Sunday, July 23, 2017


Change is probably one of the most difficult phenomenon we have to deal with as human beings.  Whether we are changing doctors or jobs we go in with fear and trepidation.  The most upsetting I ever heard was when the wife of a friend of mine died very young and I said “I hope she did not have to suffer too long”, the instant unthinking reply was, “Not long enough”.  It sounded so callous until I realized it was said out of such a sense of grief and that my friend was unprepared for this incredible loss.  As Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein says “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

If we think about it, we usually see the warning signs and either prepare for them or not.  I recently had an experience that was both shocking and a relief at the same time.  I had worked at a foundation for several years.  Though I was a volunteer, I was there full time.  I probably invested more of myself than I should have in the functioning of the organization.  When it became clear that under current circumstances I could not stay on, I went into a serious funk.  I worried, of course, was I not needed? Had I not contributed? Was I a failure?  All perfectly normal reactions… now what?

I only had to reach back to the 6th century B.C. to find the answer, Lao Tzu, the Chinese Philosopher (604-531 BC) said, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” 

Years ago I saw a psychologist with my wife.  She was about to take a job that was going to have her travelling much of the time and not be home.  The psychologist said, “most of my patients I have to teach how to live together; you two I have to teach how to live apart.”  She gave me an assignment, “by next week I want you to think about all the advantages of not having your wife around”.  At first I thought it was ridiculous and I could never come up with a list.  Sure enough within a week my list was not short!

Cartoon by Andrew Grossman)

I went at my current situation in the same way and decided I needed a small office away from home, just a place I could go and work during the day, giving myself a routine just as my Missives have been an excellent discipline.  This would be the first time in my life that I would have a space totally my own with no one else present to assist in any sense, business wise or administratively.  Eventually, I found I was kind of proud of that!

Looking for a space helped to occupy my mind and when I finally found a space I realized I no longer missed what I had before.  I no longer felt I had to be somewhere at a certain time nor that I had to rush my lunch to get back.  To my delightful surprise, it was a liberating experience.

Ending with what might be an unusual reference from an art dealer better acquainted with Old Masters, Any Warhol in his The Philosophy of Andy Warhol  “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Looking Fondly on the Past

An exhibition called “Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest”  is at the History Museum of New Mexico.  It covers the “Summer of Love” 1967 through the 70’s in the southwest by which time the counterculture had already been active on the coasts for some time.  The final moments of the latter were probably with the ousting of Nixon and the end of the Vietnam war 1974-1975.

Meredith Davidson is curator of the 19th and 20th century southwest collection.   She did the exhibition together with Jack Loeffler, the renowned, historian, author, musician, activist and a member of the southwest counterculture movement.  They cooperated both on curating of the show and gathering the articles for the book accompanying the exhibition.   Loeffler wrote a number of the essays and in the final one called “Ebb Tide” he write, “Through the ages, countercultures have been marked by a refusal of governance from on high, a hatred of bureaucracy, a profound strain of anarchism, a thread of pragmatism.”   In an article in El Palacio, the magazine for the State Museums of New Mexico, Ms. Davidson adds, “… back to the land lifestyle …” was also important.

Jack Loeffler at the Gallup Indian Ceremonial, 1971
(SOURCE: Museum Of New Mexico Press)

From the press release: “Curators, Meredith Davidson and Jack Loeffler, tell the story of cultural revolution through first person audio from over 50 interviews with those who lived through the era. Documentary photography and artifacts help reinforce the role that individual actions take in shaping the course of history. So many of the social and political issues of the day still resonate and the museum will invite visitors to share their own stories in an audio feedback booth.”

Ms. Davidson’s expertise is in oral history,  so naturally there is a great deal of material well communicated by voice. Alan Ginsberg’s reading of his poem, “Howl” which he wrote already in the mid-fifties,  comes at the beginning of the show. It is fascinating since it prefigures the entire counterculture movement. Unfortunately, there is a lot of sound bleed so it is difficult for my old ears to be able to distinguish where the sound is coming from or understand what I am listening to.

There is an admirable effort in this exhibition to show how southwest counterculture  differed from that of the east coast.  Haight-Ashbury in San Franciso which became famous as a hippie capital and cradle of the Gay Rights Movement had its equivalent in the southwest where  Taos, New Mexico was the refuge of the hippies.

A section of the show deals with the best known of the communes, The Hog Farm, started in California. In the mid 60’s they moved to New York and by 1969 they bought land in Llano, New Mexico near Taos, still they agreed to stay and be involved with the Woodstock Music Festival  building fire pits, trails and a free kitchen.  Here is a video by Roberta Price a well known photographer giving a good idea of the concept of the exhibition.  It is called across the great divide and made in 1969.  Music from the story “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell.

One of the catalog essays is by Rina Swentzell, a native of Santa Clara pueblo who became a very close friend when we started to settled in Santa Fe. She wrote about early life and marriage to Ralph Swentzell, an Anglo, and of their time in Taos when they were absorbed in the counterculture life. Even when her husband became a teacher at St. John’s College and they built their own lovely home in Santa Fe, they would rent it out to those coming for the opera season and spend weeks at a time in a VW bus traveling around the country.  That did not change after their three daughters were born.

Peyote, Marijuana, Timothy Leary and LSD were all associated with the counterculture movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Even though Peyote was smoked by the Indians since time immemorial, in 1937 a law was passed against smoking any leaf that could produce a high.

Free love, drugs, back to the land, I regret never having participated in any of these and I have always ascribed it to cowardice!  On the other hand, they have always been fantasies of mine and this exhibition reawakened those fantasies.  I saw others at the show clearly reminiscing about the years of their youth .

I-Witness Culture

May I start out with a couple of generalizations that I will apologize for before hand.   Artistic talent tends to be passed down in Native American families from generation to generation.  As an even larger generalization, Native American artists tend to be more articulate about their art than their Anglo counterparts.  This is borne out by the painter Frank Buffalo Hyde.

My wife, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, writes a regular column for El Palacio, the magazine of the new Mexico state museums, called “Why This?” and just finished a draft on a sculpture by Doug Hyde, called “Sharing Knowledge”,  that stands in front of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Santa Fe’s “Museum Hill”.  For her article she needed to measure the piece and since we were there we went into the museum for the exhibition of the paintings of the sculptor’s son, Frank Buffalo Hyde.   In fact, I had seen his work in galleries around town before and admired it.  All the pieces in the exhibition that I have illustrated are on loan from Tansey Contemporary.

Needless to say, much of Frank Buffalo Hyde’s subject matter revolves around the buffalo, but there was a lot else, and this show has little to do with that noble beast.  It is called “I-Witness Culture” and both the images and the text accompanying it left me with a lot to think about it.   In a recent issue of El Palacio the artist writes a brief article in which he thanks the museum for allowing him to co-curate the show, making this an even more personal exhibition and portrait of the artist.

Hyde’s thesis is that we miss viewing reality because there is always a recording device, most often the I-Phone, between the viewer and the subject matter.  He wrote “We don’t witness anything first hand any longer.  Our first reaction to anything that happens in real life is to record it.”  I must admit that I felt a pang of guilt at that moment because as soon as I saw the first painting in the show I photographed it and then its label.  So much easier that copying the label onto a pad and then having to ask the museum department for images which I may or may not receive in time for publication.   I had to admit that Hyde had a point, but, in my defense, I did always look at the image first because I would have to make the editorial decision later of which images would fit the story that I would write.

Hyde painted the picture above called The New New, 2017 as an introduction to his show in order to guide the viewer.  What is reality?  The dancers?  The viewer holding the I-Phone or the image in the phone?   He believes it is the new way of seeing.

Zombie Nation, 2016 is interesting to me since our son, Hunter, an actor and screen-writer has always been into this subject which I am still not sure I understand.  Clearly, however, it has been absorbed into the Native American culture as well.  Maybe it is our fascination with what comes next.

Just the Fax, 2017 seems to sum up the exhibition very nicely.  Before the iPhone and before we could send images by email, there was the fax machine.  I remember very well working on catalogs with our publisher in the early 1990’s when we were in Santa Fe and she was in New York.  Back then we relied on FedEx and the fax.

To end on a point of humor, which I choose to believe the artist meant, I am illustrating his Buffalo Burger Study, 2014 for which I will include the artist’s whole label, “Like Native Americans, the buffalo are often relegated to mythology of America’s past.  They have made a comeback in the last two decades, but only as a low-fat beef alternative”.  Sometimes the most poignant statements are couched in humor.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Abel Sepulveda - Lighting Supervisor

I am not sure which was my first play or  how old I was.   I remember being frightened by Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook in Peter Pan on Broadway, sitting at the top of the house with my mother and grandmother at The City Center to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, and the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, “Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado.  All that exposure early on gave me a love of theatre.  Now I am on the board of the City Center equivalent in Santa Fe, the Lensic Performing Arts Center.  I have been taking full advantage of the opportunity and am able to ask questions and get behind the scenes that I have never been able to do before.

A few days ago we met up with Abel Sepuldeva, the young man (28) who is the Lighting Supervisor for the Lensic Theatre.  Abel comes from El Paso where he was already interested in Theatre and decided that he wanted a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He had two choices, the University of Florida or the College of Santa Fe.  The latter offered him the best package and, like so many mothers, his did not want her son too far from home so there he went.  He lucked out in having good teachers, one of whom was George Johnson, the first tech director at the Lensic!  I always tell young people who are looking for a certain name college that who will be teaching them should be the primary criteria for their choice.  One of the requirements for Abel’s degree was to have a professional internship. A summer internship at the Lensic led to becoming an over-hire, part of a team of available techies who can fill in when extra trained hands are needed in the theatre.  In 2011 he was hired full time as Master Electrician and in 2015 he became the Lighting Supervisor … the guy who makes the decisions.  If you want to have a spot light on you, be nice to Abel!

Seriously, he is in charge of the lighting for all the groups that come in to use the theatre.  If he has worked for them before he usually knows what they want and expect, but a year or two ago the well known comedian, Dave Chappelle, showed up for 2 shows.  He wanted only red lights, not only on stage, but also in his dressing room and the corridor between, so red gels had to be placed over those lights.  His DJ, however, had to have blue light. 

As an aside there was an incident and an audience member threw a banana peel at Chapelle, a story that went viral.  The perpetrator then ran out of the theatre and Abel, being in that glassed in booth at the back of the house, jumped out and collared him until security arrived! 

Such excitement is not the norm, and Abel’s is a very tough job.  He works with some very heavy equipment and the electricians who mount the lights on the bars above the stage, known in the jargon as “line sets” and once they have the lights on them “electrics” on which the lights are placed.  There are the old fashioned par lights weighing about 20 pounds each and they use those large bulbs like you might have seen in any older art space.  At my father’s gallery in the 1950’s we had a smaller hand held one, which I used to focus on players in our school performance.

In more recent years digital lamps came in and Abel was authorized to purchase a few of those for the house.  The Metropolitan Opera uses the same, in still more sophisticated versions.  What astounded me was the price tag.  The lamps bought a year or two ago cost $12,000 each and have dropped in price slightly.  No wonder theatres are always looking for funds. The Lensic has a capacity of 400 dimmers (lights) and has 360 in house.  The Mag Vipers, the digital lamps with fans require a DMX board.  They can be rotated digitally and have “Gobo’s” which are cut out disks so they can project anything onto a set, such as trees, ocean waves or even “The Yellow Brick Road”.  The Mag Vipers can be controlled digitally, while the par lamps have to be put in by hand.  For digital lamps, for instance, the more you pay the more built in gobos you get.

Behind the last row of seats of most theatres is a person at a board, which controls the sound.  He needs to hear what the audience hears.  Behind that there is a windowed booth with the board from which all lighting for the stage and house is controlled.  The board is set up in a certain way and Abel, alone in the booth, knows what lights should be on when for a particular show.  I asked what happens when a show from elsewhere come in such as a Rock ‘n Roll show and they have their own special effects that they want.  Not a problem,-- with the new digital boards they can just plug in their own flash drive and have much control over the lighting, which Abel would still supervise.

Every time I write a missive, it is educational but often leaves me with more questions than I had before.  Maybe sometime I will have a chance to learn even more about what goes on backstage at the theatre!  In fact I looked up some of the theatrical lighting language and found THIS ...

A bit more than one could digest in my morning visit with Abel!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Georgia O’Keeffe and “The Art of the Draw”

The “Art of the Draw” is a collaborate effort this summer of  the cultural institutions in Santa Fe.  A few weeks ago I wrote about the drawings from the British Museum at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has joined this effort in quite a different way.  The drawings of O’Keeffe are woven into the exhibition, “A Great American Artist. A Great American Story.” It shows how she used drawing both as an art form and as initial thoughts with the paintings that they relate to nearby.

The museum owns 700 of Georgia O’Keeffe’s (1887-1986) drawings and the exhibition starts with some small drawings she did of her siblings when she was a teenager.  If you saw them out of context you would never believe what a great artist she would become.

By the time she was in her 20’s, however, she was making the kind of charcoal drawings that she would become famous for.  Those sumptuous, sensuous abstractions that are not just read by the eye but enter the imagination, launched her career.  In 1916 Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), the famous photographer and later her husband showed a group of her charcoals at his Gallery “291” in New York.  She sold her first for $400, which was two months of her teaching salary at West Texas Normal College.  This charcoal on paper is titled simply “Drawing”, circa 1915-1916.

From what I have seen and what was shown at the O’Keeffe, Georgia did charcoal drawings that were finished works as well as much simpler sketches as aides-memoir so she could retain an idea for future reference.

Georgia was very interested in simplification reducing subjects to their most basic elements.  As an illustration here is a painting of the Barns at Lake George, New. York done in 1926 where Stieglitz maintained a small house with his wife at the time, Emmeline Obermeyer.

“It’s my private mountain.  It belongs to me.  God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”  That is what Georgia said about the Pedernal that she could see from her beloved, Ghost Ranch when she moved to New Mexico.  She did a number of pictures of it.  Here are her drawing and a painting she did of the road to her mountain in 1941.

A long time ago, Sherman Lee, former director of the Cleveland Museum, gave me some sage advice.  He was quoting another renowned art historian, Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968), “if you want to make a point don’t illustrate it”, --an unusual statement for an art historian to make!  I don’t know in what context Panofsky said it nor why Dr. Lee quoted it but I understand in the following context.  O’Keeffe’s abstract charcoal Composition IX from 1959 does not represent one of the many trees around Ghost Ranch that she painted but let’s leave it that there is clearly a relationship.

So much of Georgia’s work stimulates the imagination.  People often believe that her paintings of flowers are extremely sensual and sexual but as a good school chum used to say, “The evil is in the mind of the beholder”.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Building the Wall

Santa Fe is an arts town with a great Performing Arts Center, The Lensic, but we have sorely missed a black box theatre where small serious theatre productions could be done.  A bit over a year ago Maureen and Bruce McKenna opened the Adobe Rose Theatre to fill the need.  I hope to do a Missive in the near future on this dynamic duo but that is not my focus today.

The Adobe Rose recently held a gala where they presented a show called “Building the Wall” by Robert Schenkkan.  The unusual aspect of this play according to the author was that there were less than 6 months between conception and the first production.  Also, that the author wanted the play to roll out in multiple venues, each venue with their own interpretation.  The McKenna’s and their team felt the mood for the show would be properly set if we were given blue or red dots when we arrived, had to come through a small door and go through a security check with a simulated scanning device, standing on the foot prints and raising our arms. On the other side was another agent who sent sent those with blue dots through one aisle and the red through another.  We, of course, all arrived in the same seating area in the round.  The Adobe Rose has variable seating for different productions from 87 to 140 seats and for this production there were 116 seats.   According to Bruce McKenna, “Geoff Webb, the theatre designer, wanted for this production a "flies on the wall feel: the audience would be pressed not only close to the action, but to each other.”  During the founders’ intro they made a pitch for the theatre and said with particularly relevant insight, “Theatre can act as a mirror on ourselves”. 

The play takes place in 2019, and projects the harrowing consequences of the current administration’s policy towards law and order and illegal immigrants. It is a two character piece; a prisoner in an orange jump suit, played, in Santa Fe, by Todd Anderson and a black (though it could be any minority) history professor who studied psychology and sociology, played here by Danielle Louise Reddick. She is interested in getting a story for an article or a book on why the prisoner, a former security officer, did what landed him in prison. The latter makes an excellent case for his discontent with his country which he feels needs to be given back to white Christians, though he repeats over and over again that he is not racist and seems to believe it. Under continuous questioning he slowly reveals how things can go too far and seem out of our control, not wanting to reveal even to his wife what he has allowed to happen. - Just following orders, Sir.

Photo Courtesy of Adobe Rose Theatre

Directed by Kristin Goodman, this is a morality play which like the late medieval piece “Everyman” tells the story of a time when man had forgotten about God, gotten carried away but ultimately must pay. Here the director in rehearsal with her cast.

Photo Courtesy of Adobe Rose Theatre

Last November, after much thought, I wrote a blog stating my fears about the direction our country was going.  We have a number of friends who said it could not happen here because we were protected by our Constitution and our system of checks and balances.  I have now learned from a Pulitzer prize winning author that I was not alone.   In the play the professor is getting more and more upset by what she is hearing but drawn to learn more.

Photo Courtesy of Adobe Rose Theatre

In a Q& A after the show Robert Schennken told us that he started writing in October, 2016.  His first draft was written in a week, but he has been making changes ever since in response to current events. The version we saw was not quite the same as the one that opened in New York.  As Schenkann said his primary concern was not royalties or prizes, the show was not released slowly in the normal pattern, on its way to New York. He wants professional, semi-professional and amateur productions as well as readings so that his cautionary tale can reach as many as possible and get a dialog going about our country’s direction and future.

Bruce McKenna and Robert Schenkkan

Schenkann has published the script, so it is available on Amazon and has been translated into French.  To list just a few of its many venues: Los Angeles, Seattle, Tucson, Chicago, Denver and Austin.  It just closed in New York and is going to Vienna and Tehran. He is also negotiating with London and Costa Rica.  Catch it if you can!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

An Exhibition of “Sargent the Watercolours”

For once I am ahead of the game because I was sent a review copy of the catalog of the exhibition, “Sargent the Watercolours” that will open later this week at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  Dulwich is technically in London but from what a tourist would consider the center you need to take some form of transportation, which is not difficult.  In any case,  it is a small museum with a great collection of old master paintings and wonderful special exhibitions. 

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) is considered an American Artist because his parents were American expatriates. He was born in Italy and studied art in France and, though he painted in many countries, England seems to have been where his soul was.  The press release from Dulwich refers to him as an Anglo-American artist and notes that this is the first exhibition of his watercolors in England in almost 100 years.

Sketching in watercolor was an escape for Sargent from the demands of being the most sought-after portrait painter of his day. The earlier American portraitist, Gilbert Stuart, who painted George Washington, complained,  "What a business this of a portrait painter - you bring him a potato, and expect he will paint you a peach."  Sargent likewise confided in a friend, “I have an entirely different feeling for sketches and studies than I have for portraits which are my ‘gagne-pain’ [livelihood] – which I am delighted to get rid of – but sketches from nature give me pleasure to do…”  [A couple of weeks ago in response to my blog on drawings from the British Museum a journalist friend wrote, “Drawing has always seemed close to reporting and journalistic, non-fiction writing.  Painting is fiction, though truth may be present.”]

Sargent only started selling his watercolors in 1909 when he consigned 86 sheets to the Knoedler Gallery in New York where the Brooklyn Museum bought 83.  A second show at Knoedler in 1912 to which he consigned 45 watercolours was sold in its entirety to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

As an aside in 1994 a friend of ours, the late American portrait painter Nelson Shanks (1937-2015), invited my wife and me to visit him while he was working in Sargent’s London studio on Tite Street.  That summer he was most excited to have been painting a portrait of Princess Diana for which they had 50 sittings and she became good friends with both Nelson and his wife Leona.

Exhibition catalogs used to be lists of what was being exhibited with a brief introduction and, if you were lucky, illustrations.  Today these catalogs have a great deal of information which often includes little known or previously unpublished material   The beautifully illustrated catalog accompanying this show is written by Richard Ormond, a Sargent scholar and grand-nephew of the artist.  His co-author is Elaine Kilmurray an art historian and research director of the John Singer Sargent Catalogue Raisonné.  They have been most thorough in their coverage of the artist.  The Concise chronology of Sargent’s work at the beginning of the catalog will surely make the life of researchers far easier. The exhibition consists of stunning examples of Sargent’s watercolors, gathered from private and public collections from all over.  It is divided loosely into categories such as Fragments, Cities, Landscapes, and figures though I believe one could slip some images into one of the other categories without anyone noticing. 

I won’t be able to get to the exhibition but I can pick out a few examples from the catalog that I would love to see in original.  From the Fragment category there is “The Fountain, Bologna” of 1906 lent from a private collection.  It makes me think that the photographer might have wanted to stand further back to catch the whole fountain, but then I too have often tried to capture details in my lens.

In the Cities section “The Rialto Bridge, Venice” brings back fond memories. It is also from a private collection, courtesy of The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.  It certainly does capture the feeling of Venice, a city on water. The unusual vantage point of the composition is at water level, with bridge shown from below it immediately gives you the right feeling for the town.

The image I have chosen from the Landscape section to my mind stretches the category a bit but I find it compelling for other reasons.  It is “A White Ox” of 1910 lent from a private collection.  Maybe what attracts me is the fact that it immediately reminded me of an 18th century drawing in the Albertina, Vienna of “A White Bull and Dog in a Stable" by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a period which was my first love.

My last example from the Figures section is what I find the perfect Sargent,-- “The Lady with the Umbrella” of 1911, which to my mind could be by no other artist.   It is lent by he Museu de Montserrat in Spain.  The face is finished and recognizable but the rest is freely sketched. The appealing image is of the second of his three nieces, Rose-Marie Ormond.  She served as a model for several of his pictures.

As always I implore my readers to see art in the original but, if a journey is not in the cards, the catalog will stand you in good stead.  You will learn a great deal about Sargent’s subjects and his use of the medium of watercolor through the book’s first rate illustrations.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beads: A Universe of Meaning

“Beads: A Universe of Meaning” opened recently at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, in Santa Fe. The exhibition traces the history of imported glass beads as a medium of exchange, artistic expression, and identity for indigenous peoples throughout North America.

Who would think that it was the Europeans who introduced the Native Americans to one of their greatest art forms, beading.  From first contact in the 15th century the Europeans brought strings of glass beads as gifts and trade items.  Even today the most coveted beads are made in Czechoslovakia.

In primary school I learned that the island that I was born and lived on, Manhattan, was bought from the Indians with just $24 worth of beads.  (Today there is still debate about what the medium of exchange was.)  Even then not a great sum of money but the beads served as currency.  The Indian woman found it a lot easier to work with these beads and not have to find and prepare stone, shell, bone or porcupine quills for adorning garments.  The Europeans also found that the Indians valued blue beads above the other colors.  On his 1804 exploration of the Northwest, Meriwether Lewis (Lewis & Clark expedition) reported “The blue beads occupy the place which gold has with us.”

You have probably seen the classic postcard, “Greetings from Indian Country”.  In 2002 it was turned into an artwork by Marcus Amerman  (Choctaw) and was lent to the show from a private collection.  He adapted it with updated and more political imagery.   When we moved out here I bought my wife an Amerman beaded bracelet, which showed a New York City scene, the hawks nesting on a Fifth Avenue apartment building, on one side and the open range on the other as a symbol of our move!

There are many striking images in the show, here is a Nez Perce Woman’s Beaded Yoke circa 1900 from the Collection of Lee and Lois Miner who have lent a number of items to the show.  If you are not familiar with the Nez Perce tribe, don’t be surprised.  I don’t know if anyone can name all of the over 560 recognized Indian tribes.  The Nez Perce, were historically nomadic and, when this piece was made, they claimed parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana as their homeland.   From about the same period, and borrowed from the same collection, is this vest from the Plateau region, which included around 17 tribes including the Nez Perce.  These Indians lived between the Rocky Mountains to the East and the Coastal Mountains to the West.  They went as far North as British Columbia.  Obviously, these tribes traded among themselves and borrowed decorative ideas from each other as well as Anglo sources like floral printed cottons.

Children’s clothing is always thought precious and takes extra skill to work in small scale.  This Cheyenne child’s dress must have been made for a very special occasion around 1890.  It was lent to the show by Nikki Vandenberg.  It is shown with a pair of high top child’s Moccasins from the Shoshone-Bannock Fort Hall Reservation around 1940 and were lent by a private collector.

I love the idea of a pair of man’s moccasins that are beaded on the bottom as well as the top.  They too must have been made for a very special situation because they could not have been comfortable to dance in.  They are Sioux, circa 1890, and lent by Robert Vandenberg.

It is well worth seeing this exhibition for these are works of art that tell stories and express the identity of their creators and their communities.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Lines of Thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to Now

What a wonderful team they make, Bridget Riley, the well known British Artist; Hugo Chapman, Simon Sainsbury Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum (BM) and Isabel Seligman, Curator for the Bridget Riley project.  The idea started when Bridget Riley, a prominent British artist who had been inspired by a life-drawing class in her student days, asked Hugo Chapman if would be interested in a project that would bring art students to the Drawings Study Room at the British Museum to learn about drawing.   Using funds from the Bridget Riley Foundation they hired a curator, Isabel Seligman and a part-time Project Officer, Sarah Jaffray to undertake these workshops.

More than 1000 students have passed through the BM Study Room since the project began three years ago.  The students came in groups of 10 and were asked their interests. Then 10 to 15 drawings were selected from the 50,000 in the collection for them to study, discuss and eventually draw in reaction to what they saw in the master works before them.  The exhibition “Lines of Thought: Drawing from MIchelangelo to Now” reflects selections that, in Chapman’s words, “might excite or intrigue the students to think more deeply about the practice of drawing.”  

The resulting show I found extremely exciting.  It is divided into various intellectual categories of the drawing process but one is not forced in any way to follow that.  As far as I am concerned you can view it in any order you wish, and get a hell of a lot out of it!  The wonderful catalog by Isabel Seligman is full of marvelous quotes by artists of all eras.  One I found most succinct is Matisse’s reference to drawing as the “Clarification of thought”.

The exhibition starts with a 3,000 year old piece, an Egyption funerary papyrus from the Book of the Dead.  Without having a clue what it is about, I found it a drawing that stimulated my imagination.  Turns out it is of a religious official “Nestanebetushiru, kneeling and having her heart weighed against the feather of Maat, the symbol of cosmic order and truth.”  That tidbit certainly makes it even more intriguing!

You could call this just an A-Z exhibition but it is so thought out that the drawings actually do have one contemplating the act of drawing.  The problem for me writing about these 70 sheets is what to pick to share with my readers.  As usual I will choose drawngs that either spoke to me, or made me see something in the artist I never had thought before.  One such was a very small Franz Kline (American, 1910-1962) of just a few strokes of calligraphic form.  Maybe because his brush strokes usually do not make sense to me writ large, here I find them most accessible.  In contrast to Kline’s freedom look at the incredibly controlled lines of Bridget Riley’s (British, 1931- ) study for a series of OP Art works with kaleidoscopic qualities called “Blaze”, 1962.

Andrea del Sarto’s (Italian, 1486-1530) “Studies of Children”, some making gestures showing that probably the artist was working on studies for a painting of John the Baptist is inspiring enough that a detail was chosen for the cover of the catalog.  Contrast this image with Albrecht Durer’s (German, 1471-1528) “Studies of arms for Adam and Eve” for the famous engraving of the couple from 1504.

It is hard to pick a Rembrandt (Dutch, 1606-1669) when there are several wonderful ones, but I will take my wife’s favorite since it is sure to please mother’s of all ages.  It is of a mother and grandmother(?) teaching a child to walk.  Their backs will ache in the morning!  Contrast this evocation of few lines with the highly finished and shadowed Victor Hugo (French, 1802-1885) representing a “Landscape with a Castle”.  Hugo produced around 3,000 images during his life time sometimes using such diverse materials as coffee dregs and soot, as well as ink, to achieve his spooky results.

I have presented here images from Ancient Egypt as well as the 16th, 17th, and 19th centuries from The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, the United States and Britain.  And yes, there are examples from the 18th Century and France as well.  It is a most digestible course in drawing as well as art history.  Just in case I have not convinced you yet to visit Santa Fe this summer, I have not illustrated the Leonardo for the Sistine Chapel or two Michelangelos.  You will just have to come and see the show in Santa Fe.  Works by artists of this caliber do not usually come to these parts!   It will be here until September 17 and then move on to the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

“Lost in Translation”

“Lost in Translation” seems to be the title most often given to the lecture that we heard in Santa Fe a short while ago.  There is never a dearth of lectures given in Santa Fe and one of the organizations that produce quite a number of these is the School for Advanced Research (SAR), which is worth several Missives by itself.  It was established in 1907 as a center for the study of the archaeology and ethnology of the American Southwest and since then it’s scope has widened greatly. 

The other evening we went to a talk sponsored by SAR, Lera Borditsky, (1976–) was the speaker.  She was born in Belarus  and went to university in this country. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, and is known for her research in the fields of language and cognition. Her theme and her passion, as it has been for many years now, was how language shapes thought, which in her words, “Do the languages we speak shape the way we think.”

It is a subject I had not given much thought to but the more I cogitated the more fascinating it became.  I learned German in self-defense.  My parents spoke only German to each other and only English to me… so what were they saying behind my back?  That is a challenge for any kid!  My parents also spoke French, since after leaving Germany they spent 5 years in France , so I picked up more and more phrases.  Today, there are things I cannot express in English and my wife has had to learn many of the phrases as well.  Is it because the thought cannot be expressed in English, yes, unless you go into a long circumlocution.

Dr. Boroditsky has given her public lecture on this subject for seven or eight years, and though fascinated by the subject, I had not heard about her work before.  She starts out by quoting Charlemagne who said, “To have a second language is to have a second soul” and immediately points out that Shakespeare contradicted him by having Juliette say, “A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet” or we sometimes state that a rose by any other name is still a rose.

While I knew quite naturally that there were many languages, that their number hovered around 7,000 was a surprise.  Then I realized in New Mexico alone we have a host of languages since each Native tribe or pueblo have their own language slightly or greatly different from the rest.

We learned further that while we may speak of our right leg or left leg, there are aboriginal tribes in Australia that refer to their north leg or their south leg.   In tests with one tribe,  whichever way the aborigines were turned they were consistent as to North and South!  Must be wonderful not having to ask directions. One thing that Professor Borditsky did not speak of was how does body language play into a conversation.  Where would a Frenchman be without his hands?

Speaking German I know if one gives the time as “halb drei” (translated 3:30) it actually means 30 minutes before 3 or 2:30.  It took me years to learn that and I still checked myself before writing now!

To confront the issue head on Dr. Boroditsky brings up how eye-witness memory differs depending on the language one speaks.  She showed English and Spanish speakers images of events, like a person breaking a vase on purpose or by accident.  When it came to descriptions of intentional acts their memory for the details and the prime cause they were pretty much the same.  In the case of accidental events, however, the English described the person involved more accurately than the Spanish.  The question was, did that have something to do with the grammatical way they described the event: “Se ro tó el florero”, which is literally “The vase broke itself”.

I came away from the talk not convinced but feeling there are some very intriguing possibilities that could change the way we communicate depending on what our goals in a discussion are.  This became even clearer after the lecture when it was time for questions. I asked how do U.N. translators handle this difficult situation.  The reply was less than satisfying.  Dr. Boroditsky answered, “It is worse than you think, every translator is superbly trained but only to translate from one language to another so the statement is translated twice before it is translated into someone’s native language.” A statement in Greek might be translated in French by one translator then again from French to English by another.

Obviously, I have picked up on a very complicated subject and if you want to learn a lot more I refer you to Lera Boroditsky on the Web… enjoy!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Student Curators

At the Ralph T. Coe Foundation, as you may remember from previous Missives the education comes through the object not through, what some call in a disparaging tone, “book learning”. Under the guidance of our Asst. Curator Bess Murphy, the eight students in the third year of the Coe student curator program are put in direct touch with the Coe’s collection of over 2,000 objects, mainly Native American but also Oceanic, Asian, African and even a few European. They are encouraged to pick out works that intrigue them, catch their fancy for one reason or another.  The next part is not so easy.  They have to express what it is that made them choose the object,  “It’s cute” is not acceptable!

Probably most exciting for the students is interacting with professionals.  What better way to gain an education in the arts than to learn from authorities in the field and those who already have experience as curators or in a field tangential and necessary for them to do their jobs.  Our students are taken to several museums in Santa Fe where they get to visit with the curators and this year, in one institution, the director himself.  What excited some students the most was going to a conservation studio where the conservators explained the equipment used, told how the they decide what exactly needs to be done to restore a work of art and show the process itself on the pieces themselves.

Of course, there are also more arduous aspects to the course.  The students have to study the objects they have selected using the books in the Coe libraries, using the internet and asking for expert help when available.  Once in a while the student learns something the staff did not know, a thrill for all.  They will use this information when they learn what label copy is and what the overarching or didactic panel for the show needs to say.  The result is a very unusual and original exhibition.  Here curator Bess Murphy is discussing one of Dynette Chavez’s choices.

What the students don’t do is have a concept and then find objects that fit the subject. In this case the objects come first and then the exhibition title.  Not sure which I like better.  For while this latter system can be confusing but what a curator thinks as totally logical and “important” does not always seem to fit so neatly into the puzzle.

This year the students put together objects from across the globe, China, Japan, Tibet, several African countries, Canada, Greenland, Germany, many Native tribes and I am probably missing some.  Their title, therefore, was excellent, “The Mirror Effect: Reflection upon our Realities”. The students write in their brief catalog that it “is centered around a relationship between art and viewer.  When someone sees an object a connection is made to their own life.  Some connections are drawn from the object because of the story it tells, while others are inspired by the piece’s beauty or, perhaps, it may come from a person’s culture, a cherished memory, or passion…..  We all found a part of ourselves in each object, and the exhibition conveys how we connected with them.”  Any of my readers who are collectors may never have thought about their collecting in this way but I believe it is quite accurate as to how we view art that we care about.

The students installed their own show and learned what colors went together and how the objects might fit with each other. Coming personally from a European background I was particularly happy that one student curator, Shante Toledo, chose two 17th century German boxwood boxers.  They looked amazingly good to me, aside from being put on a pedestal together with a large pair of moccasins with leggings by Maggie Picket-Yellowtail chosen by Dynette Chavez and a number of smaller objects.

One of my favorite pieces in the Coe collection has always been a Navajo baby shirt circa 1920.  The green velvet fabric I am sure made the baby seem more cuddly than it would have naturally been anyhow!  The color is also a wonderful shade of green.  This was chosen by Elizabeth Lukee and was loved by all, so it was installed right at the beginning of the show where the public comes in.

This Student Curator Oscar Loya has taken the program 3 times because he enjoyed it so much. This year he picked a contemporary Chinese scroll by a professor at Beijing University.  He was originally attracted to it when he saw it lying on a shelf all rolled up on a cart and wanted to find out what it was.  Mystery has a definite role in collecting as it does in reading a book.  The question is always what’s next or what can I learn about this curious item.  Here he is showing it to Shante Toldeo.

At the opening the students are asked to introduce themselves and say something about their exhibition or the program in front of a crowd of visitors, so they end their period with the Coe Foundation with another learning experience, making a presentation.

As I was finishing writing this one of the students returned to the Coe to deliver hand addressed envelopes with invitations for her graduation and celebration party for each of us who interacted with them in the program.  More gratifying thanks one cannot receive!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mirror, Mirror: Photographs of Frida Kahlo

It’s the story told by others that makes you a legend and so it was with Frida Kahlo (1907-1954).  Some artists become legends in their own time and some become legends long afterwards but few turn themselves into legends.  The closest we come to it today is the persona that we choose to give ourselves on Face Book.  I am sure Frida would have loved this vehicle of social media where everyone could have thrilled to her adventures.

The exhibition “Mirror, Mirror: Photographs of Frida Kahlo was originated by, and most of the photographs have been collected and lent by Spencer Throckmorton, who at one time was an art dealer in Santa Fe and is now located in New York.   At present “Mirror, Mirror” is on view at the Spanish Colonial Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico and will remain there until October 29. An image of 1944 by Lola Alvarez Bravo suggests her obsession  with her own image and gives the title to the show.

You might say I have more than a passing acquaintance with the exhibition since my wife, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, is the guest curator!  I have spoken before about seeing a show in more than one venue because at each institution, in each location, the curator has put their own spin on it. 

Frida’s father was a photographer so Frida was used to posing for photographs and she soon found it was an excellent way of promoting herself.    She had a life of suffering starting with polio at the age of 6 and became disabled in a bus accident at the age of 18 which led to a life of pain and many operations, totaling 30 by the time of her death at the age of 47.  The accident squelched her hopes of medical school and when she was bedbound she discovered an outlet in painting.

Frida was no wallflower and threw herself fervently into whatever she started.  After she had painted for just a short while it is said that she stood below the scaffolding where the already famous Diego Rivera was painting a mural and insisted that he descend to critique her work.  He was not only impressed with her paintings but he was impressed with her.  He was a famed womanizer but found that it would not do just to have her, he had to marry her. They wed  in 1929 when she was 22 and he 20 years older.  Here an image of Diego examining her work as she paints a self-portrait by Bernard Silberstein in the early 1940’s.

The exhibition is divided into categories such as - Diego and Frida - Frida the Painter - Emergence of an Icon - Intimate Frida - Heroine of Pain and Casa Azul.  The latter has a section without images of Frida but rather color studies of her home where she grew up and lived until she died.  These images were taken by William Frej, a Santa Fe photographer who has turned professional.  One of my favorites here is of her worktable at the Casa Azul with the window.  I remember visiting George O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu and finding her studio the most fascinating.

I don’t know if I would call Frida a discriminating lover but for one thing she did not make much of a differentiation between men or women and here is a picture of one of her closest friends the California artist Emmy Lou Packard taken by Diego himself in 1941.

The section Heroine of Pain is set in a separate room with good reason and I had to force myself to enter a second time.  In my opinion it is more important to put a warning for parents to be aware of an image such as that by Juan Guzman shortly before Frieda died than the ones you often see posted because of a nude image!

To end where the exhibition began there is a poster size photo of Frida at the entrance with a sign suggesting that the visitor take a selfie with the legend herself.  Propped on the sign is a stuffed monkey since Frida often walked around with her live monkey on her shoulder.  Here is an image of Frida and her curator of the moment.

If you are interested in Frida Kahlo and her hometown of Mexico City there is a trip being organized from September 22-26.  It will go beyond the myth surrounding her and you will discover Frida’s world.  To get all the details please contact the tour organizer Ellen Bradbury-Ried  (  or email me ( and I can send them to you.  But hurry reservations, close at the end of the month.