Mable Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan, whose long name represented her husbands, lived a soap opera kind of life. A wealthy socialite born in Buffalo, New York, she devoted her time to supporting art and bringing together the artists and intellectuals of her time: Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Andre Gide, Lincoln Steffens, Walter Lippmann, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Rubenstein, D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Aldous Huxley, Greta Garbo and Georgia O’Keeffe to name a few.
Her efforts at creating artistic gatherings began in Florence, Italy where she and husband number two, Edwin Dodge, lived in a villa that had been built for the Medici. In 1912 she moved on to New York City and established a salon hosting both artists and leading radicals who espoused causes ranging from free love, to Freud, to anarchism. When she heard about the beauty of New Mexico, she sent husband number three, Maurice Sterne, west in 1917 to explore the possibilities of moving there. He wrote back, “Dearest Girl–Do you want an objective in life? Save the Indians, their art and culture. Reveal it to the world!” That was enough for Mable. She was on her way.
One of the first Indians she met in Taos was Tony Lujan, a member of Taos Pueblo. Tony persuaded Mable to buy several acres of meadow land and then helped her plan and build a four-room adobe house that continued to expand until it reached 21 rooms. The story is told, and it may be apocryphal, that Tony set up a tent in her front yard and drummed away in the night to win her love. Maurice bought a shotgun. Whether it was to eliminate the competition or do away with the infernal nighttime drumming and get a decent night’s sleep, I can only speculate.
Anyway, Mable sent Sterne packing and married Tony, her fourth and final husband. With a large house and a Native American husband, she could now focus on her plan to bring artists, writers and movie stars to promote Taos and help save the Indians and their culture. One of her major successes at recruitment was D.H. Lawrence of Lady Chatterley’s Lover fame. Another was Georgia O’Keeffe.
Luhan met O’Keeffe in New York City through Georgia’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and immediately initiated a campaign to persuade her to visit Taos. Stieglitz, a leading photographer of the time, was instrumental in persuading the art world that photography could be art. Among his projects was photographing Georgia nude and hanging the photos in his famous modern art gallery at 291 5th Avenue. The exhibit was quite controversial. He also hung original art from Matisse, Picasso, Rousseau, Rodin, and Cezanne— introducing Americans to avant-garde European artists. He produced show after show of O’Keeffe’s paintings, adding to her credence as a world-class artist, not to mention selling her paintings for hefty sums.
In the summer of 1929, O’Keeffe finally took Luhan up on her offer and journeyed to New Mexico, partially because Stieglitz was having an affair with the young wife of an heir to the Sears and Roebuck fortune some 40 years his junior. But the bottom line was that O’Keeffe was introduced to Taos and fell in love with New Mexico. She brought her friend Rebecca ‘Beck’ Strand with her. Beck’s husband was Paul Strand another top photographer and, like Georgia, a protégé of Steiglitz. During a visit at Luhan’s in 1930, he met Ansel Adams and persuaded him to pursue a career in photography. Adams had been trained as a concert pianist.
Today, I will focus our remaining photos on the Pueblo, Taos and the surrounding country.
NEXT POST: We will explore Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, New Mexico where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted.