Thanksgiving is when thoughts turn to home and family. The Stark Museum of Art invites us to address the concept of “The West as Home” with its current exhibition, on display through Jan. 22. The exhibition highlights the full breadth of the museum’s collection, from American Western Anglo artists to native American objects, from early 19th century to 20th century works.
Curator Sarah Boehme said the pandemic has forced us all to be at “home,” and this exhibition explores what that word actually means.
All this time I’ve been home, what does it mean?” she said. “Is it a place? What’s a particular shelter mean to me? What are the objects around me? How do those nourish me or not?”
The exhibition is nicely laid out with sections that focus on structures, household objects or simply the trappings of life that make a “house” a “home” — and there is an important connotational distinction between the words.
Many of the works in the show will be familiar to frequent visitors, which does not mean they are unwelcome.
Ernest Leonard Blumenschein’s “Ourselves and Taos Neighbors” is always a standout. The artist pictures himself with his wife and daughter front and center. Surrounding the family are an assortment of artists and intellectuals, as well as Pueblo and Hispanic neighbors.
This picture is always fascinating, as the adobe interior acts as a sort of stage with everyone crammed in, as if in a curtain call for a performance. Blumenschein courteously supplies us with a sketched guide to the assembled crew (no points for discovering the identity of tall, red-bearded chap to the left of center).
There are more than 100 works in the show, which makes it impossible to grasp its entirety at first visit.
With shows like this, I like to walk through and just notice what jumps out at me, then make my way back through to look at the cards and identify the artist.
I was surprised to find the first three paintings I examined, in different sections of the show, were all by Victor Higgins.
“Winter Walk” is a wonderful Cubistic townscape. Painted in 1935, the image is a tightly bunched view of Taos. It incorporates the Our Lady of Guadalupe church, an easily recognizable Pueblo home and the Anglo-influence of the gas station. The oval composition leads the eyes to the distant mountains. It is a wonderful mix of traditional Western and Modernism.
Higgins’ watercolor “Hondo River” stands out because of the technique. One is drawn to the “sketchy” quality of the brushstroke. It is vibrant and spontaneous, yet also incredibly detailed.
One can imagine Higgins looking across the valley as light shifts across the fields. Interestingly, the third painting is a simple pseudo-Impressionist vase of “Pink Peonies.” My amusement at being drawn to these three images stems from each one being stylistically different. Obviously, Higgins’ innate sensibilities reveal themselves regardless of style choice.
That is the value of shows like this. If this had been a Higgins-only show, I would have probably been searching for the connective energy rather than enjoying the surprise of discovery.
There are several Nicolai Fechins, which I had planned to ignore here as I have written about my love for his work on several occasions in the past.
But one really needs to pay attention to “Cabin in Taos Canyon.” The painting incorporates the Russian artist’s usual aggressive brush-strokes, parts of his works almost devolving into abstract, but the image captures the melancholy of an abandoned building long past it’s usefulness. No doubt it will fade into the landscape. A great painting has a way of evoking an extended narrative.
Of the various objects on display, the most delicious are the examples of black-ware pottery. They are jarring (no pun intended) in their modernity, with their sleek designs etched into the blackness.
Also interesting are several Edward Curtis photos depicting various Native American dwellings. The eight images hang together and offer a fascinating glimpse at the variety of buildings.
Most exciting was discovering a pair of Pansy Stockton creations. The images, from a distance, look like small paintings. But closer inspection reveals they are “organic collages,” composed of various leaves, wood, feathers and other unidentified natural detritus.
“Winter Window, Cabin in Colorado” is a terrific little piece. Measuring approximately 11×14 inches, it shows a scene looking out from a window to snowy woods. It is dark and broody, and despite its diminutive stature, implies the geographic and hardships of Western settlers.
Seeing these works grouped this way offers a chance to see the familiar in a new context, and to welcome new friends. That, surely, is what brings one home.
The Stark Museum of Art is located at 712 Green Ave. in Orange, Texas. For more information, and to view the exhibition online, visit starkmuseum.org.
This review first ran in the Nov. 26, 2021, Art of Living section in The Beaumont Enterprise.