February 16, 2015
Harwood Museum in Taos unveils a series of 'firsts'

The Taos News
February 16, 2015
Yvonne Pesquera

In the way flowers open toward the light, the Harwood Museum of Art blossoms with three new spring exhibitions. They are on view now through May 3. The featured artists are Robert M. “Bob” Ellis (d. 2014); Marylou Reifsnyder (d. 1990); and Louis Ribak (d. 1979).

From different backgrounds and different parts of the world, all three artists pursued rich artistic lives in Taos.

“Clouds Got in the Way: Louis Ribak Scrolls”

In the later and lesser-known period of Louis Ribak’s life, he created 17 large-size works of brushed ink on paper in the 1970s.

“We built the Mandelman-Ribak Gallery in 2010 and in 2012, we celebrated Bea Mandelman’s centennial. But this is the first time the Harwood is exclusively showing Ribak’s work,” Harwood director Susan Longhenry said.

John Mulvany, guest curator of the Ribak scrolls exhibition, also notes that this is the first time these scrolls are being exhibited in these numbers. “Some years ago, the Phoenix Gallery (formerly in Taos) showed a few of them. But not this full scope. The depth was left unexplored.”

The scrolls measure 6 feet high by 3 feet wide, and have recently been uniformly framed for presentation and preservation. Nine of the scrolls are from the Harwood Museum’s collection; the other eight are on loan from the University of New Mexico Art Museum in Albuquerque.

In a gesture that is only fitting, the larger-than-life Ribak scrolls are on display in the cavernous Mandelman-Ribak Gallery. Ribak himself did not title the works so there are no accompanying labels.

Mulvany came up with the name for the exhibit, “Clouds Got in the Way.” He explains that in the beginning of Ribak’s artistic life, “the “clouds” were the 1930-to-1940s events happening in Europe and with the Great Depression.

He points out that angry social realism got in the way of Ribak’s more contemplative period. “At the end of his life, Ribak was more contemplative,” says Mulvany.

“Bob Ellis: The Endless Race”

Bob Ellis was not only an artist, but the director of the Harwood Museum from 1987 to 2001. His paintings and charcoal drawings depict the imagery of the horse and the carousel, and were created between the 1940s and 2012.

In particular, Ellis painted a self-portrait with a carousel horse in the late 1970s. “Those two pieces [the painting and the actual carousel horse] are reunited for the first time in this Harwood exhibition,” says Longhenry.

The vintage wooden carousel horse is in a remarkably good state. It is pole-mounted and still retains its original paint. “We have the horse on display in the middle of the Peter & Madeleine Martin Gallery. Viewers walk around it looking at his art on the walls, like a carousel,” Longhenry says.

Ellis’s interest in horses relates to his childhood memories of the medieval armor collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He brings it to life with an artistic style that fuses the multiple points of view found in Cubism and the relationship to speed found in Futurism.

Gus Foster guest curated “Bob Ellis: The Endless Race.” He explains that his involvement in bringing the Ellis exhibition to the Harwood is, in part, based on the fact that they were close friends for almost 25 years. They first worked together at the Harwood when Ellis was the director and Foster was on the board.

“Even after he retired, we stayed in contact, and I visited him and his studio in Albuquerque on numerous occasions right up to the time of his death last year,” Foster says.

Foster goes on to explain that in the last years of Ellis’s life, “he revisited the theme of the ‘endless race’ and the cyclical aspects of life. His metaphor of choice was the carousel horse.”

“Marylou Reifsnyder: The Picture Book of Days”

Marylou Reifsnyder died without ever seeing her work exhibited. A year after her death, in 1991, a small exhibit was held at the Stables Gallery. But this exhibition at the Harwood Museum is the first time a large-scale survey of her work is being shown.

“A recent gift was made to the museum in 2013. Over 400 of her works are in our collection,” Longhenry says. “These are mixed media: watercolor, gouache, pencil, marker. They are very colorful.”

Her works are on display in the George E. Foster, Jr. Gallery.

To fully understand the importance of Reifsnyder’s art work, it is well worth the purchase of the Harwood Museum catalogue “Head into Heart: The Visionary Art of Marylou Reifsnyder.”

In its pages, we learn that Bob Ellis had been introduced to Reifsnyder’s work through a University of New Mexico colleague. Ellis is quoted as saying, “I was mesmerized by the imagery: at once joyful and theatrical.”

Reifsnyder briefly attended art school but was largely self-taught. It was around 1960 that she had a notable vision: she was visited by an angel holding a grail (that is, a chalice).

From this seminal event, art became a medium for Reifsnyder’s spiritual life and she was prolific –– producing over 4,000 works, including mixed media paintings, sketches, poems, toys, and marionettes.

Reifsyneder is quoted in the catalogue: “What is art? I guess I don’t know. For myself, I work at art as an aid to beingness.”

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