Sunday, July 28, 2013

An Unusual Pueblo Experience

We were recently asked by the Governor of the Pojoaque Pueblo, George Rivera and an Anglo Museum professional, Bruce Bernstein to join them and the tribal council on a tour of the pueblo.

Bruce Bernstein has dedicated his life to the study of Native American culture.  In the years that we have been coming out here he was the first director of the new incarnation of the Museum of Indian Arts  & Culture in Santa Fe, he worked as Director of Research and Collections at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and subsequently ran the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts which produces Indian Market in Santa Fe every year. One of his current projects is to help Governor Rivera start up a new foundation for the benefit of Pojoaque called The Continuous Pathways Foundation.

About 30 people were on our tour.  We at the Poeh Center & Museum, which, like museums on many pueblos, is there to teach the tribal members about their heritage more than it is for the benefit of other visitors. We know it fairly well in that we have visited often.  It has a couple of special exhibition galleries, a gift shop with works made by this and nearby pueblos, a studio where you can watch a craftsman working. Then there are several galleries with dioramas tracing pueblo life from its origins to the present. All the figures are made out of clay and were created by a well known sculptor, Roxanne Swentzell.  Governor Rivera told us that she has done a great deal for the Pueblo even though she is from Santa Clara Pueblo. Roxanne’s work can be found all over the country including the Denver Art Museum and in the Rotunda of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.

Photography is often prohibited on pueblos but I was given special permission on this visit. Out of respect I still felt I should be cautious in what I took.  All the images here are my own.

We were piled into two vans and driven around the pueblo to show us all what was being done for the approximately 460 accredited members of the tribe living on the pueblo as well as the 3-4,000 inhabitants of the valley surrounding it.  The only program that is not open to the latter is the crafts program where they teach anything that the students ask for, silversmithing, basket weaving, pottery etc.  Why?, Because it is paid for by the Department of Education specifically for the Native Americans.

Our first stop was a running track which must have been the most beautiful I have ever seen.  The setting was idyllic.  During the short talk that Bruce and George gave we did see one runner go around several times and there was another runner practicing on the hill behind.  Many Indian races occur, not just on a track, but on hilly terrain as well.

Governor Rivera

From there they pointed out the wellness center with swimming pool, a Boys & Girls Club which the kids see as their second home, and the senior center.  On their 13,000 plus acres they also have a bison herd, a farming program and a language retention program where they teach the young their Tewa tongue.  About half the population of the pueblo is under the age of 18.

Our next stop was the farm where we heard from the director, Frances Quintana who is also an artist.  She explained that they had torn out a field of Chinese Elms in order to create the farm that is currently growing 18,000 onions, 1000 chilies, 800 tomatoes, melons, red hangar beans, fingerling potatoes, sweet corn and squash; all of these in several varieties.  They rotate their crops for a couple of reasons.  The one I knew was to preserve the soil but, it is also to fool the pests.  They do not use pesticides and they have found that the bugs usually hibernate under the plants that they have been feeding on.  So if they move the veggies they end up confused and it takes them longer to start over!

“Farm to Table” is very important in this part of the world and our restaurant menus often mention where an animal or vegetable came from.  The Pojoaque farm program supplies several restaurants in Santa Fe.  I was pleased to learn that two members of the Santa Fe Culinary Institute had been invited on the tour to introduce them to the farm so that they might find mutual benefits in the program.

To show the members of the tour the quality of the farm produce we ended our tour with lunch.  The meal was delicious: bison burgers, various vegetables, green chili stew and posole with pork.  As we ate Governor Rivera came around and talked to us.  I asked him where he got his business training to organize all this.  He said from his uncle who had been governor before him.  When I asked him when he was going to run for governor of the state, his reply, “I would consider that to be a come down”. 

As mentioned in other Missives when I see an object that makes me smile or laugh I want to acquire it.  So before leaving the pueblo we could not leave behind something we had seen in the gift shop.   It is a totally non-traditional ceramic. The potter, Shawn Tafoya from Santa Clara Pueblo, titled it “Chucky can’t wait for his corn dog”.  Jonalee, who was manning the shop that day said that she has seen the kids actually shaking in anticipation of getting their corndog.  Her daughter, however, insisted that it was a “Bugaboo” and the name has been adopted by the artist for these comic creations.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Civil War & American Art

I came late to 19th and early 20th century American Art.  I will have to be forgiven since I was brought up in the European tradition.  Through friends in the business and later through additional exposure I began to appreciate the American style.

I believe that if I had seen the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, “The Civil War and American Art” I might have been awakened much earlier.  It is an excellent show organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with Barbara Weinberg as the Metropolitan’s curator.  At the Met it happens to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  There are about 60 paintings and 18 photographs in the show and for photography it proves that less is more.  These 18 photos do much more to make their point than the huge exhibition at the Museum “Photography and the American Civil War” which is showing at the same time.  One of these images is “A Harvest of Death” taken at Gettysburg on loan from the Chrysler Museum.  Another print from the Met’s collection is in the larger exhibition where its impact is lost.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The banner image for the show, if you’ll excuse the pun, is the dramatic landscape by Frederic Edwin Church where the sunset sky is configured to evoke the stars and stripes of a tattered flag. The painting on loan from the private collection of Fred Keeeler paid homage to the standard flying over Fort Sumter during the battle that started the civil war in1861.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art / Photo by Alan Thompson

Unlike photographs that record the moment many sketches and images generated by the war did not get worked up in oils before some time had passed.  Sanford Gifford’s painting “A Coming Storm” from the Philadelphia Museum of Art is meant to  prefigure the war though it was probably only painted in 1863.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Albert Bierstadt, one of our most famed painters for his panoramic views of the west, paid someone to take his place when he was drafted.  This was not an unusual practice at the time.  He, therefore, had a somewhat detached view of the war.  He did, however, spend five days in mid October,1861 with troops stationed in Washington D.C. 

Here I am illustrating a painting of his called “Guerilla Warfare”.  This painting is on loan from the Century Association, a New York club with a wonderful art collection.  As a club member I love viewing the Association’s collection wonderfully displayed in its McKim, Mead & White Italian Renaissance style palace built in 1891.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Winslow Homer, on the other hand, was with the troops from 1861 to 1862 and again in 1864 as an active artist/correspondent for the magazine Harper’s Weekly. His drawings were translated into wood engravings for publication and then they served as inspiration for his paintings.  His pictures did not only show the reality of battle but the endless waiting around for the next one, which must have been even more difficult.  At least during battle you have the adrenalin to keep you going but when you are sitting around there must be far more worry and concern for yourself, your compatriots and your family.  Here are a couple of images by him.  The one shown here, lent by the National Gallery in Washington D.C, is “Home Sweet Home” and you will notice that home is a tent!

Courtesy of the National Gallery, Washington

The second image is “Prisoners from the Front” from the Met’s own collection was only painted in 1866, after the war, but it depicts a group of Confederate officers peering defiantly at the Union General who captured them.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Conrad Chapman, it is said, relished being under fire while he was sketching but he was only 20 at the time, which would account for his recklessness.  A painting that I found extremely interesting was of the Confederate submarine, the H.L. Hunley.  I did not even know the concept of a submersible vessel existed in the 1860’s.  This submarine sank twice during test runs losing thirteen men, before being sent into battle where it successfully sunk a Union ship with a new weapon, the torpedo, before disappearing with all on board.  It was raised in Charleston harbor in 2000.  Chapman’s painting comes from the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Not all of the paintings related to the Civil War showed troops and battle.  Eastman Johnson seemed to be most interested in the slaves of the south.  In the huge canvas, “Negro Life in the South” in the collection of the New York Historical Society, he represented a slave owner peering in at her family’s slaves during their down time. The painting shows an entire community and its inter-relationships, note the couple on the left of the canvas.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In case you are in any doubt on what Johnson’s belief’s were, see this image of the fleeing slaves in “Ride for Liberty” which is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia.

Courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Art / Photo by Katherine Wetzel

I like the idea that the exhibition presents a point of view which seems to be very pro Union but depicts some of the realities of the deadliest war that this nation ever participated in with a death toll that a recent study has raised to 750,000.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Donor at the Morgan

Last week I touched on the subject of how works of art come into museums.  There is actually an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum that is devoted to the subject.  It is called “Old Masters: Newly Acquired”.  It is devoted to works on paper created before 1900 and acquired within the last 3 years.  It focuses mainly on 4 collectors, 3 of whom I know or knew personally, and one whose name I had only heard of.  After each donor I have put an image which has special significance to me among those exhibited.

We met Brooke Astor (Mrs. Vincent Astor) as the grand dame who was sent to our gallery to unveil a special work of art as part of a benefit for the Frick Collection.  A number of galleries in New York were being asked to present a work of art that evening. After the unveiling our son, Hunter, who must have been 9 or 10 at the time, took Mrs. Astor by the hand and asked if she would like to take a tour of the rest of the gallery and off they went.  When his grade school class later visited the Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum they were asked if anyone knew who Mrs. Astor was.  Hunter piped up, “Yes, she is a personal friend of mine”.  Of course, a mother accompanying the group called my wife that evening to report that her son was telling tales.  Penelope had one of those wonderful moments when she could respond, “Well, it happens to be true”.  When we told her the the story Mrs. Astor inscribed a copy of her autobiography “To my personal friend, Hunter”.

Mrs. Astor was a great patron of the arts in New York and her stated goal was to spend all the Astor Foundation’s money before she died.  A number of drawings from her personal collection were left to the Morgan Library as part of her bequest.  This is one I especially love.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Gian Domenico Tiepolo is the fun artist his father Gian Baptiste is much more serious! So for a work on paper I prefer the former.

The Frick Collection in New York, was run at that time by Charles Ryskamp (1928-2010) who worked tirelessly for the museums he was involved with.  He had been a director of the Morgan Library and ended his career as director of the Frick Collection at which time he organized the benefit that Mrs. Astor participated in.  He instituted a practice at the Frick that we greatly resented asking anyone who used the Frick Library to state the purpose of their research.  Obviously, dealers did not always wish to reveal that information and my wife, who at the time was working independently on various projects as an independent curator doing catalogs for both art dealers and museums, resented it so much that she used the New York Public Library instead of the Frick until this director retired.  But most of the world adored him and he was a great patron to many dealers in this country and abroad.  Over his lifetime he acquired a serious collection of works on paper that he left to the Morgan.  I think I picked this image because we also have a Kobel at the gallery of a riverbank.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Courtesy of Stiebel, Ltd.

The person I know best who is a major contributor to the museum and this exhibition is Eugene Victor Thaw, known to one and all as Gene.  He was a major dealer in New York selling to all the museums. One of his many famous private clients was Norton Simon to whom he was a confident and advisor on the collection that would become the Norton Simon Museum in Los Angeles.  When Gene “retired” he and his wife Clare doubled down on their collecting and donated various collections to museums around New York State.  In 1995 a new wing was built onto the James Fennimore Cooper Museum in order to house the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art in Cooperstown, New York, adding another major draw to the town where it shines along side the Glimmerglass Opera and the Baseball Hall of Fame.  All are reasons to make the trek up there.  This collection is one of the best in the country.  In fact, Gene has always only been interested in collecting the best of the best.  Nothing seems to give him more pleasure than if he can show you an object from his collection and reach for a museum catalog in order to show you a similar object and explain why his is superior.   Gene and Clare have a special devotion to the Morgan with which he has been involved since the 1960’s.   I once asked the director, who gave more works on paper to the Morgan, its founder or Gene.  He honestly could not answer the question.  Considering that Gene and Clare have given other collections to the Metropolitan and Cooper Hewitt museums their contribution to the arts in New York is immeasurable. Their foundation has also done wonders for the arts across the country especially in Santa Fe.  I love the dream imagery of Fuseli and this superb example the Thaws gave to the Morgan.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Gene also wears a hat as advisor to Claus von Bülow who with his daughter, Cosima von Bülow Pavoncelli, administrates the Sunny Crawford von Bulow Fund for drawings at the Morgan.  Sunny and Claus were clients of ours but one day Sunny went into insulin shock and was in a coma for many years before she died.  The Fund was given by her family in Sunny’s memory.   This drawing by Parrocel was a purchased by the Fund from Stiebel, ltd.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Of course, the Morgan has made purchases on its own but I have concentrated here on those who gave from their collections and the person I did not know was Joseph F. McCrindle.  He was born to wealth and social status and devoted his life to the arts, starting a literary review and a foundation.  After his death in 2008 it was announced that the collection would be distributed to some 30 institutions.  I am showing here a drawing that went to the Morgan by one of my favorite minor artists, Jean-Louis Forain.  My parents had owned one that I grew up with and I was given one by my uncle which I unfortunately lost in a divorce many years ago.

Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Museum collections grow through the efforts of their directors, curators and the patrons that they are able to cultivate.  Often overlooked is role of curators as advisors to collectors, guiding their acquisitions with the institution’s permanent collection in mind.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Search for the Unicorn

Search for the Unicorn is an exhibition at the Cloisters, an arm of the Metropolitan Museum, built in 1937 at the top of Fort Tryon Park at 195th street in Manhattan thanks to a gift from John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  The current Bulletin from the Metropolitan Museum is devoted to the Cloisters if you wish to learn more of its history.

 It is a magical space where you can actually imagine yourself going back in time to the Middle Ages in Europe.  It is the perfect location to imagine the mythical figure of the Unicorn. There is a quote on the wall of the show which I think is perfect.  It is from Lewis Carrolls Through the Looking Glass, Well, now that we have seen each other said the Unicorn, “’f youll believe in me, Ill believe in you.  Is that a bargain?’”

I have been infatuated with this mythical animal with his white coat and single horn since I was a child when my father took me to the Cloisters where he pointed out all the works of art that had come through the family's hands.  But what I liked the most was this group of tapestries, known as the Unicorn Tapestries.   They were given by Rockefeller just before the Cloisters opened to the public in 1938.  They tell the story of the hunt for the Unicorn and consist of 7 large tapestries made in Flanders around 1500.  They represent noblemen and hunters searching for the Unicorn and the maiden who entraps him.  There is so much detail that the flora and fauna alone are captivating.  (A different series of Unicorn tapestries with a red background exists at the Musée Cluny in Paris.)  One of the Met series is the centerpiece for the current exhibition.

Courtesy of the New York Times

The Narwhal is a medium sized whale that lives in the arctic.  Narwhal Tusks have been known to grow up to 10 feet long, and were thought to be the horns of Unicorns.  As a result they were safeguarded in churches.  The Cloisters have one in their collection but there is a larger one on loan for the show from a private collection.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum

A piece that I particularly liked was a Majolica dish with the coat of arms of Matthias Corvinus (1440-1490) King of Hungry and his second wife, Beatrix of Aragon, a princess from Naples. The symbolism of the sleeping Unicorn in the maidens lap as she combs him represents the King who has collapsed in the lap of the maiden who will become his wife.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum

I was surprised to find that the Unicorn could be found in other cultures and religions.   In the exhibition there is a silver Torah Crown from Poland made in the 1778,

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum

as well as a page from the Shahnama, the 14th century Book of Kings written in early modern Persian. Since the book has 50,000 verses it had been split up at the beginning of the 20th century. Rosenberg & Stiebel sold one of the volumes for a member of the Rothschild family to a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum who split the book again, giving one half to the Metropolitan and selling the rest.  Iran bought a few pages for many times what we had sold the entire book for.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum

Several of the other objects in the show came through our hands.  I know that one came into the Cloisters collections during my tenure at the firm and this was a wooden box made in the Upper Rhine circa 1300. There are images on both sides of the box but just one of the Unicorn on the left side.  There are over 300 works of art from my family in the Met but only a fraction of those were sold directly to the museum.  Most came through private collections that were given or bequeathed to the Met.  This particular one we sold to a dealer who had closer ties to the museum at the time and she sold it to the museum.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum

As you walk around the Cloisters you come across still more images of the Unicorn, a frieze over a doorway made in the Auvergne, France in the early 16th century.

and, of course, the six other tapestries from the Hunt of the Unicorn series in one room all together, enveloping you in the magic of the Middle Ages.