Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Spellbound in New Mexico, Part II

Zuni Maidens – Hlelhponne Dance. Oil on Canvas. Charles C. Stewart, artist. Taos Art Museum at Fechin House. Have studied at the Art Students League in New York, Charles Stewart (1922-2011) moved to Taos in 1948, devoting the rest of his life to his art. In winter, Stewart went to Baja, where he was a founder of the Todos Santos art colony. Opened in 1994, the Taos Art Museum(TAM) moved a decade later to the historic Nicolai Fechin house, where it showcases the early 20th-century work of the influential Taos Society of Artists. With more than 600 artworks, the museum is at home at the Fechin House where its architectural features provide a perfect setting for the collection.
Spellbound in New Mexico, Part II: Taos
By Augustus Mayhew

With the Venice Biennale and Art Basel on everyone's June calendar, I must have been the only aesthete who fled to Taos and Santa Fe, missing, of all things, virtuoso Kanye West's particular form of visual art. Instead, I spent time at a place that may no longer be on the international art map, but instead, where art was/is aimed to hang on walls rather than amassed for tax/currency purposes and stored in vaults like cigars in humidors. While the artists and patrons who once made Taos have long since passed, their legacy surprisingly lives on among some of the town's present-day artists and galleries who find inspiration living in this remote, far-flung, high desert landscape with some of the most unearthly beautiful light I have ever felt.

I arrived in Taos from Espanola on the Low Road with only the slightest suspenseful S-curves, passing along the whitewater rafters racing down the Rio Grande Gorge. Some mornings I could not resist being up at 5 a.m. to feel the light and watch the shadows. One night was spent watching a thunderstorm where I felt I could almost touch the clouds as lightening seemed to shake the trees. Although I have no plans of spending a winter in Taos, my next trip might be in late spring or early fall as the afternoon heat was intense. The spirit of Taos, though perhaps not as pure as when Mable Dodge Luhan held court, is still very much present.
At the suggestion of the Millicent Rogers Museum, I stayed at the pleasantly quiet Casa Benavides Inn, my first choice the Mabel Dodge House was booked. A compound of several adobe cottages with European-styled accommodations, the Inn is convenient and off Paseo del Pueblo, the town's version of the Montauk Highway.
Casa Benavides Inn, dining room. Quite wonderful breakfasts where the iced coffee was usually ready around 6 a.m. rather than the advertised 7 a.m. opening. The late afternoon batches of carrot-coconut cookies, pineapple cake, Mexican chocolate brownies, and lemons squares were tasty.
Along Kit Carson Road, Taos shops are predominately housed in territorial style commercial strips.
El Rincon represents the traditional adobe style, "the essence of Old Taos."
Taos Plaza.
Hotel La Fonda de Taos, lobby. La Fonda is located right in the middle of the town's busy plaza.
The historic Taos Inn. Quite charming, but take note, located on Paseo del Pueblo. Taos Inn, lobby. One night, there was jazz in the lobby. Fun.
Taos Inn, Doc Martin's restaurant. My dinner at Doc Martin's was fine. In general, I found Taos servers were sometimes very involved with each other's conversations, though not like South Beach.
A stop for the best iced coffee at Elevation Coffee between Taos and Arroyo Seco. Metal artist Frank Seckler has a gallery in Taos Plaza as well as a studio on Paseo del Pueblo where I took this photograph of his work.
Every time I passed by, the parking lot at Michael's and the Taos Diner were filled, as parking can be an issue in Taos.
Nachos Grande at Orlando's New Mexico Café, #1 on several lists, was everything I wanted. Sensational!
Orlando's New Mexican Café, Paseo de Pueblo, on the town's North End where I also had a delicious roasted beet salad at Gutiz.
"Happy Trails." Former Texas artist Thom Wheeler settled in Taos almost thirty years ago.
Taos Pueblo

The Red Willow People (Taos means "red willow") no longer occupy the historic pueblo, just a short drive past the tribal casino. Instead, the pueblo is their public showcase and they live in surrounding houses. After paying the entrance fee, I paid the additional $6 camera fee. I didn't stay long, as I found, no matter the magnificent scenery and historic substance, I felt the circumstances and fate of the Red Willow People unsatisfying.
Taos Pueblo, entrance. Be ready for a dusty setting.
Taos Pueblo.
Taos Pueblo. The setting is stark.
During the 1930s, there was a tendency to portray Native American life as colorful and scenic. Courtesy National Archives. Museum of Modern Art, January 1941. Courtesy National Archives.
Taos Pueblo, c. 1925. Watching Indians Dance. Courtesy National Archives.
Taos Pueblo, June 2013.
Taos Pueblo.
I sensed there was a tendency among artists and photographers to idealize this particularly significant Taos pueblo.
The Taos Pueblo is sheltered by the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
A view to the south of another pueblo ensemble.
San Geronimo Chapel at Taos Pueblo. C. 1850.
San Geronimo Chapel, altar. C. 1850.
A view from San Geronimo Chapel's courtyard towards the pueblo and mountains.
Historic Taos
I stepped into this lane of shops on Bent Street late in the afternoon when the light was as spectacular as it was in the early morning.
John Dunn House shops on Bent Street. Fantastic!
Courtyard sign.
Letherwerks. Home to the "Original Taos Moccasins."
Letherwerks. A leather representational artwork titled, Across the Clouds, I See My Shadow Fly. Brad Martin, artist. $17,000.
Las Comadres.
Arroyo Seco

A quaint mountain town-art colony a few miles north of Taos, Arroyo Seco may be best known for its residents, Donald Rumsfeld and Julia Roberts, who actually own adjoining properties. "Does anyone ever leave Arroyo Seco?" I asked Scott Carlson, whose pottery shop is on the village's main thoroughfare. "Not likely," he said.
Arroyo Seco, tile mural.
Arroyo Seco, garden.
Arroyo Seco, garden.
Arroyo Seco. The local go-to for what-have-you.
Arroyo Seco. An architectural tableau.
Arroyo Seco. At Santo y Mas, I watched the owner place each of the roosters and objet d'art before he opened his shop.
Arroyo Seco. At Weaving Southwest the façade may not tell the story.
Arroyo Seco. Scott Carlson at work at his pottery gallery.
Arroyo Seco. A street side mural.
Arroyo Seco. A garden sculpture. Arroyo Seco. La Santisima Trinidad was far too up the hill for me.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs & Spa

A scenic 45-minute drive from Taos, Ojo Caliente was enough of a relaxing pleasurable half-day escape for me that I want to plan on spending two days here the next time.
Though Verizon provided flawless service, a historic telephone booth is available.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, lobby. For non-guests, it was $18 for use of all the facilities for the day.
Congratulations Newlyweds! "We just had our honeymoon here at the springs."
More of these signs around the world would lift the quality of life in public places.
The popular mud pool where I did a sensational triple-double. I would mud-up, bake, and then mud-up again before rinsing in the mud pool and shower. Fabulous!
The arsenic pools were warm and rejuvenating.
I kept coming back to the Iron Pool where I did sense something going on with my central nervous and muscular system.
The Iron Pool at Ojo Caliente.
Ledoux Street Historic District & The Harwood Museum of Art

Just a block or two downhill from the Plaza, Ledoux Street has an eclectic mix of galleries and cafes, including Larry Bells studio and the Blumenschein House, as well as the Harwood Museum of Art.
Historic Ledoux Street.
A crowd stampedes down Ledoux Street.
203 Fine Art. Gallerists Eric Andrews and Shaun Richel feature Taos' Early Moderns and Contemporary art.
203 Fine Art, main gallery.
Harwood Museum of Art.
The Harwood's director Susan Longhenry gave me an expert tour of the museum's superb collection.
The Harwood's exhibitions include significant works by Taos Society of Artists and Taos Moderns.
R. C. Gorman: The Early Years is featured in the Mandelman-Ribak Gallery.
Mud Mask, an early oil on canvas work by R. C. Gorman.
Fritz Scholder: The Third Chapter is a featured exhibition until September 18.
The Harwood has an exceptional Hispanic collection of classic retablos and bultos from New Mexico.
Mabel Dodge Luhan donated her Hispanic artifacts to the Harwood.
Jim Wagner: Trudy's House. Jim Wagner is considered a member of the "Third Chapter of Taos Moderns."
Jim Wagner: Trudy's House. Taos.
Jim Wagner: Trudy's House.
Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos

On August 24th, the Taos Museum will be having a Russian Night Gala and Auction to benefit the museum.
After a visit at Mabel Dodge Luhan's house, Russian artist-craftsman Nicolai Fechin moved to Taos and acquired this Mission-Adobe style house that reflects his art and craftsmanship as a carver.
The Taos Art Museum has an extensive collection of Taos Moderns.
Taos Art Museum, Fechin House. Doorway crafted by Nicolai Fechin.
Taos Museum, second-level sun porch.
A nude by patron and painter Duane Van Vechten (1899-1977) who first came to Taos during the 1920s. A work by Duane Van Vechten.
Parsons Gallery of the West & Robert L. Parsons Fine Art
122 Kit Carson Road & 131 Bent Street, Taos, www.parsonsart.com

Of the Taos galleries I was able to visit, I was most impressed with the collections at the two galleries owned by Robert L. Parsons.
Gallerist Robert L. Parsons checks up on the New York Social Diary at his Bent Street office.
Sunrise at the Parsons Gallery of the West at the historic Wengert house on Kit Carson Road, once the studio and house of artist Victor Higgins.
Montecito Canyon. Oil on canvas, 24" x 30". Walt Gonske, artist. $11,500.
People Born of Endless Change. Oil on canvas, 30" x 36". Jerry Jordan, artist. $16,500.
Parsons' other gallery is located at the historic Ferdinand Maxwell house, 131 Bent Street.
Parsons Fine Art. Portrait by Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955). Parsons specializes in significant art from the Taos Society of Artists, Taos Founders, Early Santa Fe and Taos art colonies as well as 19th-century Navajo weavings and Pueblo pottery.
Parsons Fine Art.
While discussing this E. I. Couse painting, Parsons said I could not leave Taos without visiting the Couse Studio, veritably untouched since Couse died in 1936, which turned out to be across the street from where I was staying at the Casa Benavides Inn.
Couse-Sharp Studio & Couse House
146 East Kit Carson Road, Taos, www.cousefoundation.org

Although the studio and house are only open by appointment and it was late afternoon, I somehow eventually knocked on the right door where I was greeted by Virginia Couse Leavitt, the famous artist's granddaughter, who happens to stay at the house during the summer months. What a pleasure meeting Virginia, whose father kept his father Eanger Irving Couse's studio and main house just as it was. After studying at the National Academy of Design in New York, Couse enrolled in art classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris before living in France for several years. Coming to Taos in 1902, Couse spent every summer there until 1927 when he moved to Taos permanently. He shared his property's attached chapel-studio with his mentor Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953), who along with Couse and others, formed the seminal Taos Society of Artists. Couse's paintings were said to have inspired Mabel Dodge Luhan to come to Taos.
Sunrise at the Couse Studio and House on Kit Carson Road.
For many of his paintings, E. I Couse used the same two Native-Americans as models, Ben Lujan and Geronimo Gomez.
Joseph Henry Sharp, known as the ethnographer' of the Taos artists, pictured above in his chapel studio, stated: "If I don't paint them no one ever will." In this prolific effort, he painted thousands of Native Americans.
Virginia Couse Leavitt, whose grandfather E. I. Couse was a founder of the Taos Society of Artists. Couse Studio-House, entrance door.
Couse Studio-House, view of the south and east elevations facing the mountains beyond.
Couse Studio-House.
The Couse Studio & House
E. I. Couse's easel, painting, and brush drawer.
E. I. Couse's paint box.
The Couse studio, a view walking in from the interior of the house.
The Couse Studio, as it looked in 1936 and as it looks today.
Painting and frame by E. I. Couse.
Painting by E. I. Couse.
In 1914, the Santa Fe Railroad began using Couse's paintings as artwork for their calendars. Virginia Couse has kept some more recent additions to the house that her father had made.
French cemetery painitng by E. I. Couse.
Couse house, family room.
Couse house, fireplace mantle.
Couse House, pottery collection.
Pottery collection, close-up.
Couse House, family room sitting area.
Couse House, sitting area.
Couse House, dining room.
Couse House, door detail, crafted and designed by E. I. Couse. Couse House, dining room fireplace.
The Joseph Henry Sharp studio at the Couse House chapel.
Joseph Henry Sharp studio-chapel.
Portraits. Joseph Henry Sharp, artist.
Couse House, porch. A view beyond.
Ranchos de Taos
After I asked not to be seated in the lounge at the highly-touted Lambert's of Taos, the spiffy major domo sat me in the lounge. Without a word, I got up and left and drove down to Old Martina's Hall in Ranchos de Taos where the Millicent Rogers Museum will be having its upcoming Turquoise Gala. With the inspiring San Francisco de Asis Church across the street, I had the most delicious Provence mussels with 3-alarm chorizos and an array of summer vegetables.
San Francisco de Asis Church, courtyard view.
San Francisco de Asis Church. Ranchos de Taos.
Next: Spellbound in New Mexico, Part III: The High Road to Santa Fe, Trampas, Chimayo, & Old Santa Fe.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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