Tuesday, October 30, 2007

1918-2007 Florence Pierce

I have just found out that a painter whom I truly admire Florence Pierce has passed away from this earth. One more of the painting greats to pass onto that great museum. I can't say in the sky because that's not where I believe it is. But it is somewhere.

There isn't much I can say about this painter that hasn't been said, so I'll leave a great deal of it to Elizabeth Cook-Romero who wrote a beautiful piece from the New Mexican newspaper.

Me personally. I love the luminosity of her paintings, how like glass they absorb all the light from around them, bend it in it's own way and bring it back to the viewer into a work of art that looks like no other. A form of art which is clearly her own.

And now...for the wonderful writing of Elizabeth....

Florence Miller Pierce, an artist who gained renown for her luminous wall reliefs, died in her sleep Wednesday. A resident of Albuquerque, Pierce's reputation had begun to spread beyond the Southwest in recent years.

Her death marks the end of an era, said author David L. Witt, former curator for the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. "She was the last of the modernists who arrived in Taos during the 1930s," he noted. "I'm sure she will go down as one of the major artists of her time."

Pierce was the youngest member of the famed Transcendental Painting Group founded in 1938 by artists Raymond Jonson and Emil Bisttram in Taos. Throughout her career, she acknowledged the influence of that short-lived group dedicated to abstract art and the study of Eastern philosophy.

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1918, Pierce was 17 years old when she first traveled to Taos to spend a summer studying with Bisttram. She returned to New Mexico the next year and met Horace Pierce in Bisttram's class. The two were married in 1939.

"She was not a very sophisticated person when she first found herself in Bisttram's art class, and he didn't take her seriously," Witt said. But Bisttram changed his mind, and by the time Florence Pierce was 19, she had been invited into the Transcendental Group, Witt added. "She's the one who came out of that group and contributed something to art," he said. "She's probably the only one from that group who will be remembered in 100 years."

The Pierces lived in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles before they settled in Santa Fe in 1949. They later moved to Albuquerque when Horace Pierce became seriously ill.

Florence Pierce stopped making art for about 10 years after her husband died in 1958. In a 2006 interview, she told The New Mexican that trips she made to Hopi during the 1960s reignited her creative energies.

Although she had always been a painter, she began making sculpture by carving Styrofoam and sandblasting stone and wood. While watching ceremonials such as the Corn Dance, the artist said, she learned not to ask why or discuss what was going on. "I feel that way about my art," she said. "I make the pieces first, and afterward, people want me to say something intelligent, and what can I say?"

Florence Pierce lived by her own rules, said gallery owner Charlotte Jackson, the artist's representative and close friend. "She did the work she wanted to do, and in her personal life, she was a courageous woman," Jackson said. "She never changed her name when she married. She only started to use Pierce after Horace died."

Success came late for Florence Pierce, and she often said she discovered the technique that brought her renown by chance when she accidentally dropped resin on aluminum foil while working in her studio. By the 1970s, she was cutting mirrored Plexiglas into geometric shapes, covering them with translucent resins and reassembling them into wall reliefs that glowed like opals.

Her sculpture was featured through the 1970s and 1980s in exhibits at the Albuquerque Museum, Santa Fe's Museum of Fine Arts, and the Roswell Museum and Art Center.

In 1985, Santa Fe collectors Natalie and Irving Forman bought their first work by Florence Pierce at an invitational exhibit at the Center for Contemporary Arts.

"We just loved the first piece of hers we saw," Irving Forman said. "Then we found out she lived in Albuquerque, and we were surprised." Over the next 20 years, the Formans collected more than a dozen of the artist's works, which they later donated to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y.

Florence Pierce has had one-person shows in Santa Monica, Calif.; Chicago; Amarillo, Texas; Santa Fe; and Tucson, Ariz. Her works are in the collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Sasebo Museum in Japan and New York City's Rockefeller University.

She is survived by her son, Christopher Pierce, two grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. Funeral services will be private.

Florence Pierce's family and the staff of Charlotte Jackson Fine Art are planning a memorial for her at St. Francis Auditorium in the New Mexico Museum of Art. No date has been set.

Photos courtesy of Charlotte Jackson Fine Art.


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Columbus, Ohio, United States