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Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin
(Kazan, Russia, 1881 - 1955, Santa Monica, CA)
Nicolai Fechin was born in 1881 in Kazan, Russia. Fechin learned carving from his father who was a professional woodcarver and gilder and by the time he was 11 he was drawing the designs for his father to use to construct altars. When he was 13, he enrolled in the Kazan branch of the Academy of Arts, the Kazan School of Art and was so successful that he was accepted into the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg where he studied with Ilya Repin and Filipp Malyavin. In 1904, he traveled around Siberia examining the landscape and native peoples; this began his fascination with rural people and places.
In 1909, Fechin graduated with honors and his final project won him the Prix de Rome earning him a scholarship for travel throughout Europe. The next year, Fechin won a gold medal at the annual Exhibition in Munich and was invited to show at an international exhibition at Carnegie Institute in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania after which he began to sell his art in the US through W S Stimmel, a New York patron. Upon his return to Russia, Fechin took a job teaching at the Kazan School of Art and began promoting his art within Russia by founding the Commune of Artists, exhibiting with the Itinerants (1912-1922) and with the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (1922-1926). When he felt confident in his financial security, Fechin married Alexandra Belkovich, the Art School’s director’s daughter.
In 1923, following the turmoil of the Russian Revolution and the death of his parents, Fechin and his family immigrated to New York. Because of his earlier sales in the US and Europe and ties to patron W S Stimmel, Fechin’s American career started off quite successfully. He began teaching at the New York Academy of Art and began exhibiting and winning prizes at the National Academy of Design and the International Exposition in Philadelphia. Fechin was known for his powerful portraits and impressionistic wood sculptures.
In 1927, Fechin developed tuberculosis and was forced to leave New York for the drier climes of Taos, New Mexico, a new developing arts center. Fechin loved Taos saying that the mountains reminded him of the beauty of Siberia and he felt particularly close to the Native Americans. While in Taos, Fechin was naturalized as an American citizen. Fechin purchases a two-story adobe house and spent several years modifying it himself. He introduced Russian style doors, shuttered windows, and carved furniture which led to an eclectic mixture of Modernist, Russian and Native American styles.
Fechin left Taos with his daughter in 1933, when he and his wife divorced. He traveled around New York, Southern California, Mexico, Japan, Java, and Bali. Eventually, he began to look to settle down and bought a studio in Rustic Canyon Santa Monica where he taught small groups of students. He died in 1955 leaving behind a fabulous legacy. Now, his house in Taos has been turned into the Taos Art Museum and his works can been found throughout the South West and the largest collection is found at the Fechin Center in Kazan.