The Tia Collection: Difficult Simplicity
Masterpieces from the Tia Collection open stunning new exhibition at Western Spirit in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Several years ago I was looking at some extraordinary Western paintings on gallery websites. Not long after, I saw them again on the walls of the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia, on loan from the Tia Collection. I had known of the Tia Collection, had met the collector and its exceptional curator Laura Finley Smith, but the beginnings of a collection of the art of the West was news. News no longer, one aspect of the collection is in the exhibition New Beginnings: An American Story of Romantics and Modernists in the West. It opens October 16 and continues through September 22, 2019, at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.
One of the joys of viewing a comprehensive collection is not only seeing masterpieces by familiar artists, but discovering work by artists who became lost over time.
Smith writes in her introduction to the catalog, “A collection can begin from something as simple as a list of names, but it is through the inclusion of unexpected or unknown artists that it begins to have character…the idea
behind the exhibition—which presents works based on artists’ impressions of New Mexico in conjunction with their personal stories, both positive and negative—is not necessarily a new one, but it offers a fresh perspective by introducing the works of lesser-known artists alongside pillars of the art community, and all in a historical context.”
The collector’s admiration and respect for contemporary working artists extends to his discovery of the older art of northern New Mexico. In his catalog note he writes, “Visiting and collecting art inspired by New Mexico opens my mind and my eyes. The more I see, the more I want to learn—and the more I learn, the more I see.”
Visiting the exhibition Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 2009, he “saw how mutual influences and competition inspired them to paint their best. I also began to see how the convergence of artists in a particular place, combined with an overlapping of subject matter and techniques, can have an impact larger than anyone could have imagined.”
He continues, “The Tia Collection has arisen from a search for simple things and experiences that have been forsaken or forgotten. It is simple for me to be happy in New Mexico, and my happiness prompts me to ask: How difficult is it to be simple? And how difficult is it to be satisfied by simplicity?
“The happiness that I have found in northern New Mexico is the foundation for my collection,” he continues. “As Robert Henri once said, ‘Great works of art should look as though they were made in joy.’ It is my hope that, by sharing these works of art, I can help extend that happiness to others—and that the process of sharing will enrich us all.”
The visual pleasure of viewing the Tia
Collection’s Western art would seem to be enough. However, the catalog essay by the scholar and independent curator Malin Wilson-powell adds depth to familiar stories and reveals new connections.
Stuart Davis (1892-1964) made one trip to Santa Fe and was “frustrated by the grandeur of the scenery and limitless space.” Wilson-powell writes, “Davis dismissed New Mexico as a place suited to anthropologists and thought the magnificent landscape detracted from his own focus, ‘because the place is always there in such a dominating way. You always had to look at it.’” Describing his Santa Fe Landscape, 1923, she writes, “By drawing a border around the monument [Cross of the Martyrs], situated on a hilltop and often visited at sunset, Davis limits and contains three mountain ranges, a view he deemed too vast to capture in its entirety.”
Cady Wells (1904–1954) was sent to a boarding school ranch in Arizona in 1922. Unlike Davis, he fell in love with the West and returned in 1932, settling down near Santa Fe, painting and amassing an important collection of Spanish Colonial art. His New Mexico Landscape, circa 1934, is an interesting echo of Davis’ composition, containing the vastness within a frame of broad brushstrokes. After Wells’ death, his friend Merle Armitage wrote, “Cady was the only painter who ever really got under the skin of the Southwest, in my opinion. Other painters have given good surface approximations of the meaning of this vast and varied country, but Cady really understood its color, its gigantic scale, its infinite and fascinating detail, and its dramatic past.”
One of the many highlights in the exhibition is Moonlight Night, Taos, New Mexico, circa 1922, by Oscar Berninghaus (1874-1952). Unlike his fellow members of the Taos Society of Artists, Berninghaus didn’t study in Europe. His Taos nocturne carried on the tradition of
Frederic Remington (1861-1909) which was then expanded by his contemporary Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939).
One of the many discoveries is the work of Beulah Stevenson (1890-1965). She studied at the Art Students’ League in New York with John Sloan (1871-1951) who invited her to visit New Mexico where she often returned to paint. Her brilliantly colored Camino del Monte Sol, 1947, attests to the strength of modernism in northern New Mexico.
A pleasant surprise among the works of New Mexico modernists are two sculptures by Patrociño Barela, a Taos sculptor born in Bisbee, Arizona. Barela “singlehandedly transformed the 200-year-old aesthetic of the santo,” Wilson-powell writes. His sculptures were show in the 1936 Museum of Modern Art Exhibition, New Horizons in American Art.
A collection assembled with passion and scholarship with the purpose of sharing it with the public is a great gift.
Gerald Cassidy (1869-1934), Mid Day Taos, ca. 1920, oil on canvas, 34 x 30”. The Tia Collection, Santa Fe.
Beulah Stevenson (1890-1965), Camino del Monte Sol, Santa Fe, 1947, oil on canvas board, 16 x 20”. Tia Collection, Santa Fe.
Stuart Davis (1892-1964), Santa Fe Landscape, 1923, oil on canvas, 20¼ x 24¼”. Tia Collection, Santa Fe.
Victor Higgins (1884-1949), The Red Bonnet, ca. 1918, oil on canvas on board, 14 x 14”. Tia Collection, Santa Fe.
Willard Nash (1898-1943), Springtime, Santa Fe, ca. 1920, oil on canvas, 20 x 24”. Tia Collection, Santa Fe.
Patriciño Barela (ca. 1900-1964), Crucifixion, ca. 1950, pine, 19¼ x 8 x 4”. Tia Collection, Santa Fe.
Frank Applegate (1881-1931), Hopi Katcina Dance (Hopi Niman Katcina Dance at Walpi; Katcina Dance at Walpi), ca. 1923, oil on canvas, 27 x 24”. Tia Collection, Santa Fe.
Cady Wells (1904-1954), New Mexico Landscape, ca. 1934, watercolor on paper, 15 x 22”. Tia Collection, Santa Fe.