THE ENDURING APPEAL OF NEW MEXICO ARCHITECTURE; May 2014

By Stacia Lewandowski

What is it about New Mexico's old adobe buildings that attracts us to them? Perhaps it's the hand-crafted nature of them, the rounded edges, "not a plumb line in sight!" as locals used to boast. Or, perhaps it's how the buldings fit into the landscape, as when Carlos Vierra was reportedly pleased that the adobe house he had just designed and built was mistaken for "ruins." People's affection for adobe has not been universal, however, especially in the earlier days of the nineteenth century. But we know that enthusiasm for it increased alongside the growth of its art colonies after the turn of the twentieth century.

Prior to that, it was a different story. For example, in 1807, after Zebulon Pike entered Santa Fe, then a provincial capital of Spain, he reported: "There are two churches, the magnificence of whose steeples form a striking contrast to the miserable appearance of the houses."

By the time of New Mexico's statehood in 1912, Santa Fe's historical architecture was very much on people's minds. In fact, one of the first projects city planners initiated was a study of the region's indigenous architecture, with a particular focus on the Pueblos and the Spanish buildings of the colonial era. There were people who understood that architecture is the face of a community and, as such, should appropriately reflect its culture. They appreciated the fact that Santa Fe enjoyed a cultural history unique in all of the United States and its local architectural standards, already threatened by outside trends, should be perpetuated rather than demolished.

After a comprehensive study of the region's architecture, primarily made possible through a wide-ranging photographic survey conducted by Jesse Nussbaum (with contributions from artist Carlos Vierra), elements of style from the Pueblos and the old Spanish homes and churches were scrutinized, categorized, deemed authentic, and worthy of emulation and preservation. From 1913 onward, Santa Fe's construction and restoration projects were encouraged to reflect the "New-Old Santa Fe style."  

Newly arrived artists were among the first wave of people to appreciate the look of adobe architecture, the genuine nature of its elements. Many of them, escaping the industrial cities elsewhere in the United States, appreciated the hand-crafted work reflected in the local adobe traditions. Some of them eagerly built their own homes and revelled in the sculptural possibilities inherent with mud-covered adobe.

But more importantly, many of  the artists were enthralled by the appearance of these centuries-old buildings, the angles of the multi-storied Pueblos and the varied character of the mission churches. They were inspired by them, pulled by an aesthetic appeal of the solidity of the form, functionality of the designs, and tactile quality of the mud.

Without question, one of the most painted, photographed and probed buildings in all of New Mexico, is the San Francisco de Asís Church in Ranchos de Taos, south of Taos. The church and courtyard stand alone in a central plaza. Its commanding exterior is unorthodox in shape, weighted by huge rounded buttress supports, counterpoised by rising vertical lines of the central nave section. Artists from Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams to the present day, continue to be inspired by this building from the Spanish colonial period, begun in the late 1700s and completed in 1816.

In one of her masterworks, Taos printmaker Gene Kloss (1903-1996) provides us with a powerful scene of the interior of this same church. At once intimate and dramtatic, Kloss conveys a hushed atmosphere filled with the weight of worshipping figures bowed downward, clearly of this earth, while the prayerful service of the priest and his attendants in triangular form on the altar, is imbued with intense light, all of the focus uplifted heavenward. It's a brilliant scene from 1939, created during the depths of the Depression.


Nationwide Exhibits - February 2015

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
"Madame Cézanne"
Through March 15, 2015

An exhibit of the works of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) is always a significant event. One of the most influential artists of the post-impressionist era, particularly for early twentieth-century modernists, this exhibition shows Cézanne's work during a span of more than twenty years. Interestingly, it presents twenty-four works depicting his most frequent model, his wife Hortense Fiquet (1850–1922). Cézanne is known to have created twenty-nine portraits of Hortense. The twenty four works in this exhibit include paintings, drawings, and watercolors that highlight his stylistic changes during this period.

Art Institute of Chicago
"A Voyage to South America: Andean Art in the Spanish Empire"
Through February 21, 2016

Featuring works with a Santa Fe connection, this exhibit is devoted to the collecting interests of part-time Santa Fe residents, Zaplin Lampert Gallery friends, Marilynn and Carl Thoma. Their collection of South American Spanish colonial art comprises the Art Institute’s first presentation of such works from the viceregal period, the 17th through 19th centuries. Considered the most important collection of its kind outside of South America, the exhibit includes fourteen paintings and related works on paper from the Thoma Collection, as well as loans from the Newberry Library and Denver Art Museum.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
"World War I and the Rise of Modernism"
Through July 19, 2015

Commemorating the centennial of World War I, this exhibition explores the impact of the war on the artists of that era. Devised in three parts, the exhibit begins prior to 1914, including works of German Expressionism, French Cubism, the Italian Futurists, and American modernists. Moving ahead, the exhibit explores how stylistic trends were developed in reaction to the war and the period immediately following, introducing Surrealism and the Bauhaus School.

Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa
"Frontier to Foundry: The Making of Small Bronze Sculpture in the Gilcrease Collection"
Through March 23, 2015

CONTINUED: The Gilcrease collection is home to over 200 small bronze sculptures and includes important early casts by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. For this exhibit, the museum presents a thorough examination of what underlies the creation of a bronze sculpture, from the initial designs to the casts and the work at the foundry where the finished bronze object is produced. Each of the sculptors presented in the exhibit played an important role in the development of an American art bronze casting industry during the last half of the 19th century. In addition to Remington and Russell, other sculptors in the collection include Henry Kirke Brown, Thomas Ball and Paul Wayland Bartlett.

Longmont Museum & Cultural Center, Longmont, Colorado
"Frederic Remington and Charles Russell: Masterworks from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West"
Through April 19, 2015

This small museum in Longmont, Colorado, just north of Denver, is hosting an exhibit of important works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. On loan from the collection of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, the exhibit presents works by both artists in oil, watercolor, bronze, and graphite, in addition to handwritten illustrated letters and photographs. This is a remarkable exhibit and is highly recommended to anyone in the vicinity, interested in western art and the process of making bronze sculpture.

Local Exhibits - February 2015

SANTA FE

New Mexico Museum of Art
"Hunting + Gathering: New Additions to the Museum's Collection"
Through March 29, 2015

New Mexico Museum of Art holds an art collection that is continually expanding, sometimes through generous gifts and other times through strategic purchases. Hunting + Gathering is an exhibit of works that the museum has obtained since 2010. Showcasing nearly 200 new works of art, the exhibit includes a wide variety of media by artists known both locally and internationally, such as Louise Crow, Fritz Scholder, Richard Diebenkorn, Sol LeWitt, and Francisco Zúñiga, to name but a few. The curators have organized the show thematically and juxtapose the works in unexpected ways. It is great to see what is new in the museum's collection.

Governor's Gallery -  4th floor of the Roundhouse (state capitol buiding) "That Multitudes May Share: Building the Museum of Art"
Through March 22, 2015

The Governor’s Gallery is operated by the New Mexico Museum of Art. In anticipation of the the museum's upcoming 100th anniversary in 2017, this display provides interesting historical images and text regarding the design and construction of Santa Fe's art museum. Some of Santa Fe's artists were involved in this building project, which became the showplace for Southwestern art.

O'Keeffe Museum
"Modernism Made in New Mexico"
Through April 30, 2015

This exhibit traces the beginning of modernism in New Mexico which began in the early decades of the twentieth century. "Modernism Made in New Mexico" shows paintings by fifteen artists who were inspired to work in the state, including some not commonly considered "Modernists," such as Thomas Moran (with a work from 1902) and the self-declared anti-modernist, Thomas Hart Benton. However, the show is largely made up of artwork from artists who strove to break new ground in various modernist trends, such as  Marsden Hartley, Andrew Dasburg, John Marin, Stuart Davis, Raymond Jonson, and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
"Footprints: The Inspiration and Influence of Allan Houser"
Through June 1, 2015

CONTINUED: To honor the centennial year of Allan Houser's birth year, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is exhibiting the sculpture of Allan Houser surrounded by the works of thirteen Native American artists who were influenced by him, including Bob Haozous, Don Chunestudey, Estella Loretto, and Robert Shorty.

TAOS

Taos Art Museum
"Selections from the Permanent Collection, Featuring the Taos Society of Artists"
Ongoing

Works from the ever-popular Taos Society of Artists are on display at the Taos Art Museum, housed in a one-of-a-kind facility--the Nicolai Fechin House. A visit to the museum allows visitors the opportunity to see the artwork and the house and artist's studio, all of which merit a trip to Taos.

The Harwood Museum of Art
"Ellis-Clark Taos Moderns Gallery"
Ongoing

This is an ongoing exhibit that rotates art from the museum's own collection of art by artists who worked in Taos from the 1920s up to the present day. These include the many modernists who were associated with Mabel Dodge Luhan, such as John Marin and Marsden Hartley. And later, Taos drew a large number of artists following World War II, when the community once again became a center for artists exploring new modernist trends, such as Louis Ribak, Beatrice Mandelman, Earl Stroh, and Richard Diebenkorn, along with many others.

ROSWELL

Roswell Museum and Art Center
"Tamarind: Teaming Up"
Through March 22, 2015

The University of New Mexico's Tamarind Institute is one of the most prominent lithography workshops in the United States today. This exhibit presents works from the museum's own collection, and emphasizes the unique interactivity that the process of lithography creates, between the artist and the print specialists. The Tamarind is known for its high level of technical and aesthetic achievement. This exhibit places special emphasis on that aspect of teamwork that defines Tamarind's creative philosophy.

AND

"Intaglio to Go!"
Through April 19, 2015

This exhibit also presents prints from the museum's permanent collection, but showcases a different kind of process altogether. Intaglio to Go! explores the intaglio printing process, which includes etching, drypoint, engraving, and aquatint (all methods utilized by one of our favorites, Gene Kloss). Intaglio refers to any process where the image is incised into the plate material, often metal, with a tool, after which the printmaker applies ink that fills the incised recessed lines. From this, the plate is run through a press to print the image. As we know from the works of Gene Kloss, it is amazing how much variety and nuance printmakers can achieve with this process.

IT'S BLACK & WHITE; April 2013

By David Clemmer

Human beings are fortunate to live in a richly chromatic world where even dim light can host a broad palette of colors. The emotive quality of color is a concept deeply ingrained in human culture and it has been a primary expressive tool for the artist since the days of the paleolithic cave painters. It would be easy to think of art devoid of color as somehow diminished and lacking in emotional quality, but in the hands of a sensitive and skilled practitioner the opposite is proven true. In a black and white format, chromatic distractions are set aside and the bare bones of composition, form, line, light and shade are laid bare revealing the essential architecture of an image.

The majority of the artists of the Taos Society were schooled in traditional academic principles in the United States and Europe. Draftsmanship, with a particular focus on figure drawing, was central to the curriculum of the academies they attended and the benefits of this rigorous training are readily apparent in the quality of their work. The pencil drawings of E. Martin Hennings (preparatory sketches for a series of highly regarded lithographs in this instance) and the pen and ink sketches of O.E. Berninghaus are eloquent testament to this quality.

Following a path typical of their day, many of the Taos Society artists began their professional careers as commercial artists and illustrators. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the world of commercial printing was almost entirely lacking color and, as a result, much original art created for illustrative purposes was executed en grisaille (in tones of grey). Additionally, the most commonly employed fine art printmaking processes of the era—both intaglio and lithographic—were primarily monochromatic. Some exceptional New Mexico printmakers, among them Gene Kloss and Howard Cook, rarely utilized color in CONTINUED: their graphic work. Howard Cook’s woodblocks and wood engravings of the 1920s stand amongst the finest American prints of their era. “Morning Smokes” is an exceptional example of the dramatic possiblities of pure black and white design.

The brothers Moran, Thomas and Peter, were also schooled in traditional 19th century academic methods, although their training was passed down through the family, brother to brother. Both served apprenticeships in commercial printing firms in Philadelphia before launching their careers in the fine arts. Their experience of working en grisaille formed a strong basis for their later work. Both Thomas and Peter were superb draftsmen and Peter’s wonderfully spontaneous and articulate pencil work is readily apparent in his 1888 drawing "Guadalupe Church."

The development of photography, from its beginnings in France and England in the 1830s through the invention of Kodachrome film a century later, traces a long and arduous quest for practical and stable color processes. Despite the allure of color, “fine art” photography was more or less defined as being monochromatic until relatively late in the 20th century. Photographers such as Edward S. Curtis and Edward Weston explored the expressive possibilities of black and white throughout their careers and their work remains at the pinnacle of artistic achievement in the medium. Curtis’s "Canyon de Chelly" and Weston’s "Taos Pueblo" exhibit their authors’ mastery of form, scale, and composition as well as the alchemy of the photographer’s darkroom.

DIVERGENT VIEWS; January 2013

Founding the Taos & Santa Fe Art Colonies

by Stacia Lewandowski

In the early days, as artists began to work in Taos and Santa Fe, they came to be called collectively, “the Taos - Santa Fe Art Colony," as that was how they were identified in the early articles of the Museum of New Mexico's periodical, El Palacio. But a closer look reveals that the artists in these two locales were quite distinct from one another and were drawn by differing circumstances. The following comments made by two of the early artists illuminate their clearly disparate points of view. The first:

“Never shall I forget the first powerful impressions, my own impressions direct from a new land through my own eyes. The great naked anatomy of a majestic landscape once tortured, now calm; the fitness of adobe houses to their tawny surroundings; the vastness and overwhelming beauty of skies; terrible drama of storms; peace of night . . . all in beauty of color, vigorous form, everchanging light . . .”
Now the other:
“I am likely to have to stay in this desolate [spot] for a year or two and may not get off as easy as that. . . . There is nothing in this place to paint and no one to buy pictures. . . . The wild sunflower is the only flower that seems to grow naturally here and even they look as if they were sorry they came.”

The first impression is from the Taos artist Ernest Blumenschein who was recalling many years later how profoundly affected he was upon his first sight of Taos and the region surrounding it. He was on foot and carrying the broken wagon wheel which had famously, and perhaps fortuitously, broken about 20 miles north of Taos, during a painting excursion with Bert Geer Phillips in 1898.

The second impression – less favorable but also vivid in its language – was written by Carlos Vierra shortly after his arrival to Santa Fe in 1904. Vierra is known as the first Anglo artist to settle in Santa Fe. As you can see, each artist responded to his surroundings in a very personal manner, yet their impressions of the region offer extraordinarily contrary views! Interestingly, it was these two artists who measured large in the founding of the artists’ communities of Taos and Santa Fe.

CONTINUED: Joseph Henry Sharp was the first artist of the soon-to-be Taos art colony to visit Taos in 1893 and on this preliminary trip had time to consider it as a possible painter's destination. He later described the town, the nearby Pueblo, and the local inhabitants to other artists, including Blumenschein and Phillips. When these two artists were traveling in the West in 1898, they planned to pass through the region, but their wagon wheel broke, forcing them to stop. They certainly recalled Sharp's words to them, but more importantly, the artists had a chance to see Taos and the region in sharper focus and quickly became smitten with the glories of the landscape and the richness of subject matter, human and otherwise. The region seemed to be imbued with all of the raw material they were seeking on their quest to create a uniquely American art. Taos became Phillips's immediate new home and Blumenschein's retreat and eventual home. Of the artists who followed them, only a select number were nominated and elected into the exclusive "Taos Society of Artists" that formed in 1915. In addition to Blumenschein, Sharp and Phillips, the additional founding artists were Oscar E. Berninghaus, Eanger Irving Couse, and W.H. "Buck" Dunton. The group expanded their number in a few short years, all the while exhibiting their Southwestern works around the country, helping to publicize the beauty and drama of Taos until their dissolution in 1927.

In contrast, when the young artist Carlos Vierra arrived in Santa Fe he was not looking for inspiring subject matter, but rather, medical attention. After being struck with severe respiratory disease in New York City, he traveled to the Southwest and soon checked himself in at the local sanatorium in downtown Santa Fe. The Southwest had become known as a place of final resort for the so-called "lungers," people afflicted with tuberculosis and other dire respiratory illnesses for which there were no cures. Santa Fe was blessed with the clear, dry air of its high altitude location at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. According to Vierra's letters to family members, he had no intention of remaining in Santa Fe longer than was absolutely necessary. He did not like the place, but he did need to regain his health. Oddly, once his condition improved, he stayed.

Carlos Vierra remained in Santa Fe until his death in 1937. For his work in the city he utilized his adaptable talents and developed skills in photography, architectural design and construction, in addition to his painting. He laid the groundwork, perhaps, for other artists who would eventually arrive in Santa Fe and would also adapt their skills, broaden their creative potential, to support themselves in this modest town of less than 10,000 people. The earliest artists to follow Vierra were Kenneth Chapman, Gerald Cassidy, Sheldon Parsons, the modernist Paul Burlin, and later William Penhallow Henderson. All but Burlin were drawn to the region because of respiratory disease.

Chapman developed tuberculosis in Chicago around 1898 and moved first to Las Vegas, New Mexico, before he arrived in Santa Fe in 1909. Similarly, Cassidy ventured to the Southwest from New York City before the turn of the century and when his health improved, he remained in the West. By the time New Mexico became a state in 1912, he decided to set up his studio in Santa Fe, the new capital city. Parsons was deathly ill when he arrived on the train from New York City with his twelve-year old daughter in 1913. William Penhallow Henderson came with his family to Santa Fe in 1916 so that his wife, Alice Corbin, could receive treatment for her tuberculosis at Sunmount Sanatorium. Only Paul Burlin, following his participation in New York's ground-breaking Armory Show of international avant-garde art in 1913, purposefully selected Santa Fe as the place to explore ideas for his artwork.

Unlike Taos then, the vast majority of Santa Fe's early artists were drawn for reasons other than "inspiration." But once they stayed, their enthusiasm for the town and the region grew beyond compare.

What helped to bring the two groups of artists together was the Museum of New Mexico, which was originally housed in Santa Fe's Palace of the Governors. Though the initial impetus for the museum was New Mexico history, since its founding in 1909 the museum also showcased art exhibits by regional artists. Art began to play a large role in the museum’s activities. The first such exhibit held at the Palace displayed the work of Warren E. Rollins in June of 1910. From that day forward the number of exhibits increased steadily. The very first issue of El Palacio, dated November 1913, included a notice about an exhibit of paintings by Ernest Blumenschein.

By the next October, 1914, El Palacio reported: “Three notable art exhibits were held in the Palace of the Governors, emphasizing the stress that the Museum of New Mexico places upon the development of art in the Southwest.” The first of these exhibits displayed paintings from private local collections including Couse, Phillips, Sharp, Blumenschein, Cassidy, Vierra, and Chapman. There was also a solo Blumenschein show featuring fourteen paintings. In addition, the issue noted that Joseph Henry Sharp had donated two paintings to the museum, one of which was “declared by connoisseurs to be almost priceless.”

Just two months later, it was declared in El Palacio that "non-progressive is the state or large city these days that does not possess an art museum or art gallery of some kind, open to the public. It is generally the first place the tourist seeks and that is the spot attracting most of the people at home, exerting a great influence in moulding the ideals and aspirations of the young." The exhibition of art was seen as a valuable resource to the city, its leaders now aware of its status as a U.S. state capital, and plans for a dedicated building for the display of art were already underway. Once the new building was constructed and inaugurated in November, 1917, as the museum's "Art Gallery" (now called the New Mexico Museum of Art), the number of artists drawn to both Taos and Santa Fe grew significantly. Santa Fe's Art Gallery became a catalyst for art in New Mexico and the rest is history, as they say.

By Stacia Lewandowski