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!

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