The Tia Col­lec­tion: Dif­fi­cult Sim­plic­ity

Mas­ter­pieces from the Tia Col­lec­tion open stun­ning new ex­hi­bi­tion at Western Spirit in Scotts­dale, Ari­zona.

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS - By John O’hern

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.

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