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Former UST Faculty Artistic Legacy Rediscovered

American modern sculptor and former University of St. Thomas faculty member, Hannah Holliday Stewart will be honored with an exhibition at the Matthews Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., beginning July 4.

Stewart was one of a small group of influential women sculptors on the latter part of the 20th century with a rising national reputation before she mysteriously turned her back on the art world and assumed a life of seclusion two decades before her death in 2010. At the time of her death, more than 120 sculptures were discovered in her studio, many of which will be featured in HANNAH HOLLIDAY STEWART: An Artistic Legacy Rediscovered.

“All of her time went to her art,” said Nancy Jircik, chairwoman of the art department during Stewart’s tenure at St. Thomas. “She was an excellent teacher, very direct and easy to work with.”

Stewart was born in Birmingham, Ala., and studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. In the mid-1970s, shortly after graduating, she arrived in Houston and began teaching at the University of St. Thomas’ Studio Arts department.

Early in her career she spearheaded multiple public art projects in Houston, big victories for a young female sculptor. Stewart gained national notoriety as part of a generation of second-wave feminist artists who incorporated ancient myths and goddess imagery into their work, but was equally influenced by scientific findings and natural phenomena. At the peak of her career, she exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, the High Museum, Atlanta and other museums across the country.

“My goal is to render visible the hidden realities of pent-up contained energy,” wrote Stewart. “Each sculpture is an energy form, the movement arrested in space, a form sustaining an energy.” At Matthews Gallery, Stewart’s elemental abstract sculptures will serve as intricate puzzle pieces to an artistic legacy rediscovered.

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