Thursday, October 22, 2009

Arthur Haddock's Shoebox

One of the places I visited this summer was Santa Fe, and this post is about a painter I learned about on this visit.

Arthur Haddock was a 20th century landscape painter. Mid-century, he and his wife moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, bought some land and built themselves a pueblo-style adobe house. It was a small house with a shop, where Arthur made picture frames for a living for a few years.

This was a very difficult, unhappy time for the couple. Haddock wrote a suicide note and carried it in his pocket during this time.

His framing shop had two multi-paned windows. He took to blacking out all but one pane at a time in his shop and painting the view from that pane. He did this over and over, day after day, ultimately producing hundreds of postcard-sized oil paintings on pieces of matboard. He stored the little paintings in a box he called his shoebox, tied with a blue ribbon.

Eventually, things got better for him, and he went on to many more years of painting landscapes in New Mexico and Arizona. He kept the shoebox paintings hidden away, refusing to show them publicly and later, even denying their continued existence.

The shoebox paintings became a legend which was not confirmable until after his death, when his widow gave permission for them to be shown to the public. At which point, the little paintings--which were powerful when taken together--merited their own show at the Ernesto Mayans Gallery in Santa Fe.

Haddock was protective of this particular body of his work to the point of denying it's existence while he lived. But he did the most important part: he created the work.

My description of the shoebox paintings is based on Ernesto Mayans' book on Haddock and conversation with the current resident of the house. A slightly different version is contained in the "legend" link, above, which also has a picture of the "shoebox" with paintings.

The photo above I took looking through one of the windows in what was Haddock's framing shop.


  1. I really enjoyed this latest posting from you, JS!

    This must be loco blog artist day.

  2. It's a lovely photo. Will you paint it?

  3. Thanks, CP and AH. AH, I probably won't paint this, but likely will paint from other Santa Fe photos I took--when my continuing technical difficulties are fixed.

  4. I love this little art history lesson. Very edifying.

  5. I read the through the link. Theres a sadness in that story of Arthur Haddock that reminds me of Mr V's father. He was a talented illustrator for Uniroyal Tires. The assyrian styled mall off the 5. He longed to be recognized for his own work.

    Did you see the Maynard Dixon Show when it was at the California Museum of Art?


  6. gosh PA, did he do those egyption figures? They totally captivated me as a kid. My father worked in city of industry, and we'd pass them on the way. To a child of suburbia, it was as good as the pyramids.

  7. Margaret, I'm glad you enjoyed this.

    PA, the link version is sad--I think it's a sadder, darker tale than what I see. Haddock's stuff is still being shown and sold. I went to the Mayans gallery and saw some of his stuff (my favorite was a scene from his Stockton, California years), and his work also has a presence and stature in Prescott, Arizona.

    I've always loved the old Uniroyal facility; it's cool to know whom to attribute it to.

    I missed the Dixon exhibition.

  8. "He had worked for the railroad as a night clerk so he could paint during the day without the pressure"

    What a story.

    And I could really get lost in that website. Santa Fe seems to have about 20 art museums.

  9. I hadn't hear fo this artist before - thanks for bringing him up. He has an interesting story.

  10. That was a very interesting and inspiring story. Sometimes it can be hard to keep working, but a little "trick" can get us back on track.

  11. Everything is fits and starts with me. And I think the greatest mystery isn't in the fits, it's in the starts.

  12. Great post, Jean! I spent many years in New Mexico, but I had never heard that story. Thanks for sharing it.

  13. I guess the question is:

    Are you on a vacation or a staycation?

  14. I have to believe your off somewhere sketching away. Of course I'm completely envious

  15. K, Katherine, Shanna and Casey, I'm glad you liked the story.

    AH, well said.

    K, it's been both--and busy and complex.

    PA, I love your version so much. The truth hasn't involved much sketching or painting. I miss all your blogs and hope to be back, posting, soon.

  16. Thank you for sharing this inspiring and touching story of Haddock. He managed to get through his depression by immersing his head and expressing himself through his works. I am pretty sure that his shoebox paintings are more intense than his other works due to his emotions at the time. I can't wait to see them!