Sunday, September 24, 2017

Stepping Out

Who would have thought that a woman from Northern Ireland who came to the U.S. as a child would develop a passion for 2,000 to 3,000 year old sandals from the Southwest but so it was that Maxine McBrinn curator at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture who produced an exhibition on the history of western Indian footwear.

McBrinn starts the show with plaster impressions of sandaled footprints from the birth of pueblo culture between 500 BC and 500AD (Basket Maker II) . She goes on to cover the Western tribes including the Apache, Cheyenne and Comanche with loans from all over the Southwest like the Edge of Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding, Utah.

McBrinn writes the shoes “are very personal and feel like a direct link to an individual in the past.  You can see the size of their foot, the imprint of each toe, and how the sandal was repaired.”  They can also tell us much about the wearer.  How large they were, were they male or female sometimes even about their health, if they had bunions or limped with an uneven gait.

Anglos seem to think that when they arrived in 1492 the Indians also suddenly appeared to torment them.  There is a reason that to be politically correct we call them Native Americans -  they were here first!   However, since I have never heard an Indian call himself a Native American I will stick to the name Whitey first gave them, Indians.  Driving home this point of their  length of time here the new exhibition at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) is called “Stepping Out: 10,000 Years of Walking the West.” 

As a child back East we were introduced to moccasins as a stiff leather slipper with some beads on top but when one gets out West you learn that that is just a tourist version of the real thing.  We know someone who commissioned a pair of mocasins from a friend, as bedroom slippers which he called, “comfy”.  They were not unlike the quilled and beaded Sioux moccasins, circa 1910, from the museum’s collection.

What I did not know was that early on they were just a flat piece of material to go under the foot.  It makes sense when you think what a shoe is for, to protect the bottom of your feet not the top!  They had to be tied on and so came about the sandals we know so well.  Some sandals were made extra large to leave room to put in mud and grass to keep the wearer’s foot warm.  Here are three different examples: the first is an adult scuffer toe sandal  of about 1300, the second even earlier 750-13 00 is a plain weave sandal of an Ancestral Pueblo, and the third a winder sandal from the Canadian River area made of Yucca grass, also before 1300. 

It was not until about 1300 that moccasins came into fashion.  At first they were decorated with traditional quill work, but when beads came to this country as payment, trade bead-work began to be used.  Though the myth is that the island of Manhattan was acquired from the Indians for $24 worth of beads it wasn’t until about 1800 that that beaded pocasins came into common use. This pair of beautiful Sioux beaded sole moccasins from the museum’s large collection, dating prior to 1890 is made of hide, cloth, glass beads, tin, horse hair also from the museum’s large collection.

Photo Credit: Christopher Durantes

Change is inevitable and everything has to be brought up to date so today we find “High Fashion” shoes such as this pair of heels designed by the noted designer Steve Madden and beaded by Kiowa artist Teri Greeves.  These were commissioned for the show and paid for by The Friends of Indian Art, a support group for the museum.

Photo Credit: Stephen Lang

I found this exhibition to be an eye opener in a field that I thought I understood something about. Learning the history and having it illustrated will have me looking at sandals and moccasins quite differently and with more appreciation from now on.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Look Back: Two Dreamers

Quickly approaching is the eighth anniversary of Missives of the Art World ... and as such, from time to time previously published Missives will be featured.  "Two Dreamers" was originally published on October 3, 2010.


Two Dreamers … one with eyes lowered as if in prayer and the other looking to the stars. Who are these women? We will never know, for they are not commissioned portrait busts but rather idealized heads based on a sculptor’s study of a live model. Furthermore, they are not even in the traditional materials of “fine arts”, stone, or bronze. These two dreamers are made of red stoneware known as Böttgerware, and produced at the porcelain factory of Meissen somewhere between the late 1920’s and mid 1930’s. Their authors were sculptors who made their living creating models for ceramic production.

These sculptural studies are a world apart from the precious quality generally associated with porcelain figurines. But modelers for porcelain factories of the 18th century were often talented sculptors (Kaendler at Meissen, Bustelli at Nymphenburg foremost among them) who could shape the human figure to conform to the stylization of the Baroque and Rococo eras. Just so with these two heads, where the realistic study of models is transformed through the lens of the Art Deco style of the twenties and thirties.

We know little about the sculptors themselves. Professor Emile Paul Börner (1888-1970) studied in Florence and the Italian tradition of the depiction of the Virgin Mary is evident in the mystical tranquility he evokes in his female subject. Even less is known about Willi Münch-Khe (1885-1961), the author of the Balinese beauty, who worked as a modeler at several other German factories as well as at Meissen. He clearly shared in the fascination with the exotic that was current in the art deco and moderne periods.

They both realized the potential of the high-fired red-brown ceramic that had been overlooked in the centuries since it was developed by the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) in his attempts to produce porcelain for the princely patrons of the Meissen factory. He was the first in Europe to discover the formula for true porcelain known from oriental imports and Meissen began production in 1710. But the early vessels of red stoneware, now dubbed Bottgerware, are among the most prized by collectors today.

The exceptionally hard medium allows for the most refined detail and the contrast of matte and highly polished surfaces (see the eyelashes on Borner’s piece, the glistening lips on Münche-Khe’s) Did the director of the factory encourage the two sculptors to explore the medium in large sculpture? Did the two sculptors challenge each other? I have been so intrigued by my two ladies, their relationship and their contrasting beauty. They are hors de categorie, surpassing the stigma of “minor arts” associated with the products of porcelain factories.

Will we ever know the circumstance of their creation?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Old Masters Rock

If you have not already guessed, “Old Masters Rock” is a book about how to look at art with children.  This book may not be unique in its goals but it certainly has a different way of approaching the subject.

The cover of the book shows a few wonderful Old Masters and the name of the person who had the idea and selected the pictures and wrote the text: Maria-Christina Sayn-Wittgenstein Nottenbohm.  It takes 3 lines to cover all of the names she was born with plus the last, which is her husband’s.  So it is with German aristocracy. If you forced her she could even add a title!  To make things simple she prefers her nickname, Puppa and that is how I shall refer to her.  Presently she is a dealer in the field of Old Masters under the gallery name Sayn-Wittgenstein in New York.  To assure you how well thought of she is in the art world, Gary Tinterow former  chairman of the Met’s department of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum and now director of the Fine Art Museum, Houston, wrote the introduction

The entries in Old Masters Rock started with regular pieces, emailed to friends over a year ago. Even though Puppa has kindly said to me that I had inspired her to do this, the real inspiration was taking her son Gaspar to museums in this country and abroad and discussing the paintings with him.  Here they are recently at the Metropolitan Museum discussing John Constable’s, Salisbury Cathedral of 1825.

The book begins with some tips for parents and their children.  It comes down to asking questions.  My wife always asked our son and his older brother and sister what they thought a painting was about.  Puppa goes much further with lots of questions and answers about subject, technique and vision of the artist.  The contents are divided into themes, Animals, Families, Myth & Magic, News of the Day and a number more.  Some of the most famous old masters ever are included and a number of my favorites are there in full-page color illustrations.

We might as well start at the beginning with the section on animals and a Leonardo da Vinci, “Lady with an Ermine”, circa 1490.  I was lucky enough to see this picture on a junket to Poland with Basia Johnson right after the Berlin wall came down and there were, as the Polish people called it, “the changes”. Since it had not yet been hung in the galleries at the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, the painting was quite literally brought out of the vault for us. I would take it over the Mona Lisa any day of the week!  To each of these full-page illustrations Puppa has added an equal sized page of text with facts about the artist and technique, and in this case ermine and women of history and mystery.   It is material that will intrigue children and adults alike.    As an example, regarding Leonardo, Puppa writes, “Leonardo was a wizard!  He was brilliant and loved science… and imagined…flying machines”.  She tells about the Ermine that, “are great at catching mice… Ermine fur is traditionally used for royal robes”.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Like most children of parents involved in the arts, I was dragged to auction houses, galleries and museums from the time I was born.  I don’t mind admitting that I was often bored out of my mind, but tell me that I was not allowed somewhere and I was dying to go. This was so with the Frick Collection in New York, which restricted admittance until the age of 10 and I believe still does.  Maybe it was a birthday present, I don’t remember, but I know shortly after my 10th birthday I was taken to the Frick and fell totally in love with a painting, “St. Francis in the Desert”, 1475-1478 by Giovanni Bellini, who I later learned was one of the most important artists of the early Renaissance in Venice.  This large picture, almost 4 by 5 feet, absorbed me like a large screen television might absorb a football fan today!  Puppa introduces this image by the name of the movie “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” that alone is more interesting to a child than St. Frances in the Desert.  Don’t remember St. Francis from my Jewish upbringing.  Puppa puts the latter in historical context and describes the scene, asking questions like whether you can guess what time of day it is or how St. Francis feels while he is saying his morning prayers.  These are all short paragraphs: even technique is explained in simple terms.  They can be read with your child and made into a game or you can just remember one or two when you take your child to the museum.

Copyright The Frick Collection

Another painting that mesmerized me when I was young was Albrecht Altdorfer’s “Battle of Alexander at Issus”.   The picture is in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.  Puppa calls it “Middle Earth”.  She compares it to classic movie scenes and explains the battle and uniforms.  At the same time everything that is pertinent art historically is also there, including where to find the signature, which explains that Altdorfer was from Regenspurg.  I am sure it was all the tiny soldiers on horseback brandishing weapons that so intrigued me and Puppa describes them so you won’t miss it in the illustration.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

I will mention one more painting which Puppa titles “Construction Site”.  It is Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s “Tower of Babel” of 1563. I won’t give the story away just the punch line!  Everyone ends up speaking a different language.  We had just such a construction site next door to our house in New York where the contactor got a pick-up crew that spoke Chinese, Spanish, a language from India and many others.  We could never learn anything from them because they could not communicate.  Here is the entry and illustration from the book.

If I have not enticed you to order the book, and encourage your local books store to carry it, then note that the book is already so popular an article appeared in the arts section of the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.  Puppa’s lecture tour for the book started in the Queen’s Gallery of Buckingham Palace, which, as lofty as that sounds, has temporary exhibitions from the royal collections, open to all for an entry fee.  You can find her lecture schedule on her Amazon author page HERE.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Justice at the Opera

"Justice at the Opera” there could not be a better title for this once in a life-time experience.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg curated 90 minutes of arias from various operas relating to justice and the law at the Lensic Performing Arts Center with wonderful apprentice singers from the Santa Fe Opera.

For those not seriously interested in opera, it may not be well known, but Justice Ginsberg’s love of opera is legendary. She has been coming to Santa Fe for the opera season a very long time. In fact she told the Washington Post that she, “considers the Santa Fe Opera the finest summer opera company in the world.”

It has also been commented upon that until his death Justice Scalia, her archrival on the Supreme Court, would accompany her since, regarding opera, at least, there was a certain meeting of the minds.

Justices Ginsberg and Scalia last year

I am going to take a liberty here and I hope my readers, and most of all our favorite Supreme Court Justice, will forgive me, but in order to save space and not repeat Justice Ginsberg 10 more times, I will refer to her as others have, as RBG.  This is not the first time that RBG has done this program. In 2013 the New York Times reported on Justice at the Opera at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival in Cooperstown, New York and earlier this year the Washington Post had an article about a program similar to the one in Santa Fe at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

The late afternoon performance started with introductions by the Executive Director of the Lensic, Joel Aalberts, welcoming the audience for this momentous occasion and introducing Charles MacKay, retiring General Director of the Santa Fe Opera to this joint benefit.  Both received energetic applause and cheers.  But when Mr. MacKay introduced Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg saying that she was Ambassador at Large for the Opera and must never retire from the court, everyone in the sold-out theatre rose to their feet and would not stop applauding and cheering.  It was most heartening.  When the Justice finally calmed the audience she quoted Justice O’Brian’s two favorite responses,  “Thank you and thank you again” and adding her own “Mille Grazie”.

RBG’s props were a podium and an armchair in an exaggerated Louis XV style, lent by the Santa Fe Opera, where she sat in rapt attention after making the introduction to each scene.  There were eight selections from famous operas. Justice Ginsberg’s commentary explained what was happening in the opera itself as well as some juicy tidbits from the law.    The first scene was a quartet from Verdi’s “Falstaff” and RBG explained that it was about mail fraud since two women received the exact same love letter from a suitor who was actually after their husband’s money.  She explained with mock seriousness how this had been responsible for a U.S. law regarding mail fraud.

With the aria from Puccinis’s “Tosca” where the hero anticipates the Firing Squad, the Justice mentioned that some in this country sentenced to death, who have been averse to the needle, have asked for a firing squad instead, but so far all have been denied.

In L’elisir d’Amore by  Donizetti during the quartet from Act II RBG was asked to notarize the  the contract. She rose to the podium to do so and the singer held it out to the audience for all to see.  These antics and comments added zest and laughter to the afternoon!

The most moving piece and only one that one felt quite convinced RBG had insisted on was from the opera, “Appomattox” by Philip Glass, a composer I do not care for.   The emotional aspect of the piece, however, cannot be denied. Terrence Chin-Loy, an African-American tenor who is also a wonderful actor, recounted the “Colfax Massacre” on Easter Sunday of 1873 in Colfax, Louisiana, where over a hundred black militiamen were cut down by white supremacists upset to see the freed “colored people”.

When a Supreme Court Justice, who sits on a  pedestal as the idol of many, joins the rest of us in a cultural experience, it gives one an exceptional feeling of belonging and edification.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

“Catch 22” The Exhibition

The Coe, formally known as The Ralph T. Coe Foundation, recently opened a new show, “Catch 22”.  According to the guest curator, Nina Sanders, (Apsáalooke, also known as the Crow Tribe), “we do ourselves a disservice by manufacturing boundaries that serve to exclude, define and restrict certain types of art.  ‘Catch 22’ addresses the paradox that sanctions Native American art as well as the paradoxes that exist within each artist’s life…These individuals are faced with navigating the ‘catch- that comes from standing in two worlds, as modern Americans and indigenous people”.

It is the job of every curator to edit an exhibition so that it speaks to its audience.  In my opinion this show of 22 works on paper does.  It helps to know, however, that the owner of the collection, Edward J. Guarino known as Edd, was getting bored with collecting traditional Native American art and wanted to find edgier material, which the younger Indian artists have been doing.  As someone who has spent most of his life dealing with Old Master European paintings, I find it difficult to agree but cannot disagree with Edd’s statement, “that you can’t talk to dead artists.”  Clearly both curator and collector came together on the importance of this point and each work has an artist’s statement in the small catalog that accompanies the show.

How did the Coe find this private collector from Brooklyn, New York?  Actually, Edd found the Coe about a year ago, through a Coe volunteer and someone who had set up a tour of the Coe.  Edd met its President, Rachel Wixom, and they came up with the idea for this show together.  The fact is that Edd was not unknown in Santa Fe.  The artist, Shan Goshorn, had introduced Edd to me online a short while before and an exhibition of Edd’s collection of Northwest Coast works on paper was up at the Museum of Contemporary Indian Art.

Shan Goshorn, an Eastern Band Cherokee from Oklahoma, is a basket maker who weaves stories into her works.  In the catalog entry for her piece in Catch 22 she states; “Art cajoles, encourages, forces us to stretch out of our comfort zone and to consider things that we might not have considered before.  I want people who see my work to walk away with the curiosity to learn more…”

An etching by Charles Loloma (1921-1991), a Hopi Jeweler who worked in many other media is called “Vertical Rectangles” and is based on a drawing from one of his sketchbooks.  What is particularly interesting is that it relates directly to some of the jewelry he was doing circa 1980. The catalog entry includes a quote from his writings: “I feel a strong kinship to stones…I feel the stone and think, not to conquer it, but to help it express itself”.

We saw Rose Simpson from Santa Clara Pueblo work in clay when she was still young enough to be called Rosy and was making small clay dolls.  Now 20 years later she is an established artist whose clay sculptures can be found in many exhibitions and museum collections.  She is from a renowned family of artists specializing in work in clay.  But as you must know by now artists never wish to pigeon hole themselves in one medium any more than an actor wants to be typecast.  Here we have a mixed media piece called “V-8 Engine”.  Possibly influenced by her mother, Roxanne, having rebuilt and decorated a car, which she loved to show off in the town of Espanola near Santa Clara.  Curator Nina Sanders says of Rose, “She is a force to be reckoned with.  She carefully and thoughtfully explores new areas of art as she navigates her own existence."

Since it is necessary to expand our horizons my final illustration will be by an artist I was totally unacquainted with, Sarah Sense (Chitimacha/Coctaw). She belongs to the tradition of basket weavers but this piece, like most of her work, is  flat. Titled “Elizabeth as Cleopatra”, 2015, it is woven from an inkjet print on Bamboo paper.  I love it when a picture emerges for me slowly and the first time I viewed this work I did not really see it other than colorful patterns. Then, as a volunteer at a Coe function, I found myself sitting opposite it and slowly the face of Elizabeth Taylor came out at me and the image clicked. The artist’s statement said, “The ultimate connection between me and this weaving would be the personal romantic journey that I had experienced at the same time I created Elizabeth as Cleopatra.”  That mysterious comment has all wondering.  What is important to me, however, is that the statement only amplifies the experience, but is not necessary to appreciate, the art.

If I have piqued your curiosity the exhibition can be seen at The Coe at 1590B Pacheco in Santa Fe. Just call, even at the last moment, (505) 983-6372 or come to an open house on the first Friday of every month from 1-4pm.  If you can’t make it, the fully illustrated 16-page catalogue with artists’ and curatorial commentary can be acquired by writing to or emailing the Coe,

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Planning a Season

I am back at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, this time with the new Executive Director, Joel Aalberts.  Actually, he is not that new having started a year ago tomorrow.  He comes to Santa Fe having been Director at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts since 2013.  He also served in other Midwestern theatres, as a performer as well.

He had several concepts not tried before at the Lensic.  One was that the season’s program should be ready to be announced in May for the following August though May of the next year. This would allow his audience to plan, and most importantly buy tickets in advance.  Personally, we have already booked tickets through next April.  Here is Joel with his family at the announcement of the coming season.

An important goal for any theater is not to lose money on a season.  If you are a theatergoer, beyond Broadway or the Las Vegas strip, you are always told that tickets only fund a percentage of any year.  They cannot cover the tens of thousands it costs to book the entertainment plus supply the additional lights, other tech and musical instruments that might be needed through tickets alone.  The care and feeding of the headliner for the evening is also vital to the reputation of the theater and staff in the industry.

Joel with Actress Rita Moreno
Joel with Jazz Singer Dianne Reeves

The Lensic, being a converted 1930’s Movie Palace in a small town, has 821 seats.  I asked Joel whether we could have a particular political satirist whom I like and I think would do well in multi-cultural Santa Fe.  Joel said he would like to have him as well, but that he would probably not be interested in playing to an 800 seat theater when there were 2,000 plus seat auditoriums in Los Vegas or even where Joel worked previously in Kentucky.  When planning a season you have to be realistic as to whom might play the house.

If the Lensic would charge $10 for a family event, that would bring in only $8,210, which would not cover costs.  If you bring in a star the costs can come to $50,000 or  even much more. If all seats cost the same you might have to charge $100 per seat and you would lose much of your audience. Currently the most expensive seat in the house is $79 for a few shows and prices go down substantially from there.  In fact, the less than ideal seats at the Lensic are usually priced in the neighborhood of $25.

Joel with Nancy Zeckendorf, founding director, at the Lensic

Practically speaking when planning a season you need to know as much as you can about your patrons.  Joel’s first season he had a very short time to do this, but he could look at past seasons and see which events sold out and which had less than perfect attendance.

Last year there was only a week between his start date and one of the arts conferences he attends every year.  There are three in the United States: one is the Western Arts Alliance Conference which he goes to at the end of August, one in the mid-west and one on the East Coast.  These conferences try to focus, as much as possible, on the arts that appeal to that part of the country.  The theatre directors are pitched from morning ‘till night by the agencies trying to book their programs and talent. 

Once the actual season begins Joel can get direct responses by seeing not only how the house fills but also by comments made to him by members of the audience.  He attends many events in the house and is very open to the public’s comments, which surprised me since everyone has an opinion!

Agencies continue to pitch via email all year long and Joel will try to find an opening in the schedule if he thinks a particular act will appeal.  Two such sell outs this season were Trombone Shorty and Chris Botti neither of whom I had ever heard of.  Trombone Shorty, as his name implies, plays trombone and has a band.  Having played at the Lensic, he is going on a European tour this fall.  Chris Botti is a Grammy-winning trumpeter.  My point being that Joel has to know a lot of different parts of the entertainment industry and learns more all the time, including the tastes of his audience.  Here, like New York, you have great ethnic and age diversity.

Every theatre Director will have personal goals and one of Joel’s is to offer a diverse choice every year to expose people, not just to the same success as last year, but variations on a theme.  I have written a couple of times on Taiko drummer groups; each was different, so our experience was varied and our horizons broadened.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Steve Jobs Redux

Even before we had seen the new Steve Jobs opera called “(R)evolution of Steve Jobs” my wife suggested that I should write about it. My reaction was, “Why should I?” I thought it would be very contemporary atonal music, which I usually hate and, even though I was definitely curious, I had just written about Jobs a couple of weeks ago.

Seeing the opera, however, I was totally bowled over. It has wonderful music, sometimes amusing and sometimes gut-wrenching lyrics and is produced in not only an original manner, but one that works perfectly!  From me it gets 5 stars!! 

The music is by Mason Bates and the libretto is by Mark Campbell.  It was co-commissioned with Seattle Opera and San Francisco Opera.  This is no surprise since Jobs lived and worked in the area.  The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music joined them as co-producers.  The world premier was right here at the Santa Fe Opera.

The conductor on the night we went was Michael Christie.  As was written by John Stege in our local weekly magazine, The Santa Fe Reporter, “Bate’s score works just fine on several levels.  Forget the fearsome, distant electronic days… Bates offers and performs a kinder, gentler use of electronica that works right along with his multi-hued and often brilliant orchestral patterns.”

At the beginning of the opera a 10 year old boy is given a work table made for him by his father so he will have, “a place to take things apart and put them together again”.  Panels that serve for projections, often of circuit boards, slide back and forth as the characters move along.  Soon a grown Jobs takes the boy’s place.  If you force me to critique anything it is that the plot jumps back and forth in Job’s short life from 1955 to 2011 and it is sometimes difficult to keep track.  Still by the time it is over, you feel you understand the story of his life.  Here is Edward Parks as Steve Jobs and Jonah Sorenson as the young Jobs.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

The opera gets going with an aria or really a song called “Tap, tap, tap” which imitates all of us pressing on the icons on our iPhones.  I believe I forgot to mention how good the entire cast was!  We have heard wonderful voices in the past and sometimes they were good actors as well, but one usually picks them out individually.  In this performance we found all were good in both categories and some excelled.  The chorus is made up of Santa Fe Opera apprentices who in other productions sometimes have been given solo roles.  Opera companies from all over come in the summer to hear then sing and make some choices.  A bit like job interviews at major universities.  Steve Jobs and the Santa Fe Opera Chorus.

Photo Credit; Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

Every story comes from a different point of view: my Missive, “Fearless Genius” dealt with Jobs creativity from the positive perception of the photographer Doug Menuez; the opera has a far more personal and in some ways tragic point of view.  In fact my wife and I were both in tears by the time it was over.  The part of Laurene, Job’s wife, was played by Sasha Cooke, a fabulous mezzo-soprano and actor, though I would prefer actress, because she symbolized the most wonderful strong but sympathetic wife!  Others who stood out were Job’s original partner Steve Wozniak, Garrett Sorenson and Jobs’ Zen Priest, Kobun Otogawa sung by Wei Wu.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

If you want quite contrary thoughts on the same opera we saw, read the New York Times review. It is hard to believe that Zachary Woolfe, the author of this piece, saw the same production. We stayed until the last hand was clapped.  It was at least a five-minute standing ovation with more Bravos, Bravas and Bravis than I have ever heard in Santa Fe.  Mr. Woolfe seems to also believe that people are either all black or all white.  I read the same book he did by Walter Isaacson revealing Steve Jobs as an often insensitive SOB who clearly had another extremely charismatic way of enveloping people and having many totally devoted to him.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

I have gone to an awful lot of opera in my 70 plus years, starting with Aida in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome when I was 11.  I can honestly say I have been bored out of my skull by many operas since.  However, when you see and hear an opera put together so expertly with music, story line and performers at their best, and even an amazing set that cast and stage crew slide through effortlessly, for me it counts as a success and wonderful evening!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Tom Joyce - Sculptor

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t drop out of school at 16 and be a success.  It just depends what you want to do with the rest of your life.  If perchance you decide you would like to forge hot steel for a living you may have a chance.  So it was with Tom Joyce (b.1956-) who picked up his first hammer when he was 14 and by the age of 16 he had made up his mind that was what he wanted to do.  When asked about how he learned, his response is always, “I had a classic black smith’s training.”.  Black smith for me always makes me think of horse-shoes not 3 ton sculptures.  Tom’s work has developed from practical items such as agricultural tools made from worn iron hand-me-downs, to a gate near our home on the old Santa Fe Trail, to major steel sculptures weighing many tons.

Whenever, I am asked about Tom Joyce I immediately say that I met him before he received the half million-dollar MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2003.  Why? So no one thinks it is because of the award we tried to meet him!  Around that time he invited us to breakfast at his home.  It was and is the only time I have been asked to fetch my own eggs from the hen house ... hey, I’m a city kid!

His work has been shown all over the world and can be found in the collections of the Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C., the Minneapolis and Detroit Institutes of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York among others.

There is presently an exhibition of Tom’s work called “Tom Joyce: Everything at Hand” at the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Santa Fe.  It occupies their new sculpture garden as well as the entire museum gallery, and it will be up until the end of the year.  An unusual aspect of CCA that it is on an Armory campus and the building now housing the art gallery is the original Tank Garage -- a good thing for Tom since the floor and even the walls can hold thousands of pounds in weight, which would not work in a normal museum building.  This outdoor sculpture “Aureole VI” which is over 6 feet in diameter weighs 4,407 lbs was created this year surely for this space.

Tom is a celebrity artist who has not let it go to his head: he is a very modest guy.
Listening to Tom speak, which he did at the museum the other day, expecting 20 people to show up and ending with about 220.  We learned of his fascination with iron and steel and their unending challenges.

He has worked with forges both in this country and abroad.  He told us that he now pays by the minute to use a large industrial facility so he cannot afford too many mistakes.  Therefore, he works with models in his studio here in Santa Fe making sure that his ideas can work on a very large and heavy scale. He was speaking to us in front of two sculptures “Bloom IV and Bloom V done last year of forged high carbon steel.  The smaller sculpture weighing 15,750 pounds and the larger 26,815 lbs.  These very large pieces are a composite of several smaller pieces of steel.

His huge sculptures come from industrial manufacturing castoffs.  As he says, “It’s a sculpture now, but it’s a store of material, and in my eyes, always tied to it origins.  Its practical nature ensures that it will be used again for another purpose and that most assuredly it will be here long after I’m gone.”  When was the last time that you heard an artist admit that his work might be destroyed to be used for another purpose?  In history it is not unusual for metals to be melted down for better and for worse!  It’s all part of the continuum…  To demonstrate that he believes what he says, he created an installation of light.  The label says, “Untitled (3-D printed tools made and/used by the artist) 2017.  Stereolithography printed clear polycarbonate-like plastic, LED lights, dimensions variable”. The hanging elements are casts of the tools he used to make a living before turning to sculpture.

Some of his multi-ton sculptures actually have the appearance of being squishy.  Take a look at this one called ”Lignifact I” created this year in 4 pieces of forged stainless steel weighing 14,000 pounds.

CCA also has a marvelous film program with two movie theatres which gets top billing on their website so if you go to be sure to click on “Visual Arts” at the top of the page for museum hours and other practical information.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fearless Genius

Can you guess to whom the title refers?  It is someone who can honestly be called a household name, Steve Jobs.  Where would we be today, virtually speaking, without him?   The title actually comes from a book, “Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley, 1985-2000”. It is a selection from the 250,000 photographs taken over those years in Silicon Valley by Doug Menuez. He has given the entire archive to Stanford.

We heard Menuez speak the other night at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe. He is an award winning documentary photographer who has photographed from the North Pole to the Amazon and the Sahara desert, covering subjects from sports to AIDS and famine. He said that when he was looking for some less harrowing experiences he began to focus on Silicon Valley.  He asked Steve Jobs if he could have unfettered access to him and his development of the Next computer, the project he was then working on.  To Menuez’s surprise Jobs said, yes.

In 1985 Jobs was 30 and Menuez was 28, trying to find a meaningful story in his world.  He said, “I wasn’t interested in technology per say, I was — and am — interested in those people who possess this amazing ability to change all of our lives.”  1985 was also a turning point for Jobs:  he had been fired by his former mentor and CEO at Apple, John Sculley and he wanted to move on to a new electronic wonder, the Next computer.

To Menuez surprise he found Jobs “was just loaded with charisma. He was the most inspiring person I ever met. By the time I met Steve, I had photographed presidents and movie stars, and I’d had life-and-death experiences in Africa, and I’d covered homelessness and AIDS, but nothing compared to being with Steve Jobs and listening to him telling what was coming in the future. It was electrifying.”

Over the years “I could walk into his office at any time, go into virtually any meeting — occasionally the engineers would get upset, but Steve would always tell them to let me shoot what I wanted. It was amazing freedom.” According to Menuez, Job’s bad rep came from the fact that he was incredibly demanding of his engineers but most of them liked the challenges.  If he yelled at them he wanted them to fight back and state their reasons for their decisions and if they made their case he was cool with it.

The lecture was part of the events leading up to the Santa Fe Opera world premiere of “The (R)Evolution of Steve Jobs”, composed by Mason Bates with a libretto by Mark Campbell.

At the Patina Gallery of contemporary Jewelry owned by Allison and Ivan Barnett, an exhibition of Menuez’ photographs was up.  They had been introduced to Menuez by Ivy Ross,  the jewelry designer whose work is in 12 International museums, went to Harvard Business school and is currently Vice President, Design and User Experience for Hardware Products at Google and head of Google Glass.

Allison Barnett & Ivy Ross

Ivan got in touch with the Santa Fe Opera since they had cooperated before, and the result was the use of Menuez’ photos for promotion of the new Jobs opera.  Ivan then arranged for the lecture at the Lensic introduced by Ivy Ross who held a question and answer session at the end.

During the Q and A Menuez mentioned some of his concerns and, for me, there were a couple of eye openers.  One was that 75% of the engineers in this country are immigrants.   Menuez also pointed out the contrast between Ross Perot’s infusion of 20 million into the Next computer and the current impatience of venture capitalists who don’t want to wait 5 or 6 years for their profits, but just 2.  This is enough time for a new app, not a technological revolution.

Menuez concluded with what still echoes in my mind Jobs’ quote, “NEVER GIVE UP - EVER”.

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 traveling 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!