Sunday, December 22, 2019

Another Acquisition – Gustave Baumann

Once upon a time we were collecting like crazy but in recent times as we get older and our home fuller, we are exercising more discipline … at least my wife is, and she pushes me in the same direction. Recently, however, we made two acquisitions within a couple of weeks of each other.  One I wrote about last week and the other is something I have been flirting with, for a long time. It is a print by Gustave Baumann.

I have been writing these Missives sine 2009 and my first Missive mentioning Gustave Baumann was in 2011 including some of his history and works of art.  In one of life’s ironies one of the illustrations in that Missive is what I am writing about today. In fact, last year I wrote about the Annex Galleries where we acquired it

Back in New York a dealer in photography told me once that he had received, with a collection of photographs, a Gustave Baumann print and no one in that part of the world had heard of the artist.  He asked if I would try to sell it in Santa Fe and I had little trouble doing so. 

Only if you are familiar with New Mexico’s landscape can you appreciate Bauman’s ability to capture its intense colors.  The artist himself addressed this subject: “A pallet and theories regarding color east of the Mississippi should all be tossed in the river as you cross the bridge.’”  Yes, the U.S. Southwest is quite different from our East Coast.  The same as crossing the border from one country to another.

The Annex Gallery in Santa Rosa, California sends out a daily print that is available for purchase.  Recently it boasted that for a solid week they had presented works for $400 and under.  They also deal in far more valuable works depending on the artist, rarity and quality of the work.  It never happens when you want it to but sometimes a regular email stops coming which is what happened to us.  I had meanwhile spoken with many about this fun and educational site.  A friend from Santa Fe who had moved back East recently forwarded the daily email from the Annex Gallery as he thought the subject would be of interest to us. He was most surprised when I told him I had immediately followed up and we had acquired it!

If you read my Missives you know we have a particular interest in the art of the Hopi Indians, and this is one of Baumann’s few prints representing this group.  Regarding the print we bought, Gala Chamberlain, director of the Annex Gallery, wrote : “For the composition of this woodcut Gustave Baumann created a Southwestern fantasy, a gathering of Hopi Katcinas (Kachinas), all with their telltale characteristics and colors. Kachinas (or Katsinas) are actually stylized religious icons, meticulously carved from cottonwood root and painted to represent figures from Hopi history and mythology. After moving to the Southwest Baumann rarely used figurative elements in his work, this being one of the exceptions.”  In fact, this does not depict the spirit beings that are katsinas., but rather a group of carvings or “dolls” made originally to educate young Hopi girls in the characteristics of the pantheon.

Chamberlain, has just published a catalogue raisonnĂ© titled “In a Modern Rendering: The Color Woodcuts of Gustave Baumann”.  It includes 1,100 color illustrations in a tome of 648 pages.  Not a book you can lay on your stomach while you lie in bed!  The author developed a close relationship with Gustave Baumann’s late daughter, Ann, and interviewed her once a week for many years in order to produce the monograph. Two pages in the catalog are devoted to our print. Further at the back of this comprehensive study there is a 1920 photograph of Baumann in his Santa Fe studio with his collection of Katsina dolls on the mantel.

The woodcut for our print was created in 1924 and it is from the first of 3 editions printed by the artist over years varying the colors for each edition. Our print is numbered 25 of 100. But the highest number known is #59.  Baumann was known for using several wood blocks with different colors, up to 12 in some prints.  Ours has 7 colors and is from his first edition of the print titled “Hopi Katcinas”. Aside from other details we learned that it is in an original Baumann frame.  It is marked with the letter “L” which stands for Lieber, who was Baumann’s agent in Indianapolis, and framed his work for exhibitions and at the request of clients.  

Baumann’s story of his acquisition of his Katsina dolls is reproduced in the catalog in his own words: “The Hopi villages are on 3 mesas and the way up was not paved until the 1960’s, not yet in the 1920’s.  Baumann writes, “The car made it and I felt like a new padre on a journey to nowhere looking for sketching material when a little adobe shack appeared in the distance.  It was a trading post.  The owner was a Hopi Indian who spoke very good English but seemed surprised to see me.  I looked around and there in a dark corner I saw some Katcinas [sic] on a shelf and hanging on the wall.  He seemed pleased that I was interested in them and I asked if they were for sale.  With what I knew about them it was difficult to make [a] selection.  The Hopi with nothing else to do was watching as they accumulated on the counter and I inquired about the cost.  Having settled on that I reached for my wallet.  Finding that I didn’t have enough cash I said I’d have to pay with a check on a Santa Fe Bank and you don’t know me.  He began to put my Katcinas [sic] into a large sack and then looked at the check.  “I’ll take it and I know you” How can you?  I’ve never been here before as he gave me a quisical [sic] look.  “I know that name” and added “I used to work at the Grand Canyon and danced at El Tovar-sometimes I’d go into the art room.  They had some pictures there with that name on them.  I know you”. And he took the check without even looking at it again.  I only wish I could remember his name. He was certainly a trusting soul.”

Almost a century later, during our years of collecting, when our then young son was the specialist in katsina dolls, we too had remarkable experiences on the Hopi reservation that echo Baumann’s. 

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