Hannah Holliday Stewart: The Messengers

Hannah-Stewart-Blog1

Candid shots of the secretive artist with her sculpture “Survivor“, Hannah Holliday Stewart archives

At last Friday’s opening for Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered, art enthusiasts who saw the press coverage for the show came armed with a diverse array of questions.

“What was her family like?”

“Where did the full-scale models in those photos end up?”

“What’s ‘Ockum’s Razor‘ ?”

“Who’s Brad?”

Of course, the most frequent question was also Stewart’s most impenetrable mystery: why did the sculptor abruptly leave Houston, the launching point and epicenter of her nationally renowned artistic career? In our explorations of Stewart’s archives over the past few weeks, we’ve stirred up as many questions as answers.

Stewart was resolutely private, preferring to tightly focus on her artwork in interviews, exhibition materials and even her diaries. A catalog for her 1975-6 solo exhibition at the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum provides little more information on Stewart’s personal life than a birth year and a brief sketch of her educational history.

“Hannah was a very private person with a lot going on in her head,” close friend Dayton Smith told us. “I learned when to be around her and when not.”

Many of Stewart’s works, on the other hand, were always in the public eye. Kids lounged in the crook of her 11-foot sculpture in Hermann Park, students at St. Thomas University studied under her concrete-and-steel work on campus, and politicians were often photographed beside her “Libertad” fountain as they passed through the courtyard of Houston’s World Trade Center building.

For this week’s blog, we’re taking cues from Stewart’s ghost and focusing on the rich universe of her sculptures. Look below for new insight on five artworks, with behind-the-scenes materials from the artist’s files.

Hannah Stewart- Atropos Key Sculpture with Preparatory Sketch and Full-Scale Model- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

 Preparatory sketch for ‘Atropos Key’ and full-scale plaster model in Stewart’s studio

Atropos Key’ remains Hannah Holliday Stewart’s most well-known sculpture in Houston. Our maquette’s monumental counterpart stands on a hill in Hermann Park, measuring at 11 feet tall and 1,200 pounds. It debuted to much fanfare in 1972. From the Houston Chronicle’s August 11, 1972 edition:

“Out on the hill beyond Miller Theatre the blanket lollers who tune in to night concerts and shows from a horizontal position will have fresh ‘company.’ Overlooking the stage, now, is a bronze vertical figure.

‘Atropos Key,’ the title of which derived from one of the three fates in Greek mythology, was given to the city by Mrs. Patricia S. Woodward of Houston.

Strollers in the park may well stare at it and wonder what it all means…. Miss Stewart’s piece, in its new location, deserves the looking at, the ‘experiencing’ and the consideration of its meaning for you. Is it birth and, more encompassing than that, renewal?”

Hannah Stewart- Messenger Sculpture with Preparatory Sketch- Matthews Gallery BlogPreparatory sketch for ‘Messenger’ dated August 1973

Stewart’s ‘Messenger’ appeared on the cover of Houston Arts Magazine’s performing arts edition in October, 1982. Stewart was a fan of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, and often listened to classical music in her studio.

A blurb inside the magazine traces the musical roots of ‘Messenger’:

“Sculptor Hannah Stewart… sees her work as an artist’s shorthand using symbols to communicate complex and abstract ideas— like a composer uses the symbols of musical notes to convey a spiritual idea in a sensuous form.

In Messenger… Stewart sees a parallel between the structure-strength-shapes interplay of her work and compositions played by Nathan Milstein and Bella Davidovich.”

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Ockum's Razor Sculpture with Original Typewritten Label- Matthews Gallery BlogOriginal typewritten label for ‘Ockum’s Razor’

Stewart was known for her mythology-inspired artwork, but that was far from the only subject she explored.

“Her studies in literature, mythology, metaphysics, esoteric philosophy, religion, science, astrology, dance and yoga suffuse her output, revealing in form and textures,” wrote Stewart’s friend Dayton Smith in a letter to the gallery.

In ‘Ockum’s Razor’, Stewart turned to science for inspiration. The title refers to a problem-solving principle devised by 14th century logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham (c. 1287-1347). The principle states that “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” In other words, the simplest path to an answer is the best one.

Hannah Holliday Stewart- Maquette and Full-Scale Survivor Sculptures- Matthews Gallery blog

 

 Maquette and full-scale versions of ‘Survivor’

An article about Stewart’s work appeared in the local paper of her childhood home of Birmingham in 1994. In the story, Stewart explains the inspiration for ‘Survivor‘. From the August 1, 1994 edition of the Birmingham Post-Herald:

“I was teaching welding at the university, and I’d go to the welding studio and talk to friends of mine, and there were a lot of men coming down from Detroit who’d lost their jobs, and they were so tense and angry about having to reform themselves, to learn to do welding or something else at the age of 55, after having been an auto worker. I reacted to that force within them, and the drastic changes people have to make to survive.”

 Hannah Holliday Stewart- Einsteins Song and Polaroid of Hannah Holliday Stewart working on the sculpture in her studio- Matthews Gallery blog

Polaroid of Hannah Holliday Stewart in her Albuquerque studio working on ‘Einstein’s Song’

Stewart was 80 years old in the Polaroid above and still hard at work on her bronze forms, though she never exhibited again in her lifetime.

Here’s an excerpt from a typewritten artist statement Stewart wrote a year later:

“For me, the image should be an intellectual and emotional symbol plucked from the fringe of the imagination, it should suggest a classic truth and not be confused with social comment. The image at its most successful strikes a common chord of sensations in every viewer, and yet leaves each viewer with his/her own particular interpretation.”

See Hannah Holliday Stewart: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered through July 18, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more information on the artist.

Advertisements

FOCUS ON THE FIGURE: The good, the bad and the body

Two Odalisques by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Jamie Chase- Matthews Gallery blog

Two Odalisques by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (left) and Jamie Chase (right)

No matter their preferred medium or subject matter, one of the first things young art students are challenged to do is pick up a pencil and draw from life.

“It’s only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise, that you have rendered something in its true character,” said Camille Pissarro, mentor to the Impressionists.

Of course, Pissarro had a different idea of what it meant to evoke something’s “true character” than, say, Paul Gauguin. As we discussed in our last post, Vermeer and de Kooning painted female figures in oil to highly divergent ends.

Our FOCUS ON THE FIGURE survey show, running now through the end of December, has us pondering the artist’s eye for the human body. History’s verdict on the success or failure of a particular depiction is often entirely based on the culture that first viewed it. Even in the hands of the most technically talented artists, the human body has a unique capacity to spark fiery controversies. Here are some notorious offending body parts:

SKIN

Michelangelo- The Last Judgment detail- Matthews Gallery blog

The Last Judgment (detail), Michelangelo

Believe it or not, that’s a woman in the image above. Michelangelo (1475-1564) had a hard time depicting feminine grace, probably because he used massive body builders as models. That’s not the reason the artist’s Last Judgment mural in the Sistine Chapel drew the ire of the church, though. Michelangelo left many of his buff bodies unclothed and the clergy was afraid they would provoke sinful titillation. After the artist’s death, fig leaves were swiftly deployed.

TEETH

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun- Self Portrait- Matthews Gallery

Self portrait, Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun

As chronicled in our blog series 10 Women Who Changed Art History Forever, even fully clothed models (with frilly collars) could show too much. When Marie Antoinette’s court painter Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun (1755-1842) dared to flash a smile for this self-portrait she was roundly condemned for diverging from the style of “the Ancients”. Read what one gossip columnist had to say about it here.

EARS

John Singer Sargent- Madame X- Matthews Gallery blogMadame X, John Singer Sargent

Top Paris socialite and legendary beauty Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau couldn’t resist John Singer Sargent’s (1856-1925) offer to paint her portrait in 1883. When conservative viewers at the Paris Salon were scandalized by Gautreau’s bare white shoulder and bright red ear in the painting, Sargent attempted some damage control by painting in a shoulder strap and renaming the painting Madame X. Alas, Gautreau’s reputation was forever damaged.

FACES

Pablo Picasso- Les Demoiselles dAvignon- Matthews Gallery blog

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) always referred to his seminal painting of a group of Spanish prostitutes as The Brothel of Avignon. The canvas sat in his studio for years before he exhibited it under the title Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) in 1916. Even after its rebranding, the painting caused a stir because the women’s faces—influenced by traditional Iberian art, African tribal masks and the art of Oceania—were considered savage and their postures barbaric and aggressive.

After the show, the work was rolled up and stored away for years. It wouldn’t be recognized for its visual innovations until later, when designer Jacques Doucet bought it for 25,000 francs in 1924. “It is a work which to my mind transcends painting; it is the theater of everything that has happened in the last 50 years,” Doucet said.

Our FOCUS ON THE FIGURE show features art by Jamie Chase, Kate Rivers, Eric G. Thompson, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Harold Frank, Pablo Picasso and more. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more news about the exhibition.

START YOUR BIDDING: Colorful lots from our fall online auction

Matthews Art Auctions- Camille Boutet- Artfact

Our European, American and Southwestern Art Auction just started on Artfact.com, and it features a particularly vibrant line-up of lots. The charming image above is a color lithograph from turn of the century France by Camille Boutet. It shows three children peering longingly into a confectioner’s shop, and would make a lovely holiday gift. The best part? Bidding starts at $50. Read about more of our offerings below, and make sure to bid before the auction ends on November 17.

Frank Morbillo- Arched Axe- Artfact Auctions

Lot 41: Frank Morbillo- Arched Axe
Starting bid: $350
Estimated value: $450-$900

Arched Axe” is from Frank Morbillo’s sculpture series inspired by the simple, elegant lines of prehistoric hand tools. Several other glass and bronze works from the set appear in the sale, including “Ceremonial Serpent Axe“, which features an intricate floral motif, and the swanlike “Honing Axe“.

Bertram Hartman- Still Life- Artfact Auctions

Lot 59: Bertram Hartman (1882-1996)- Still Life
Starting bid: $250
Estimated value: $350-$750

Bertram Hartman (1882-1960) was born in Kansas and received training at the Art Institute of Chicago. He continued his studies at the Royal Academy in Munich and Paris, drawing inspiration from Impressionism and other modernist movements. His European influences are clear in this impeccable impasto still life.

Jamie Chase- Bather by the Sea- Artfact Auctions

Lot 70: Jamie Chase- Bather by the Sea
Starting bid: $400
Estimated price: $600-$900

Jamie Chase’s well-known figurative work and his latest experiments with landscape painting combine in “Bather by the Sea“. An abstracted nude  stands on the shore, and the surrounding landscape seems to radiate her serene mood. Jamie’s “Seen” and “Iconic II” are also up for sale in the auction.

Ernest Blumenschein on Artfact

Lot 86: Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960)- Loading
Starting bid: $700
Estimated price: $2,000-$3,500

Ernest L. Blumenschein (1874-1960) was a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, and is known for his stunning portrayals of the Southwestern landscape and people. In “Loading” the artist pays homage to his home state of Ohio. A lone figure smokes a cigarette and watches the activity at the Conneaut Mill across the tracks.

William Lumpkins- The Red Sky- Artfact Auctions

Lot 91: William Lumpkins (1909-2000)- The Red Sky
Starting bid: $400
Estimated price: $600-$1,000

William Lumpkins- Pink Handle- Artfact Auctions

Lot 97: William Lumpkins (1909-2000)- Pink Handle
Starting bid: $400
Estimated price: $600-$1,000

The Red Sky” and “Pink Handle” are from a series of never-before-seen artworks by legendary Santa Fe modernist William Lumpkins (1909-2002). The work was recently released from the collection of a Lumpkins family member, and also features a series of serigraphs.

Ed Levin- Kachina- Artfact Auctions

Lot 102: Eli Levin- Kachina (after Louie Ewing)
Starting bid: $175
Estimated value: $400-$600

Contemporary Southwestern painter and printmaker Eli Levin pays tribute to legendary Santa Fe printmaker Louie Ewing (1908-1983) in this silkscreen of a Pueblo kachina doll. In the 1930s, Ewing received a grant from the WPA’s Federal Art Project to pursue printmaking, and is largely responsible for the enduring popularity of printmaking among contemporary Southwestern artists.

Bettina Steinke- Santa Clara Dancer- Artfact Auctions

Lot 106: Bettina Steinke (1913-1999)- Santa Clara Dancer
Starting bid: $50
Estimated value: $400-$500

Bettina Steinke (1913-1999) moved to Taos in the 1950s, where she opened a gallery with her husband and mentored young artists. She moved to Santa Fe in the 1970s. The artist was known for her vivid portraits of the Pueblo people, and was particularly interested in traditional Native dancers. Other historic New Mexico artists featured in the auction include Fremont Ellis, John McHugh and Hannah Holliday Stewart.

Check out the European, American and Southwestern Art Auction on Artfact to browse all 116 lots, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to see more highlights from the sale. The auction ends on November 17 at 7:00 pm.

MANY LIVES: Early and late works by famous artists

Early and Late Works: Georgia O'Keeffe's "Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot)" (1908) and "Sky Above Clouds IV" (1965)

“When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me—some of them more than sixty years ago—I wonder who that person is,” said Georgia O’Keeffe. “It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives.”

Look through O’Keeffe’s diverse body of work, and you’ll see just what she meant. “Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot)” is a humble realist work she painted as an art student in her early 20s.  She completed the abstracted, ephemeral landscape “Sky Above Clouds IV”, which is over 20 feet long, when she was almost 80. When they’re side-by-side it’s hard to believe that one artist created both.

The same is true for works that bookend any great artist’s career. Constant evolution is perhaps the most important ingredient to genius, as you’ll see in the images below. While you browse the early and late works of four legendary artists, ponder their differences. Does youthful enthusiasm and bold experimentation move you, or do you prefer a sure hand and a fully realized aesthetic? Join the conversation in the comments section below, or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Early and Late Works: Paul Cezanne's "The Artist's Father, Reading 'L'Événement'" (1866) and "Gardanne" (1885-86)

Paul Cezanne painted “Artist’s Father, Reading ‘L’Événement'” when he was in his early 20s and still partially under the thumb of his disapproving parent. The paper his father is reading—a liberal publication that the old man wouldn’t have deigned to open—and the still life painting hanging in the background hint at the artist’s growing confidence in his chosen path. Flash forward to the radical perspectival experimentation of “Gardanne”, completed when Cezanne was in his late 40s. The multi-layered cityscape would later inspire Picasso and Braque in their development of Cubism.

Early and Late Works: Frida Kahlo's "The Accident" (1926) and "Still Life" (1951)

When Frida Kahlo was 19 years old she was in a trolley crash that left her in a full body cast. A year after the accident she created the pencil sketch on the left, drawing from the tradition of Mexican ex-voto paintings that blend text and images. A lifetime later, Kahlo was still suffering from chronic pain caused by the accident and drawing influences from folk art, but she’d discovered a subtler way to express her suffering. She painted “Still Life 1951” just three years before her death, when her body was giving out and she no longer favored self portraiture. The fleshy, congealing watermelon nestled among fresh fruits says it all. “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return,” she wrote just before her death.

Early and Late Works: Pablo Picasso's "Les Saltimbanques" (1905) and "Untitled (From the 156 Suite, 16 mai 1971)"

“Les Saltimbanques” is a drypoint that Pablo Picasso created in his early 20s. The group of frolicking figures are characters from an opera-comique about a circus troupe. Countless artistic transformations later, Picasso etched out “Untitled (From the 156 Suite)“, an image that shows a tangle of prostitutes engaged in a very different acrobatic routine. Innocence is lost, but genius found.

Early and Late Works: Paul Gauguin's "La Seine au Pont de Grenelle" (   ) and "Mahana Atua (The Day of God)" (   )

Paul Gauguin was a 27-year-old family man working as a stockbroker and hanging out at the Impressionists’ favorite cafes when he painted “La Seine au Pont de Grenelle”. By his mid-40s, he’d abandoned his family and job and exiled himself to Tahiti, where he drew inspiration for woodblock print “Mahana Atua (The Day of God)“. The artist learned from one revolutionary movement and then struck off on his own to inspire several others, from Primitivism to Symbolism.

How many lives can one artist live? What do you like better, the earlier or later work? Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest and sound off!