James Matthew Thomas At The Harwood

J.Matthew Thomas (or Matt as he’s known to his friends in the community), is The Harwood Museum of Art’s new Collections Manager.

You’ve met Matt here on the blog a couple of times. In a personal post about he and his husband  Richard Spera, and as Agnes Chavez’ partner in the impossibly hip, annual event in Taos, that takes art to the streets and beyond; The Paseo.

Matt’s background in Architecture gives him a unique perspective on Art and Culture (he’s most intrigued by Civic development and is an artist himself.) I’ll have a post up in the next few weeks about the Paseo Party on Taos Plaza (the full size festival will return next year), but I recently emailed Matt a couple of questions about his gig at the museum.

1) You have initiated a new feature at the Harwood, closely related to your popular (Paseo) pop-up events. Studio 238. Can you tell us a little about this inclusion to the museum and the art you have and intend to show on your wall?

Studio 238 is the brainchild of (Harwood) Director Dr. Richard Tobin. It was started shortly after I came on board to the Collections Manager position here at the Harwood. It’s been an amazing experience working with the artists that were selected. The concept is for the museum to host more short-term exhibitions, keeping the content fresh during our regular seasonal exhibitions, and to provide an additional opportunity for exposure for artists.

Studio 238 is located within the Harwood, as a designated wall space for these openings occurring (approximately) the first Friday of each month. The space is designated for the shows to move around the museum, highlighting current exhibitions or defined by the scale or media of the show. We began downstairs within the Mandelman-Ribak Gallery, have moved it around to the Lee Ellis Gallery and are currently showing works upstairs in the Martin Hallway.

Starting this fall I have the opportunity to jump in and curate the next series. I’m excited to expand the notion of what this space can be for the museum. The original intent was to highlight new and emerging works by local artists. The Harwood has always been a reflection of it’s community and it’s exciting to see how this new initiative can cast a greater perspective on the current art and artists working in New Mexico. Studio 238 has been an experiment from the start and I hope to work more closely with the curation and execution of the shows to better reach the vision and mission that it was born from.

I’m hoping to bring new works from some familiar faces, I’m curious to explore some emerging talent in our community, from the young to newly established. I’m also hoping to show artists’ processes: giving space for the ‘sketch’, the ‘draft’ and the complete experiment. Like art itself, Studio 238 is a constant experiment and should expand the notion of what is museum ready, or ready for exhibition. Here we can be more free-form and adventurous. This space can be show-and-tell and allow space for conversation, critique, feedback and, am I allowed to say this? – even allow room for failure.

We hope to announce the fall and winter line up soon and we are actively looking for local artists to highlight in the space. (Artists who have new works they would like to share are invited to submit a proposal to this link: Harwood Proposal.)

2) As the Harwood’s new Collections Manager (congratulations), I understand you have just completed inventory of the museum’s entire collection – any great discoveries you’d like to share?

This has been an incredible journey. For last 9 months I have had the opportunity to explore the entire collection at the Harwood Museum of Art. As you can imagine this building has seen a lot and holds an incredible archive of who we are as artists and more importantly who we are as New Mexicans. With over 5000 objects in the Permanent Collection and thousands more prints, photos, a growing study collection and impressive archive, the Harwood is truly a historical treasure for our community. Within the inventory we are making the final steps in fully documenting and cataloging online the collection, and making this publicly accessible online for everyone to view. We hope to have this all accessible via the website in the coming year.

What are the Highlights? Wow, that is a big question. I think I could summarize it like this: Capturing the legacy of local artists. The sketch books of Louis Ribak, Melissa Zinks paint brushes, Dasburgs palette, the journals of Ted Egri, the erotica of Ken Price. It’s been a lesson in ‘what is an artist’ to experience the breadth of work and techniques an artist amasses in a lifetime. The Harwood has an incredible collection of works by local artists AND an incredible archive of who they were and sometimes what they ate – as we have Mildred Tolbert’s cook book. From the little known drawings to the larger series and sets, the collection has really captured the legacy of artists in Taos, and continues to capture their stories.

Agnes Martin. How could one not include her? With the recent acquisition of ‘Tundra’ this spring, it only enhances the incredible impact she has made on Taos and on this museum. From experiencing her gallery daily, to being with her work and seeing her process from the 1950’s to the 90’s. My favorite has to be a messy yet articulate page of math calculations she wrote out in the creation of one of her iconic paintings. She did all the math long hand and we have one of those sheets in our collection.

Impacts of community and collaboration. While the permanent collection has a story to tell within itself, it’s this amazing crossroads of our community that has also shared a deeper and more profound narrative of this place we call home.

The Taos Municipal Schools have their collection housed at the museum, on a 100 year loan, this impressive collection was donated by artists to the schools, and hung on the walls of offices and classrooms for decades. Now valued in the millions, this collection adds to the story of Taos.

Over the course of our inventory research we come across some unknown names and with research realize that visiting artists from the Wurlitzer Foundation have too made a big impact on Taos and the art community. From temporary artists that come and go, to these that come and stay for the rest of their lives. The Harwood has the ability to share these creative sojourns that ended up in Taos.

The Taos Library. It was only 20 years ago that the library separated from the Museum. This integral historical tie has fed the museum’s collection in many ways. From deep community routes to this space as a respite after  school or during the summers, or performing in the theater that was upstairs…to the legacy of objects and books that have enriched the mission of the museum and UNM… to educate and inspire.

Thank you Matt for your incredible contribution to the community and the museum, and your generosity in answering these questions and giving taoStyle readers a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes at The Harwood.

For more about The Harwood Museum Of Art, please visit their site linked below this post.

Harwood Museum

All images of Matt (chatting with Zoe Zimmerman at an opening), and at work at The Harwood, c/o the museum.

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