Sunday, July 31, 2016

Eveli: Energy & Significance

The great Hopi jeweler Charles Loloma (1921-1991) had two protégés: his niece, Verma Nequaptewa, known professionally as Sonwai, and Evelyn Sabatie known simply as Eveli, who is the subject of an exhibition currently at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

Loloma created jewelry appealing to Anglo taste, not just in the Southwest but on both coasts. He was financially successful, even owning his own plane and having an airstrip just for it on the Hopi reservation. I have mentioned him in various Missives in the past and you can find them by going to and typing Loloma in the search engine on the site.

Evelyn Sabatie was born in 1940 in eastern Algeria. She grew up in Morocco and was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris.  She became interested in the Native Americans and immigrated to the United States in 1968.  In an elevator conversation in San Francisco she was invited to a Bean Dance on 3rd Mesa, Arizona and attended it in early 1969.  While at Hopi, quite by accident she met Charles Loloma in the local laundromat.  He invited her to come to his studio where she stayed until she left Hopi in 1972 and moved to Santa Fe.

Eveli arrived at a time when Loloma’s work was transitioning from cast jewelry to mosaic inlay using, at first, turquoise and ironwood.  Eveli was familiar with Moroccan mosaics from the walls of the mosques so they learned from each other.

In her own words, “My teacher, Loloma, had the talent and skills to unlock my creativity and help me deliver the treasure I had amassed on this already long journey.  In his presence and in the midst of Hopi songs and dances, a door was swung open through which thousands of pieces were about to gush out.”  This kind of transformation going to the Hopi Mesas and their mesmerizing effect in not unique.   It happened to us and others we have known.

Many artists find a niche to to occupy for an entire career, influenced by their dealers or agents who find a market for a certain style or subject matter.  Eveli’s approach is unusual.  She never makes the same piece of jewelry twice.  She has said, “ Every moment of every day is different!  So how can you repeat?  The moment you repeat you kill something.  You’re not really in what’s happening right now.  Every material is different, every hour is different, my mood is different every day.”

The exhibition is in a relatively small gallery but with cases full of these treasures.  The head of the Case Trading Post at the Wheelwright Museum, Ken Williams, who is friendly with Eveli, told me that it is very difficult to find her work today.   One of the reasons for this is that in 1998 when her eyesight started to go and she had trouble with her hands, she stopped making jewelry. 

I have picked just three pieces from private collections to illustrate certain points.

Those who are acquainted with Loloma’s work know the gold bracelets he made with all inlay on the inside because it was done for the wearer to appreciate while the gold glamour was on the outside for the wearer’s public. Here is Eveli’s “Blue Reeds and Purple Nights” Bracelet of 18 karat gold, turquoise and sugilite, fabricated circa 1990.  She has turned Loloma’s idea inside out also adding an additional layer of gold work.

Another extraordinary piece is her “Orchards of Love” brooch circa 1975.  It is made with silver, fossilized ivory, jasper, turquoise and chrysoprase. It is somewhat wacky but I can imagine my wife wearing it and everyone asking, “who made that?”

Photo by Addison Doty

As usual, saving the best for last, there is the jeweled book Eveli created in 1980 called, “The Significance”. It is tufa cast and fabricated silver and gold with turquoise, lapis lazuli, fossilized ivory, wood, coral and other stones, measuring just 4 inches tall.  Here the artist seems to have it all together.  She has gone back to Loloma’s tufa casting technique but brought in the mosaic work as well in a wonderful amalgam, combining a prayer book with the Hopi Way symbolized by the rain cloud on the front.

If you are in town do go by the Wheelwright. After working your way through the main galleries and the jewelry collection discover the work of Eveli, on view through January 15, 2017.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Route 66: The Biography of a Road

I would guess that you have all heard of Route 66.  Some may even be old enough to remember the television series by that name from the early 1960’s or the 1969 movie “Easy Rider”.   Others may have bought lunch pails or post cards commemorating the “Mother Road”.

U.S. Highway 66 was born in 1926 when the number was designated by the National Organization of Highway Authorities. It ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, California a total of 2,448 miles via Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.  Its official existence ended when the same group decertified it on June 27, 1985.  I actually remember when that happened and wondering how a road could no longer exist.  Of course, it physically continued and now one can see signs saying “Historic Route 66”.  Today in its place is a six lane Interstate I 25.

The exhibition “Route 66: Radiance, Rust and Revival on the Mother Road”, celebrating the 90th anniversary of the world’s most famous street is on at the Albuquerque Museum through October 2. The presentation is superbly organized by Deb Slaney, Curator of History.  Many thanks to the staff of the Albuquerque museum for allowing me to take photographs and helping with details regarding the show.

I was half way through this blog when quite by accident I found I had approached this subject once before after seeing an exhibition on Route 66 at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles so I will try not to repeat myself.

The exhibition in Albuquerque does concentrate on the road as it comes through New Mexico and particularly its 16 miles of road, the longest single-city urban stretch, through Albuquerque itself.  I must admit I was a bit confused when I learned at the museum that this was not an art exhibition but rather a history exhibition.  Aren’t all art exhibitions essentially history exhibitions but rarely this focused?  In fact this show does not just use text and images but actual objects and works of art.  There is a painting by Jackson Pollock, an Andy Warhol and other known artists as well as a motorcycle (the Guggenheim Museum in New York had an entire exhibition devoted to motorcycles). The Jackson Pollock, “Going West” circa 1934-1935 is clearly before his drip-style paintings.  It was given to the National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian by another famous artist, Thomas Hart Benton.

The road trip is a well-known American Pastime similar in its place in society to the Europeans go out for a stroll or long walk.  Americans want to get in their cars and explore.  With the mass production of affordable automobiles more and more people were able to take that road trip.  Route 66 was one of the iconic paths to travel. 

The pick-up in the exhibition was owned by the J. A.  Ziesch Garage in Noack, Texas. It is a 1932 Chevy Roadster with 1935 Texas license plate Courtesy of Jay Hertz.  It reminds me of the 1931 Ford that I first drove at the age of 12 at camp in Vermont.  My only problem was it had to be cranked from the front and I needed help with that!

Along the route were continuous billboards advertising various products or trying to lure one off the road for food or souvenirs.  One of the most famous was the Burma Shave advertisements and a set is displayed in the exhibition.

Image from the Albuquerque Museum
There is also a miniature vignette of a food truck, a phenomenon that seems to be having a resurgence with food trucks all over the country.  This model by Tim Prythero called “Juanita’s Taco Wagon”, 2005, was lent by the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Writing  about Las Vegas I mentioned their Neon Museum with all the old neon signs restored.  Many of the neon signs that were made in Albuquerque have been restored and several are included in this exhibition along with their design drawings.

I hope I don’t get sued for this but here is what I believe is called appropriation.   In the photograph I took of a poster for the 1969 Peter Fonda/ Dennis Hopper film “Easy Rider” is the reflection of the El Vado Motel neon sign installed opposite.  I remember the motels of the 50’s where one would stay on road trips and some still exist today.  To me the motorcycles in the image of the two men traversing the southwest on motorcycle with the motel sign is a perfect representation of what it meant to travel Route 66.

At the end of the 1990’s there was a movement to revitalize Route 66 to show its importance to the history of our Western migration, which was supported by federal and state legislation

In case you think this is all ancient history I found on line.  The National Historic Route 66 Federation.  In their own words it is “The worldwide, non-profit organization dedicated to directing the public's attention to the importance of U.S. Highway Route 66 in America's cultural heritage and acquiring the federal, state and private support necessary to preserve the historic landmarks and revitalize the economies of communities along the entire 2,400-mile stretch of road.”  And this is just one of many such revitalization programs in many states.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

My Wife, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, in her own words

From the transcript of the 1989 video celebrating Rosenberg & Stiebel gallery’s 50th anniversary in the United States.

“I first came to Rosenberg & Stiebel as a student.  The Institute of Fine Arts Museum Training program had a marvelous method of training you in the old days.  They said you had $1,000 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to go out on the market and find something the Museum really needed.  Even then (1969) that was not a great deal of money and you were to reserve a piece and present it to the curators.  One of the pieces presented each year would be purchased.”

“I was given a list of the dealers in my field of French eighteenth century and Rosenberg & Stiebel was identified as the ladies and gentlemen’s dealer.  I came to their front door, very timid, very frightened.  I remember being greeted by the most gracious gentleman that I had ever seen, my ideal of civilized male humanity.  He, however, absolutely dashed all my hopes.  He turned me over to his son!  Fortunately he eventually became my father-in-law.”

“When I became a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art I was given the thankless task of organizing an international art dealers exhibition.  The only good part about it was that my fellow co-organizer on the dealers’ side was Gerald Stiebel.   We got very much involved and eventually married. And ten years later I joined the gallery.” 

“Being an art historian is, obviously, a value to the gallery.  It is part of my contribution but I think what’s more important than my academic studies was my experience of 13 years on the curatorial staff at the Metropolitan.  There I began to really deal with works of art in the original and become their advocate.  Finding great works of art, special works, speaking works and then interpreting them to other people whether they are the higher ups on the curatorial staff or the general public.  It’s very much the same thing we do at the gallery."

Penelope installing case at the Metropolitan Museum

“Scholarship is essential in the art field.   You have to be able to understand what the work of art is about.  You have to understand its context.  You can learn that at school or you can learn it on your own but you have to know it.”

“I don’t think that has really changed over the decades.  Perhaps the knowledge was more intuitive in the early days of the firm.  Now we back it up with more academic research perhaps than was available then but it’s still the intuition that is the basic guide.”

“The reason the gallery has survived and been successful for so many years (since the 1860’s) is the nature of the family itself.  Its members, each of them, have that intuitive eye of connoisseur ship but there is more than that.  The family revolves around objects of art.  Each child grows up with art as the daily conversation at the dinner table.  The way each member of the family relates to the outside world is through objects of art.  To the Stiebels art is more than business.  It’s more that we do, art is who we are.”

Conclusion from Gerald:  As you know we have moved on and closed the gallery a couple of years ago.  My daughter owns a bookstore, my older son is in Traverse City, Michigan in  real estate and our son is an actor but all retain interest to one degree or another in the arts.  Once there it doesn’t just disappear!

Penelope and I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, “The City Different” and have exchanged our passions for European Art to Native American and Spanish Colonial art expanding our horizons in the art world.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Dragged to Art

A few weeks ago I thought “Dragged to Art” would be an interesting subject to write about but then forgot it again.  Meanwhile, my associate, Vince Hickman, sent me a transcript from a film we did in 1989 celebrating our Gallery’s (Rosenberg & Stiebel) 50 years in the U.S.

There I found the following:  “I remember it was a great treat whenever I could go to the office,  (it was never referred to as the gallery).  I came to the “office” but there were wonderful objects there. My favorite experience was to be shown all the secret compartments in the French 18th century furniture.  When my parents went to Europe I was often taken along, which might sound like a great treat, but it really wasn’t.  I was literally dragged from museum to museum, from church to church, which I was not very pleased about.  But it seems that I got a lot out of it anyway.”

Some 25 years later we would take my kids, Danny and Cathy, with us to Parke-Bernet (bought out later by Sotheby’s) as well as to exhibitions.  I remember when at the auction house my daughter ran into a fellow student, when they were about 10, who asked her.  “Do your parents drag you here every week too.”  We laughed but Cathy probably did not. Ten years later, however, Cathy was at the University of Pennsylvania complaining bitterly that her art history teacher had questions on the exam that he had not covered in class but she added, “don’t worry, dad, they were on French 18th century.”

Our children are dragged to art mostly for our own convenience but we justify it by saying it is important for their education, which, of course, is true.  My wife, Penelope, was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum at the time and every once in a while, when it was our turn with the kids, she had them with her at the museum.  There were no accommodations for children in those days but her colleagues were very tolerant of the situation.  She tried to make it as much fun for them as she could such as playing with models that had been used in putting on exhibitions and taking them into the secret places such as storerooms and vaults where visitors never went.  I remember for me as well the excitement of being allowed into the storerooms, which I find just as exciting for me today as it was then.

When Danny was with Penelope they would look at paintings and Penelope would ask him to tell her what he thought was going on and he made up these very funny stories about the pictures.  It made no difference if he did not know the story the artist had in mind but he was actually looking and and seeing the paintings.

Danny at the Nassau County Museum in Long Island

Our son, Hunter, was dragged to art for the first time when he was just a couple of days old.  He had trouble when he was born moving his head to the left side so the doctor recommended keeping him on his side.  How do you do that??? We found he was mesmerized by the artist Chuck Close on the cover of “Art News” which we had in the hospital room so we put it on the side of his plastic tub and he stayed that way!

His next experience was when he was a few months old and the only day in her entire employ Hunter’s nanny did not show up for work.  That day Penelope had a Press opening for an Exhibition called, “New Glass” at the Metropolitan Museum so we had to bring him along in his carriage.  Remember the W.C. Fields’ quote,  "Never work with animals or children."!  Well I am not sure that the press paid proper attention to “New Glass”

When Hunter was in kindergarten the headmistress called Penelope in because Hunter kept talking about what various things meant and it was not necessarily about what they saw.  Penelope asked if she meant symbolism and said that they had discussed the significance of the Cross outside of a building nearby which had been converted into a church. Although it was just two perpendicular bars it represented the cross on which Christ was crucified and the belief of people who follow his teachings to this day.  The head mistress did not think that was appropriate for a 5 year old.  Good that she was not around when we later took him to Europe and he saw reliquaries and became fascinated by them! 

In high school the headmaster at his school, believing in a Classical education, dragged all the students to the Metropolitan Museum.  They had to first go around the museum and pick out one object and learn about it and then tell the class about it.  From then on when they went back to the museum with the class to different departments they had to find “their object’”. Hunter took the relatively easy way out and picked an object from his father’s gallery but he still takes people to the same piece today, twenty years later.  It was an imposing cabinet by Fremiet and Diehl.

In hindsight, one does realize, when it came to art, how incredibly spoiled we were.  When I was working toward my Masters degree in art history I had a seminar on medieval art.  I took advantage of the fact that the curator of medieval art from the Boston Museum of Fine Art, Hans Swarzenski, came into the gallery and gave me a number of leads for a paper I was working on.  No surprise, I aced the course.  Maybe, you remember the movie “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield, who decides that when his son goes to college, maybe he should get that degree he never had.  So when there is a paper given on space he calls in the scientists from NASA!   Obviously, this was meant comically but realistically he had learned that in business you find the best expertise you can find.

When it came to art my children had it from day one, and so did I with  that resource and expertise at my side throughout my youth and through most of my business career, my father.  It just took me some years to appreciate it.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World

I wouldn’t be writing about “Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World” if our friend, Clifford La Fontaine, a museum designer who has worked all over the world and spent many years at the Metropolitan Museum had not raved about it.  I actually saw it previously but only to run through shortly after it opened and I was at the Met to see other shows.  When I went back to New York with my wife, however, we spent time looking and it was a most rewarding.

The show covers the Hellenistic period from 323–30 B.C. after the conquests of Alexander the Great.  It would not have been possible to put on this exhibition without the cooperation of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, which lent approximately one third of the art works to the show.  Like so many grand exhibitions it happened because the Berlin museum was closed for major renovations.  The last time I was at that museum it was still East Berlin and I am ashamed to say my best memory was being pulled into a space under the grand steps to the altar where I was offered “a good deal” on East German Marks for U. S. dollars… what would you do?  Other lenders to the show were museums in Greece, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia. In fact there were objects lent from 12 different countries.  The catalog, which is a must if you are into this period as a collector, classicist or just a museum-goer, has about 75 contributors.

This is a very large exhibition with 265 objects.  It would take days to study each one and, of course, people devote their lives to this period of archaeology.  My world at the earliest starts a millennium later so I am not going to deal with the fascinating aspects of where these artifacts were found.  Suffice it to say that the Hellenistic City of Pergamon was an ancient Greek city, which today, is north and west of the modern city of Bergama in Turkey.  Here is a rendering of the Acropolis at Pergamon by Friedrich (Von) Thiersch (1882) from Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

As you know if you have followed my missives, in my opinion, an exhibition stands on the works of art exhibited no matter the grand ideas the curator(s) may have had and there are so many “10’s” in this show it is very hard to choose.   Just as the tallest person in a room will grab your attention so does the Statue of Athena Parthenos dating from circa 170 B.C. lent by the Berlin museum.  This marble is over 10 feet tall with an additional 3 foot stand. As you can see in the following image it towers above all.

I have often thought of Classical Antiquities merely as fragments and I usually like the finished work of art better, but sometimes an incomplete piece such as a painting or sculpture can even be more exciting as was shown by the strange exhibition “Unfinished Thought Left Visible”.

Some of the works of art in the Pergamon show appear unfinished today though originally they were finished and a couple of thousand years, and sometimes burial, took their toll!  For instance, the bronze “Portrait of a Man” from the Greek, Late Hellenistic Period lent by the National Archaeological Museum in Athens is assumed to be a fragment of a statue from an open public space.  I am sure it has much more poignancy and focus with just the head staring at you or just beyond!

What struck me most was how so many objects seemed to relate to later periods.  The small bronze of “Alexander the Great Astride Bucephalos” Roman, Late Republican or Early Imperial period, second half of the 1st century BC, is already a copy of a Greek original made 200 years earlier.  Yet there are very similar Renaissance  bronzes of horses and riders done in the 16th century as well, such as the bronze of horse and rider from the Met’s Collection given by Judge Irwin Untermyer.

The attraction to gold cannot be explained, but it has always been highly valued and two of the pieces here are real stunners.  There is the Myrtle Wreath that would knock the socks of any Princess, Jewish or otherwise!  It is Greek from the Late Classical period 350-325 B.C. lent by  the Archaeological Museum, Thessaloniki in Greece.  If you are into sets of Jewelry how about adding these gold armbands which I have seen before in the Met’s collection but hit me even harder in context.   I would not have been surprised if you told me they were made by Bulgari a few years ago!

Ending as usual with a personal favorite three Theater Masks, Pentelic marble, 2, Greek Hellenistic period, 2nd century B.C. and the 3rd, on the left, is Greek Early Imperial Period, 1st century A.D., National Archaeological Museum, Athens.  The masks were made in Attica, the birthplace of drama.

The exhibition closes July 17 so if you are in New York in the next two weeks, don’t miss it!