Thursday, July 11, 2013

Spellbound in New Mexico, Part I

San Francisco de Asis Church, façade, courtyard and south elevation, c. 1772-1815. Ranchos de Taos. "... one of the most beautiful buildings in the United States," said Georgia O'Keeffe, as she was joined by Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, and a multitude of artists and photographers after them who have been captivated by the aesthetic presence of this iconic mission church.
Spellbound in New Mexico
Part I: Millicent! Mabel! Georgia! Agnes!

By Augustus Mayhew

Before I left for a recent jaunt to Taos and Santa Fe, the Historical Society of Palm Beach County called and invited me to be a guest lecturer in January 2014. With Palm Beach's main industry being Society and women its principal disciples, I thought it might be entertaining to speak on the subject of Wonder Women: Society's Feminine Mystique, a look at the who-what-when-why of the women held captive during the past century by the resort's allure or at least the bridge games.

In stark contrast, when I arrived at Taos Canyon, I found myself tracing the footsteps of exceptional women who had broken away from the social molds and expectations that grip Palm Beach. In forging their own uncommon identities, they each became significant legendary figures in cultural history. For Taoseños, social climbing is when locals make note of their elevation levels chatting up their last trek to Tibet or Nepal. One early morning on a drive from Arroyo Seco down towards Taos, I felt chills from the vast panoramic canyon views framed by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, an enthralling Himalayan moment where I felt apart from the world below and part of the magical, mythical, mysterious Taos that was, and still is Shangri-La for those that never leave this life with their head in the clouds.
San Francisco de Asis Church, west elevation, c. 1772-1815. Ranchos de Taos. In 2010, actor Dennis Hopper's memorial service was held here before he was interred at the nearby Jesus Nazareno Cemetery.
After a look at the remarkable lives and legacies of Millicent Rogers, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Agnes Martin, I put together my observations on the what-is-what among Taos' 80 art galleries, numerous cafés, superb museums, and nearby mineral springs and mud pools, without a word of any Julia Roberts locals-tell-all stories that TMZ never blogged.

From Taos, I took the ear-popping alpine High Road to Santa Fe, where in between wildfires I trekked to Trampas and Chimayo, "the American Lourdes." After checking in to the Hotel St. Francis, where I might have been the only guest without a Chihuahua, I went to LewAllen Contemporary Gallery at The Railyard where Palm Beach sculptor Jane Manus was opening a show. Then, whether hiking Canyon Road or Museum Hill, too often I found myself across the street from the St. Francis at Café Pasqual's "family table," what many consider the town's #1 café, although more than 200 other eateries claim the same top spot.

Millicent Rogers (1902-1953)

Millicent Rogers Museum
1504 Millicent Rogers Road
Taos, New Mexico, 575-758-2462
Millicent Rogers Museum, gift shop. Taos. After years on the world's best-dressed lists and tabloid headlines from I-dos and divorces, Standard Oil heiress Mary Millicent Rogers Salm Ramos Balcom spent the last years of her life at trading posts, pueblos and tribal fairs dressed head-to-toe as a Navajo woman. Today, her sizeable collection of Native American turquoise, silver, pottery, and textiles is the central focus for an inspired museum dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Native American culture.
For the Millicent Rogers Museum, one woman's daily treasure hunts for rings, bracelets, belts, and crafts provided the foundation for a significant collection of Southwest culture. Millicent Rogers (1902-1953) may have only spent the last six years of her life in Taos but the coral necklaces and silver crosses she acquired, as well as the pieces created from her own inspired designs, have left a lasting legacy.

As the granddaughter of Henry Huttleston Rogers, one of the Standard Oil Trust of 1887's original and largest shareholders, her share of his then $50 million fortune would have easily kept her on the world's best-dressed list and ensconced in Austrian castles and New York penthouses. Instead, following a sandstorm of marriages and a fling with Clark Gable, she donned moccasins and broomstick dresses and searched tribal markets for finely crafted turquoise jewelry. For her, Southwestern Native-American culture was a valuable contribution to America's heritage that should be preserved. Sixty years later, her acquisitions and design creations play a vital role in keeping indigenous crafts and traditions a part of our present culture.
Millicent Rogers has been the subject of a recent spate of books. As Jane Fonda's great aunt, Rogers is mentioned in several of Fonda's books.
Pictured above at her family's UES townhouse, Millicent Rogers developed rheumatic fever at an early age that later caused the complications that led to her early death at age 51 from "circulatory problems." Described as "composed and elegant" as a child, during her marriage to an Austrian count, she was known to wear Tyrolean hats, peasant aprons, skirts, and jackets. Courtesy Millicent Rogers Museum.
The photograph is believed to be her passport photograph taken in 1947, the year Rogers moved permanently to Taos.

"Millicent Rogers is the last person who had any real influence on American taste," stated fashion designer Charles James. Courtesy Millicent Rogers Museum.
Millicent Rogers and a friend photographed in Taos. With her Verdura and Schlumberger packed away, Rogers collected Zuni silver and Hopi shell jewelry. At one point, according to various chronicles, Taos' reigning doyenne Mabel Dodge Luhan was offended by Rogers' behavior among the local tribesmen and wrote Rogers a letter telling her to leave Taos. Interestingly, Dodge had married Tony Luhan, described as a "blanket Indian." Courtesy Millicent Rogers Museum.
Millicent Rogers Museum, entrance. In Taos, Rogers lived in an adobe house that today remains a family property of the family. The museum first opened in temporary quarters on Ledoux Street in the mid-1950s. Founded by Millicent Rogers' family including the recently deceased Paul Peralta-Ramos, the Museum has become one of America's most important resources for the study of Southwestern art and design. In the late 1960s, the Museum moved into its present home, an adobe house built by Claude and Elizabeth Anderson and later donated to the Museum. The building was renovated and expanded in the mid-1980s by renowned architect Nathaniel A. Owings, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. On July 27, the Millicent Rogers Museum celebrates its annual Turquoise Gala at Old Martina's Hall in Ranchos de Taos.
Millicent Rogers Museum, board of trustees plaque.
While the museum has received substantial collections during the past 50 years, Millicent Rogers' acquisitions are still the institution's core holdings.
Peter Seibert, the museum's executive director, brings a well-informed enthusiasm to the organization's mission.
Faith Hensley heads up the museum's financial management and public relations.
Carmela Quinto, curator of collections and museum coordinator, stands in front of a series of photographs by nearby Navajo students.
Jewelry Gallery

The more than 1,200 pieces of jewelry collected by Millicent Rogers are the heart of the museum's Native American jewelry collection. Rogers' excursions into remote Indian Country resulted in an incomparable assemblage of Navajo and Zuni silver and turquoise, Hopi silverwork, and Pueblo stone and shell jewelry. Here are some views of the collection.
Silver, leather, and turquoise belts and buckles.
An elaborate turquoise squash-blossom necklace.
An antique silver concho belt, turquoise bracelet, ring, and belt buckles.
A vast array of turquoise bracelets and cross necklaces.
A turquoise bracelet of some dimension.
A silver buckle.
Antique turquoise bracelets.
A silver and turquoise necklace. A selection of sensational silver and turquoise bracelets.
Navajo and Zuni flasks and pendants.
Turquoise necklaces.
A more than century-old antique silver belt.
Silver necklaces.
Millicent Rogers' silver button collection.
The collection includes antique silver belts with leather inlays.
The gallery highlights pieces by gold and silver smiths forged from Millicent Rogers' designs.
Storage drawers are filled with superbly crafted jewelry and antique silver concho belts.
The collection is expertly archived.
The extensive collection reflects Rogers' avid interest in Native American crafts and apparently limitless resources.
A series of turquoise bracelets.
The exhibits are exemplary of the more than 6,000 crafts and artworks in the collection. The museum exhibits Native American and Hispanic textiles from the museum's permanent collection. During the 19th century, Native American patterns and processes changed with the influx of the Spanish settlers, railroad expansion, and the accessibility to commercial yarns and dyes. The collection includes chief's blankets, blankets with indigo-dyed yarns, and Ikat-dyed weavings.
Millicent Rogers' high desert wardrobe is on display.
Third-phase transition Chief's Blanket, c.1890-1895. Original Millicent Rogers Collection. The pattern represents the transition from blankets woven for a Navajo's personal use to textiles woven for trading posts and tourists.
Navajo diamond network blanket, c. 1880-1885. Original Millicent Rogers Collection. Handspun natural wool and aniline dyed red wool. Late 19th century "eye-dazzler" period.
This gallery exhibits a progression of textile motifs.
The Maria Martinez Gallery includes examples of the black-on-black pottery process introduced in 1919 by Maria and Julian Martinez. From the San Ildefonso Pueblo, the artisans were responsible for a revival of the San Ildefonso ceramic tradition Their early 20th century pieces were primarily plain red and black wares and decorated polychromes.
Pottery making techniques may have evolved and polishing techniques refined, nevertheless the resulting creations look much the same as they did 1,500 years ago.
Millicent Rogers Museum, patio courtyard.
Large-scale graphics enhance and clarify the exhibit spaces.
Gallery transitions are well-defined. "Watch your head," is the most often heard expression.
Contemporary artworks are also showcased.
The Museum has a superb collection of Hispanic religious art.
Contemporary artworks are also showcased.
Millicent Rogers Museum
Archives & Collections
The museum's storage spaces offer extensive holdings available for research purposes.
The museum's immense Native American craft collection is utilized by researchers worldwide.
The archives include Millicent Rogers' personal scrapbook of photographs, including rare glimpses of Native American ceremonial festivals where photography is now prohibited. Archival photographs courtesy Millicent Rogers Museum.
The museum's gift shop has an array of Native American crafts as well as jewelry designs by Millicent Rogers. I met an Australian couple at my Taos B & B who bought their wedding rings at the Rogers gift shop.
Sierra Vista cemetery, Taos. On 1 January 1953, Millicent Rogers was interred here in her treasured Taos Canyon surrounded by the Hispanic and Native-American families who shared her place in the world. She was buried in a Schiaparelli designed Apache dress accessorized with one of her many stellar Concho belts.
Mabel Dodge Luhan. Lured to "the magic state of New Mexico" by the romantic paintings of E. I. Couse, whose studio and house will be featured in the next chapter with a private tour by the artist's granddaughter, Mabel believed her house in Taos was "the last outpost of individualism." The Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers are at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.
Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879-1962)
Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Historic Inn & Workshops
240 Morada Lane, Taos

As generous as she was imperious, Mabel Gansen Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan was a noted author, art patron, heiress, salonista, and social martinet, who was known among the Greenwich Village-Provincetown set as the Gertrude Stein of Taos. Her books included Intimate Memories, Winter in Taos, and Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality.

She entertained and supported almost an entire generation of the early 20th-century’s most significant artists and writers, including D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham, Willa Cather, Lincoln Steffens, Marsden Hartley, Robinson Jeffers and Carl Jung. 

While filming Easy Rider, actor Dennis Hopper became aware of the house and bought it, owning it until 1978.  Los Gallos, as she called it, is today a 12-acre historic inn and conference center offering retreat-style meetings and artistic, literary, and personal growth workshops. During my visit to Taos, I wanted to stay in the Ansel Adams Room but the entire Inn was fully booked.
The estate's traditional gated entrance is off Kit Carson Road only a few blocks from Taos Plaza.
These steps lead up to the Big House from the lower parking areas.
A view looking towards the entrance gate.
The birdhouses attract flocks of chirping birds.
Los Gallos, the Big House, a view form the entrance drive.
The Big House at Los Gallos.
Smaller guest houses and cottages surround the Big House.
The Big House, entrance doors.
Reception area, looking up towards a sitting area. In the reception area, a vintage LV trunk makes for a plant stand.
The upper-level sitting room. Mabel Dodge burned incense in every room and had the servants go through the house twice a day burning cedar branches.
The Inn's reception area.
The Inn's Diane de Fremery could not have been more helpful. "I think there is a plan to add a Dennis Hopper Room," said Diane de Fremery, who told me that Hopper had sold the house back to one of Mabel's sons.
D.H. and Frieda Lawrence were frequent visitors to the Big House. Lawrence's ranch outside of Taos is managed by the University of Mexico and can be visited by appointment.
Another view of the Inn's principal rooms.
The Inn's breakfast and dining room.
Mabel Dodge Luhan, Kit Carson Memorial Park. Her final resting place is only a few steps from her beloved adobe estate.
Georgia O'Keeffe (1997-1986)
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson Street, Santa Fe

Although Georgia O'Keeffe's last years were spent in a Santa Fe mansion under the watchful eye of her controversial protégé Juan Hamilton, her fascination with New Mexico stretched back 60 years earlier when Mabel Dodge Luhan offered the unknown painter a studio at her Kit Carson Road estate during her first visit to Taos.

After years of back-and-forth from the East, it wasn't until after the death of her husband Alfred Stieglitz during the 1940s that she made the Ghost Ranch at Abiquiu, located near Taos, her permanent home and muse. Interestingly, although much of O'Keeffe and her husband's life revolved around photography, I cancelled my visit to O'Keeffe's remote studio and home because I objected to the O'Keeffe Foundation's policy that does not permit "photography or note-taking." However, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in downtown Santa Fe does afford a significant perspective of O'Keeffe's life and work.
Opened in 1997, the museum's collection of more than 3,000 artworks includes 1,149 of O'Keeffe's paintings, drawings and sculptures. The repository's Pueblo Revival style buildings were designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects, New York. By the time of her 1943 show at Chicago's Art Institute, O'Keeffe was considered "the greatest woman painter alive." Georgia O'Keeffe and the Camera: The Art of Identity is available in the gift shop.
Georgia O'Keeffe, 1918. Gelatin silver print. Alfred Stieglitz. We were all young once, even Georgia O'Keeffe. In 1916, Stieglitz gave her first one-woman show at Gallery 291. Too often "the Mother of American Modernism" is portrayed during her later years.
A view of one of the museum's principal galleries where photography is permitted. Some individual artworks are not permitted to be photographed.
Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico: Out Back of Marie's, 1930. Oil on canvas. Georgia O'Keeffe. During the summer of 1930, O'Keeffe stayed in Alcalde, New Mexico at H & M Ranch, a guest of Marie Tudor Garland.
In contrast, O'Keeffe's sister Anita Young lived in Newport and Palm Beach. O'Keeffe visited her sister several times at her Palm Beach oceanfront estate Monsorrel.
Georgia O'Keeffe at Ghost Ranch, with skull, 1948. Gelatin silver print. Phillipe Halsman.
In the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, gift shop.
Another Church, New Mexico, 1931. Oil on canvas. Georgia O'Keeffe.
Agnes Martin (1912-2004)

Minimalist painter Agnes Martin's works may be found in most of the world's major museum collections but her ashes will forever remain in Taos. It was in Taos during the 1950s that Agnes Martin created her first abstract works. And though she left to work in New York at the urging of Betty Parsons, Martin returned to her inspirational Taos. The Harwood Museum's Agnes Martin Gallery features seven of the artist's paintings created in 1993. This octagonal gallery was designed for Martin's work with benches crafted by Donald Judd placed below the central oculus. Living nearby during her later years, she is said to have often visited the gallery.
The Agnes Martin Gallery at the Harwood Museum of Art.
Agnes Martin's ashes are buried beneath this unmarked peach tree planted on one of the Harwood Museum's terraces.
Next: Spellbound in New Mexico, Part II: Taos, Taos Pueblo, Taos Moderns, Couse Studio, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, & Ranchos de Taos.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Lost in Wonderland – Reflections on Palm Beach.