Living with antiques: The Juan Jose Prada house

The Matteuccis moved to the Prada house around the time that Nedra emerged as an important Santa Fe art dealer. The daughter of a municipal judge, she grew up in the small southeastern New Mexico farming community of Dexter and met Richard, a retired beverage distributor whose family had settled in Albuquerque several generations ago, when she was a student at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The couple enjoyed visiting galleries together and began collecting soon after they met, initially buying fine art prints.

Nedra’s first significant acquisition, paid for over time and presented to Richard as a wedding present in 1974, was a painting of American Indian dancers by Patrick Swazo Hinds (1929–1974), an artist born in Tesuque Pueblo, New Mexico. Richard later reciprocated with a gift of a bronze nude of a woman by the Mexican artist Francisco Zúñiga, one of their first pieces of sculpture. By the early 1980s, keen on upgrading their collection, Nedra was dealing art out of her car and her house. She opened her first gallery, Nedra Matteucci Fine Art, on a quiet side street off Canyon Road in 1986.

Interested in classic art of the American West, the Matteuccis became customers of Forrest Fenn. “Why not sell for me?” the Santa Fe dealer one day suggested to Nedra, who spent the next two years memorizing auction catalogues and sales records. Richard surprised his wife at Thanksgiving in 1988 with the gift of Fenn Gallery. The Matteuccis acquired Morning Star Gallery, a leading source for American Indian art, in 2002.

After initially filling the front rooms of their house with American Indian artifacts (see Figs. 5, 6, 15), the Matteuccis gravitated to western painting. An incandescent sunset view of the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming by Alfred Jacob Miller, one of the first artists to document the Rocky Mountains and the Oregon Trail, occupies a place of pride in the living room (see Fig. 10, lower right).

Of special note in the collection are early twentieth-century paintings by academically trained artists of the Taos and Santa Fe art colonies, many of whom made their way to New Mexico from the East and Midwest after the arrival of the railroad in 1880. Particularly prominent are works by members of the Taos Society of Artists, founded in 1915, including paintings by Joseph Henry Sharp (see Fig. 10, left), who first visited the village on a sketching trip in 1883; E. Martin Hennings (see Figs. 5, 6, 15), known for sun-drenched portraits of American Indians, often on horseback; and Victor Higgins (see Fig. 13), who brought a calm, reductive sensibility to New Mexico’s expansive vistas.

One of the most interesting chapters in New Mexican art involves two Russians, both of whom worked in a colorful impressionistic style. In 1919 Leon Gaspard, a student of William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905) at the Académie Julian in Paris, moved to Taos, whose enduring folkways reminded him of his childhood in Vitebsk. Nicolai Fechin lived in Taos from about 1927 to 1933, and later settled in California. The Matteuccis own several of Fechin’s distinctive portraits and a carved wood bust by the artist (see Figs. 5, 9). A quintessential Gaspard snowscape, Marché du Paretchi, from about 1916, depicts vividly dressed Russian peasants engaged in village festivities (see Fig. 9).

Behind the former Fenn Gallery, the Matteuccis have created a one-acre sculpture garden open to the public. Their Prada house retreat is private. Underplanted with flowering bulbs and annuals, looming cottonwood trees and lithe shimmering aspens shelter sculptures in stone and metal by the Santa Fe sculptor Glenna Goodacre, who created the image of Sacagawea for the back of the United States silver dollar of 2000, as well as the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington; Doug Hyde, known for his refined, classical figures of American Indians (see Figs. 2, 14); and Floyd DeWitt. They join pieces by Dan Ostermiller, a noted Colorado sculptor of wildlife (see Fig. 5).

One of the rewards of collecting for as long as Nedra and Richard Matteucci have is watching artists’ reputations grow over time. The Matteuccis developed a special liking for Eric Sloane, who arrived in Taos in 1926 and later divided his time between Santa Fe and Litchfield County, Connecticut. Captivated by architectural forms, especially barns, Sloane presented Nedra with a birthday gift, a small painting of a New Mexican village church, in 1984, the year before he died (see Fig. 8).

Peter Hurd is another artist with personal meaning to the couple. Born in Roswell, New Mexico, a few miles from Nedra’s childhood home, Hurd studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and privately with Newell Convers Wyeth before marrying Wyeth’s daughter, Henriette (1907–1997), also an artist, and moving in 1940 to the twenty-five-hundred-acre Sentinel Ranch in San Patricio, New Mexico. Hurd autographed wine bottles at the Matteuccis’ 1974 wedding rehearsal dinner at the historic Tinnie Mercantile Company in Tinnie, New Mexico. He is best known for painting the nearby Hondo Valley, a watercolor view of which hangs in the Matteuccis’ study (see Fig. 15).

The Matteuccis are living examples of the famously relaxed Santa Fe style, enjoying their collection in an open, unassuming way that belies their deep commitment to the artistic heritage of their birthplace. Nedra Matteucci is New Mexico, right down to her initials.

by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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