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.
It was in the fall of 1915 that I first had the idea that what I had been taught was of little value to me except for the use of my (art) materials as a language… I had been taught to work like others and after careful thinking I decided I wasn’t going to spend my life doing what was already done. –Georgia O’Keeffe in her autobiographical book on her art.
Georgia is on my mind. I had stopped off in Reno to check out the city’s River Walk on my road trip down Highway 395 this past summer when I saw a poster that the Nevada Museum of Art was featuring an exhibit on Georgia O’Keeffe titled Living Modern. There was no question in my mind. I had to go. O’Keeffe had been a favorite artist of mine ever since the 60s when I had been a student at Berkeley and first encountered her paintings of flowers. The exhibit in Reno was excellent, including several of her well-known works, but it also looked at her life, right down to her unique style of dress and the camping gear she carried when she made her painting expeditions into the remote parts of New Mexico.
One thing that surprised me at the museum was the number of photos of O’ Keeffe. Starting with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and including her friend, Ansel Adams, a number of world class photographers were enticed by her unique looks. It might be argued that she was the world’s first super model.
My visit to the Nevada Museum of Art started me thinking about our planned visit to the Southwest this fall. We would be traveling through O’Keeffe Country, as they call it in New Mexico. I —along with Peggy’s enthusiastic support— decided to make where she lived and what she painted one of the focuses of our trip, which we did. We stopped by the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, went to Taos where she was first introduced to New Mexico by Mable Dodge Luhan, and then visited her homes in Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. Today, I am going to start at Taos with a post on the Rancho de Taos and the Church of San Francisco de Asis. Its considered a must stop for photographers and painters who visit the town.
Naturally, Peggy and I had to wander around Rancho de Taos and take our own photos. I included one of mine at the top of the post. Here are a few more.
Next Post: I’ll write about the unusual patron of the arts, Mable Dodge Luhan, who brought the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence to Taos. Peggy and I will visit the Taos Pueblo that was also painted by O’Keeffe and photographed by Ansel Adams.