things that he did if he were an alcoholic.

The greatest quote that I’ve ever heard about an artist is from Morang’s memorial service. It’s not attributed to anybody specifically, but an unknown artist said, “It’s no wonder that we in Santa Fe mourn the loss of Alfred, he taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see.” 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.

Coming up next week, Paul Parker digs up more mysteries of Alfred Morang’s life and travels to Paris to complete a mission in Morang’s memory. Make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily updates on MORANG AND FRIENDS.

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

HART & SOUL: Fine Furniture with New Mexican Roots

Roch-Hart-Southwestern-Furniture

Roch in our Southwestern Art Room with his hand crafted pie safe and bench

Roch Hart‘s first steps into fine furniture making were the result of a big dilemma.

“I fell in love with Spanish colonial furniture. I had to have it, but I couldn’t afford it,” he says. He had never learned a craft before, but he was determined to do something. He started by buying all the books he could find on building furniture.

More than two decades later, Roch pulls up to Matthews Gallery in a big red jeep. He takes two impeccably hand crafted pieces of furniture from the trunk. One is a tall corner table emblazoned with a Cochiti Pueblo-inspired design, and the other is a pie safe with intricate latticework and a special type of dovetail joint in the door. Roch is the very first fine furniture maker to join our stable, and his mastery of the craft is truly spectacular. In a way, these beautiful objects are generations in the making.

Roch’s great grandmother came to Santa Fe in 1881. She was a single 16-year-old woman who braved the Old Santa Fe Trail, probably to escape an arranged marriage. Soon after her arrival she married a German man and they opened a mercantile near Canyon Road.

“She came from an aristocratic family. She had lots of money, but she chose the poor man’s way in,” Roch says. Her daughter, Roch’s grandma, grew up among the local tribespeople and learned their language and lifestyle. “My grandmother would go out and show me edible plants, and she could even butcher things,” Roch explains. “She could take a rabbit, take and a stick and ‘Bang!’ Then she would show you how to prepare it.”

She was also a great admirer of native art. She taught Roch about kachina dolls and paintings she collected. Roch’s mother took it one step further, trying her hand at retablo painting.

Roch took a different path, enrolling at New Mexico State University and then studying to be a police officer. He spent 20 years at the Albuquerque Police Department, but his love for New Mexico’s multicultural history always stuck with him.

Roch-Hart-Furniture-Corner-Table

Corner table with Cochiti design detail

When he got interested in furniture making in the early 1990’s, Roch started by studying the intricacies of the Spanish colonial style. He learned that a particularly sturdy joint, the mortise and tennen joint, was the only one Spanish colonists were legally allowed to use. He also discovered that the pervasiveness of trasteros (a Southwestern style cabinet) was due to a high colonial tax on closets.

“At the same time that I was learning all this, I realized I wanted to do something different,” Roch says. “I didn’t want to keep replicating colonial.” The budding craftsman’s big breakthrough came on a visit to the Nicolai Fechin House museum in Taos.

Fechin (1881-1955) was a Russian painter and craftsman who settled in New Mexico in 1927. He purchased a two-story adobe home and greatly expanded it over the next few years, carving intricate doors, windows and furniture pieces that were inspired by European and Native American aesthetics.

On that first visit to the museum, Hart was busy crawling on the floor and inspecting every angle of Fechin’s furniture when the artist’s daughter Eya appeared. They started talking, and she recognized his passion for the craft. “She had so much in-depth knowledge, and I didn’t even know who she was,” Hart says. She walked him through the house and pointed out different styles and techniques her father used.

“Fechin blew me away,” Hart says. “He took art and applied it to furniture. I had felt caged in by the things I was learning, but all of a sudden I realized I could do anything I want.” Just as Fechin had drawn from multiple influences in his work, Hart began to use styles and motifs from the different cultures around him.

Roch-Hart-Furniture-Pie-Safe

Pie safe with rosette detail 

Hart carries his latest works through the gallery to our freshly painted Southwestern art room, carefully placing two pieces in opposite corners. He’s eager to point out his stylistic choices. The rosettes on the sides of the pie safe are inspired by Native American metalworking techniques, his choice of joints was influenced by Fechin and the gridded design in the front is all his own. On the front of the corner table, a stepped carving bordered by elegant curves represents a Cochiti blessing.

“I incorporate my love for the Native arts, for the Spanish and for my European ancestry,” Hart says. “I try to tie a little bit of everything into every piece.” The works before us bear clear markings of the artist’s rich ancestry and influences, but they also hold a heaping dose of something else: Hart’s soul.

“I think furniture should be art,” Hart says. “It’s unique and really fits my love for Santa Fe and New Mexico.”

For more news about Roch Hart’s latest work, check out his artist page on our website and connect with Matthews Gallery on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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.