Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Coe Foundation Opening: I Have Been Promoted?

When I wrote about the Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts last year, I was on the Foundation’s Advisory Committee.  We would meet every once in a while and make suggestions to the Foundation’s Executive Director, Rachel Wixom, and the Foundation’s Board.  Since then I have been asked to join the Board and we have acquired a Curator, Bruce Bernstein and a terrific space.  But now I can’t just give advice, I find myself doing the “dirty work” as well.

Bruce Bernstein’s Involvement with Native American Culture has been extensive including being the first director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) in Santa Fe as well as executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) that runs Santa Fe’s Indian Market and a decade at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).  Now that we have a base of operations

all the material that had been kept in warehouses after Ted Coe’s death has been brought to our new space, all 2,000 works of art.  As, I am sure you realize, those objects had to be wrapped and packed when they left Ted Coe’s house and in the warehouse and then unpacked when they arrived at the Coe Foundation’s new digs.  My job, under the eye of our curator, was to unwrap a good part of the Native American collection and I was even allowed to install many shelves worth.

Lest you think this was a hardship, it wasn’t.  In fact it was an unbelievable thrill.  We had often visited Ted at home where he would show us new treasures that he had acquired on his journeys of many thousands of miles across the U.S., Canada and abroad. There was so much art that we could never absorb it all.  But now I had the opportunity of unwrapping many of these objects and making amazing discoveries.  Every once in a while I found myself gasping in awe at something of such beauty and/or technique.  There were also many pieces of Oceanic and African art, which were unpacked by others but that is something I know far less about – it was  all such a great learning experience.

At the Foundation’s opening event on May 17 we had about 80 guests and Rachel Wixom, the Coe’s Executive Director and Bruce Bernstein explained our objective. This is to be experiment in museology.  We are neither building a museum nor a shrine to Ted Coe, but rather a place to continue the dialog Ted initiated in his home with wonderful stories of his adventures that revolved around individuals and families of artists that he met. When I added that only 25% of the collection had been unpacked there was a stir of excitement as many realized the potential of the Foundation as a research center.

Bruce Bernstein & Rachel Wixom address the crowd

Bruce, with the help of the Advisory Committee, had come up with the concept that we would not label every object and tell people what the object was, but rather let the viewer, who may know more or have a different perspective on the work of art, tell us what they think.  Of course, we have the database that Ted had prepared but it does not answer every question.  We decided that any valid attributable comment would be added to the web based “catalog cards”.

In addition to what was on the shelves and in the cases we had tables set out with a few objects, which Ted had commented on in his writings.  In our brochure, next to his thoughts were personal reactions about the piece from members of the Board and Advisory Committee.   On the tables with each object was a clipboard with a sheet showing the image of the object and the basic catalog information, asking our guests to make their comments of praise, criticism or a story.  Several children of artists recalled their parents and grandparents making the pieces, including the watch with no face that Ted wrote had been made for him by the noted beader Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty in order to break him of the Anglo habit of constantly checking the time and introduce him to the more relaxed concept of “Indian time”.

The Foundation will address both the Native and the Anglo audiences. One couple from the East Coast were delighted with this opportunity to learn about the Native American culture that exists in the Southwest but could not find an entry point until now.  We plan to have lectures and symposia where there can be a free exchange of ideas with the actual objects at hand.

In August at the time of Indian Market in Santa Fe, we will present a special exhibition, “Plain & Fancy: Native American Splint Baskets” supplemented with baskets from the southwest.  This exhibition was first shown at the Fennimore Art Museum in the area dedicated to the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art but most of the baskets were borrowed from the Coe collection.  If you wish to be notified regarding the details for the opening please let me know and we will add you to our mailing list.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

San Francisco

We came for 48 hours for one purpose, the dedication of a Memorial Court  at the de Young Museum to the late John E. Buchanan, Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco from 2006 until  his death in 2011.  My wife, Penelope, was his Curator of European Art for a decade at the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon and he and his wife, Lucy, have been our good friends for about 25 years -- a relationship that started with the 1990 exhibition Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour : a Love Affair with Style  at Rosenberg and Stiebel gallery in New York and The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, where John Buchanan was then Director.

As you may have read, real estate prices have sky rocketed in San Francisco and with them hotel prices.  Belonging to the Columbia University Club in New York allowed us to stay at the Metropolitan Club in downtown San Francisco.  It is a women's club but since I was traveling with my wife, I had a free pass.  Not only was the price decent we also got a suite for our money.  That is not quite as fabulous as it sounds since it is right on the corner of two of the busier streets on lower Nob Hill and there were ear plugs conveniently placed on our bedside tables.  Being originally city folk, however, we did not need them.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco consist of The Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum. The morning of the dedication we spent in the Legion of Honor with their great old master and French 18th century decorative arts collections.  So many great works of art.  One,  work that has an incredible presence and really grabbed me was a large marble bust by Benvenuto Cellini (Florence 1500-1571) and workshop.  Cellini was one of the greatest goldsmiths and sculptors of the Renaissance and here he presents Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

A number of the works of art in the museum came through Rosenberg & Stiebel including a set of 4 paintings by Carle van Loo painted for Madame de Pompadours chateau of Bellevue and a pair of Nattier allegories (my wife insists these are his best works) all from Rothschild collections, in the gallery which was just redone by the new director, Dr. Colin B. Bailey, whose main field of expertise is French 18th century.

In the afternoon we went to the de Young Museum to see the Native American Collection newly donated by the Thomas Weisel family. The Weisel Navajo blankets and Mimbres pots significantly strengthen the museums holdings which already include the impressive Eskimo and Inuit collection bequeathed by Thomas Fowler in 2007 and the Weis gift of Pueblo pottery given in the same year. 

At the museum closing hour, another crowd began to gather at the door -- friends and admirers of  John Buchanan.  As Lucy said, John was a populist, He did not believe that art was meant to be appreciated only by the elite.  It was most appropriate that the first space one enters in the museum was to be dedicated to John E. Buchanan, Jr.

John E. Buchanan, Jr.

He had always dreamed of being a director at one of the great international museums and  n San Francisco he not only achieved his ambition but he succeeded mightily.   As he had in all his previous museum posts he managed to do shows that resonated with the public and brought them in in droves.  In San Francisco he raised the annual attendance to one and a half million visitors.

Dide Wilsey, President of the Board of Trustees, spoke of the tours abroad she made with John and his wife, Lucy, when they went on shopping sprees, both personal and for the museum.  Lucy was always there to keep them on schedule, setting up the meetings with museum directors and collectors.  These junkets often led to popular exhibitions at the museum.

Colin Bailey spoke well of his predecessor too but, of course, Lucy made the finest tribute, often using Johns native southern expressions gaining a laugh of recognition from her audience.  It is hard to express the love that was in that room, but I can tell you that when it was over my wife was in tears. 

After the ceremony all guests who had come from as far afield as London and Costa Rica, at Lucys personal invitation were treated to a dinner at a restaurant taken over completely so that all the guests could fit in.  Luckily the weather cooperated because many were seated in the outdoor garden.  The next day all out of town guests were invited for a brunch to Lucy's home, which is filled with works of art that she and John collected over the decades.   It was a most comfortable get together of many friends who had played a part in different phases of the Buchanans lives from high school on. At each of the functions we met new and old friends who we hope to reconnect with in the future.  I have a feeling that some will take us up on our invitation to visit Santa Fe.

Lucy Buchanan with Iris Cantor

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pojoaque Benefit Dinner

In New York we have paid thousands of dollars to have a dinner, which you certainly don’t go to for the food but to benefit the institution.  The ones that really bother me are the huge banquets for the benefit of those without food. They are the ones who should be fed, not us “fat cats”.

At the Pueblo of Pojoaque we went to a benefit, held at the tribe’s Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino, which was actually about the food as well as a very good cause.  It was not a formal dinner but rather a 4-hour continuous luncheon feast and entertainment.  The tribe has its own herd of buffalo and one was slaughtered yielding 300 pounds of meat that fed hundreds of guests.  The Native Americans love contests and in this case three chefs were asked to compete: one from Kenya, Ahmed Obo, who owns and cooks at his own restaurant in Santa Fe, Jambo, offering African Cuisine; a Navajo chef, Freddie Bitsioe, who is gearing up for a new television series that he will participate in called,  “Reservations not Required” and a Hawaiian chef, Ka’ainoa Raavey who is the chef at Red Sage, one of the Buffalo Thunder Resort restaurants.  Each prepared a 3-course meal in which each course had to contain buffalo.  It was amazing how different it tasted in each case.  Mercifully, the last chef to cook for us added some fish in with the buffalo making it surf and turf!  There was a panel of 8 judges who seemed to rotate including the Mayor of Santa Fe, Javier Gonzales, who had graduated from Pojoaque High School, which serves the entire valley.  At the end they picked the winner and there was a Peoples’ Choice Award, which allowed all of the guests to pick their favorite as well.

It was a bit over the top but the underlying cause certainly wasn’t: sending a group of young native hoop dancers to France.  Hoop Dancing is a Native American activity dating back to their original healing ceremonies.  The hoop represents the circle of life.  Hoop dancing has recently had a revival and we were lucky enough to see a world champion and a 6-time award winner of the annual contests at the Heard Museum, Nakotah LaRance.  He has toured around the world performing with the Cirque de Soleil but has come back to his Pueblo to teach the younger generation.  His students range in age from 4 to 14. They train just one or two days a week and have learned so much in the year that they have been doing it.

To introduce them to public performances which children are naturally shy of doing,  they started at the Buffalo Thunder Resort.  A woman who saw them there invited them to come to an international festival of dance in the south of France and the ultimate goal of the event was to raise enough money to send the 13 children, together with their escorts, to Bordeaux with a day or two in Paris at both ends of the 10-12 day trip.  In Paris, they will get a chance to do some street performances, a time-honored activity there.  I have heard and seen wonderful concerts in front of the Comedie Fran├žaise but hoop dancing will be quite a novelty.  The trip will cost about $60,000 and happily the event raised a significant portion of that.   An additional incentive to give was the raffle of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.  The tickets cost $100 each and they sold about 525 out of the 600 tickets available.  I must admit that I did not participate in that the odds of winning that motorcycle were too good, and I am too old to start riding one… if only I were a few years younger

Of course, the audience was treated to hoop dances by the little ones, then the older youngsters and finally the grand master himself.  We have seen him dance before at Indian Market, the Governor’s Mansion and other Santa Fe events.  He never ceases to amaze.  The person who told us the history of the hoop dance, played the drum and composed and sang the songs for the dancers, was Nakotah’s proud father, Steve LaRance.


Later a group of native hip-hop dancers, called New Tribes, did their different kind of dance, which became an audience participation event.  The 5-year old son of the Governor of Pojoaque, George Rivera, Valentino, was not only a participant in the hoop dancing but also got out in front of the hip hop dancers and showed them his stuff! 

It was incredible how much was packed into those hours and how much food we packed into ourselves!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Poetics of Light: Contemporary Pinhole Photography

This exhibition at the New Mexico History Museum was quite a surprise.  I had always thought of pinhole photography as extremely primitive with rather boring photos as a result.  Well, I was right as far as the technique being primitive in that instead of a glass lens one is shooting with no lens, usually a light-tight box with only one pin hole in front letting in light to a negative or paper film on the back wall.  The photographer has far less control than using a lens where aperture and focus can be set in conjunction with each other.  There is, of course, no such thing as a light meter so exposure but it is the photographer’s best guess considering how large a pinhole that person has been made.

 I never did pin hole photography myself but just before I left on a teen tour across the country my parents gave me my first 35mm camera, a Retina IIIC which had a light meter built in.  We were in Calgary, Canada for the Stampede (rodeo and fair) and there was a fantastic fireworks display.  Naturally it was dark out and I had never taken a time exposure before.  I knew I was using a slow film so I just opened the aperture as far as it would go and held the lens open for a guestimated amount of time.  The resulting slides were superb.  It was total beginners luck and I never tried it again.  That is pretty much what the pinhole photographer is dealing with.

Pinhole photography is, in my opinion, the purview of the hobbyist and the results are hard to anticipate. In the exhibition, however, I saw some very sophisticated images both in black and white and in color. 

The exhibition was assembled from the collection of over 6,000 pinhole photographs and 60 cameras donated to the New Mexico History Museum Photo Archives by Nancy Spencer and Eric Renner in 2012. Much of it has been digitized and can be found at In 1987 the couple started a magazine devoted to pinhole photography that came out three times a year. From their home in the tiny southern New Mexico town of San Lorenzo, a designated ghost town, they appealed to pinhole photographers saying that if they were sent images they would publish them. Over the years, more that 600 photographers from 36 countries responded. There were 30 photographers in the audience for Spencer and Renner’s presentation at the exhibition opening and 10 of them were from outside the United States.

I am sure that being away from it all allowed Spencer and Renner to focus on their passion or should we call it, obsession.  They are also pinhole photographers in their own right and taken some wonderful images. According to the collectors it was a pinhole photograph by Renner, titled “Grandmother Becomes the Moon”, that brought them together. When Spencer saw the image she felt compelled to get in touch with Renner and so the relationship began.

One of the subjects that photo curators are intensely interested in these days is Vernacular Photography, these are usually images by unknown or amateur photographers who are taking pictures of every day life. Much of pinhole photography could fit into this category.   Even though a vernacular photograph might be successful, it is usually the known photographer that has a consistency of quality in the work. Take for example an image in the show by Laura Gilpin, “Ghost Rock, Garden of the Gods, Colorado”: it happens to be a pinhole photograph but it stands out from all the rest. It is not the one in the show but rather a platinum print done 2 years earlier in 1917.   Even though a vernacular photograph might stand out it is usually the known photographer that has a consistency of quality in their work.

Still the show included interesting interpretations of well-known subjects.   An extremely popular subject for photographers in these parts is the Church at Rancho de Taos.  A classic image was created by the famous photographer of the American West, Ansel Adams. One of the reasons it is such a challenge for photographers is that it is made up of so many different softened geometric shapes.  Here the pinhole photographer, Bill Wittliff, in 2000, came up with something, different an abstract Cubist-like image.

One haunting print is called “The Hand of Fate” by Martha Casanave.  Renner and Spencer explained that in order to create a ghost-like image in a photograph the character of the ghost has to stand in the photographic frame for half the exposure time.

This example caused Renner to remark that a hundred things can go right taking pinhole photographs, but if one thing goes wrong the image is not what was hoped for.

The exhibit opening coincided with Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, a global event in which pinhole aficionados post their of-the-moment images to a website, thus celebrating in a high-tech way their mastery of low-tech photography. (For more info on the event, log onto 
There seem to be almost as many people who enjoy making pinhole cameras as there are people to use them and the exhibition at the New Mexico History Museum celebrates both.