Georgia O’Keeffe, Mable Luhan and the Taos Pueblo… O’Keeffe Country: Part II

With over 1,000 years behind it, the Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited community in America. The Pueblo had already existed for 500 years when Columbus sailed for the New World in 1492. When Spanish explorers arrived in 1540, they thought they had found one of the seven golden cities of Cibola. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

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. 

A young Mable Dodge Luhan looking like the weathy socialite she was.
The Luhan House/Hotel in Taos as it looks now. Dennis Hopper stayed here when he was filming “Easy Rider” and proceeded to buy it in 1970. For seven years it was more or less a “hippie hangout.” It is now operated by a non-profit as an historic hotel and conference center. Visitors can rent the room that Georgia O’Keeffe stayed in if they wish.
A large rooster with his chest puffed out perches on top of the house and serves as a weather vane. Apparently, there was a south wind blowing when we visited.
This fellow ruled a lower perch and was one of several brightly colored ceramic roosters that decorate the house.
Smaller members of the bird kingdom live here as well. Lots of them. They had all flown south for the winter, however.
They likely perch in the magnificent cottonwoods that tower over their homes when they are in town. I can easily imagine O’Keeffe painting the trees.
Peggy and I found this interesting stairway at the back of the house…
And a sculpture by Ted Egri out front.

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.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting of the Taos Pueblo
A photo I took of the Pueblo shows how little it has changed in the 90 years since O’Keeffe painted it. The round structures in front are ovens. Peggy and I ate some pie cooked in one. Quite tasty.
Here’s a close up of one of the ovens. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A photo by Ansel Adams of the Pueblo. Note the Taos Mountains towering in the background. They are part of the Sangro de Christo Range, or as translated, the Blood of Christ Range. It seems like a strange name for mountains.
Possibly the early Spaniards noticed the mountains in a fall sunset like I did from our campsite.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting of Taos Mountain.
Our guide told us that the early Indians would post a lookout on the granite outcrop to the right overlooking the Pueblo and could see enemies approaching from miles away. The ruins of the San Geronimo Church, destroyed in 1846 by American forces can be seen on the left.  (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The ruins of the church overlook the Pueblo’s graveyard. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A close up of the ruins.
The Rio de Taos Pueblo flows through the center of the Pueblo, separating the North House we have been looking at from the South House. The creek was looking a bit cold when I photographed it. Our guide told us we were not to swim in it. No problem.
Peggy took this photo of the South House with its colorful doors and still melting snow.
I don’t know if the inhabitants regard the numerous ladders used to negotiate between floors as photo-worthy, but we did. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy and I learned about adobe maintenance and repair when we visited the Pueblo. The adobe structures need to be recoated annually with a mud and straw mixture. More serious repair work requires these mud and straw bricks. I lifted one. It must have weighed close to 50 pounds.
As I thought of all the work involved in maintaining these structures, I came to appreciate that we only have to paint our house every ten years or so and replace the roof once every 20 years. (Not that I ever lived anywhere long enough to replace a roof.)
The Catholic Church at the Pueblo reminded me of the San Francisco de Assi Church.
Here is a front view of the church that I rendered in black and white.
Heading downtown for lunch after visiting the Pueblo, we were treated to a colorful Native American dance…
And lots of interesting art such as this sculpture. Taos is still a haven for artists and writers.
I conclude today’s post with another perspective on the Pueblo. This is close to the angle that Ansel Adams photographed it.

NEXT POST: We will explore Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, New Mexico where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted.

The Rancho de Taos and Georgia O’Keeffe… Part 1 of O’Keeffe Country

The Rancho de Taos Church of San Francisco de Asis was painted by Georgia O’Keeffe and photographed by her friend of 50 years, Ansel Adams. This is a photo I took of the church from the back.

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.

Georgia O'Keefe's Jimson weed painting used for curt Mekemson blogs on Georgia O'Keefe
Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of wildflowers are recognizable world-wide. This 1932 painting by her of Jimson Weed was bought in 2014 for 44 million dollars by Alice Walton, the heiress of the Walmart fortune. The painting had hung in George Bush’s dining room at the White House. Funds generated are being used by the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe.
To supplement a painting by Georgia O'Keefe
Like Georgia O’Keeffe I have found Jimson weed, or Datura, to be a beautiful plant. I took numerous photos along the American River Parkway in Sacramento. Besides its beauty, Jimson weed is a highly toxic hallucinogenic plant that was used by the the shamans to aid their journeys to other worlds. (More on this when I do my posts on petroglyphs.)
This is some of her original camping gear. Beyond my white gas Coleman stove, it doesn’t look much different that what I used on hunting and camping trips in the early 70s.
Here’s a picture of O’Keeffe on one of her many photographic expeditions in the backcountry of New Mexico. She called this the “Black Place” because of the color of the rocks and did several paintings of the area.
A painting by O’Keeffe of the Black Place that was featured at the Nevada Museum of Art.

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.

Alfrd Steiglitz met Georgia O’Keeffe in 1916 and was immediately taken by her art— and her. Steiglitz who was 24 years older than O’Keeffe was already famous for his photography and for his support of modern art. He would eventually marry Georgia and would continue to photograph her for the rest of his life.
This is another photo by Steiglitz that is a favorite of mine.
Arguably the most famous photo of Georgia, this was taken by Ansel Adams.
The 80-year-old O”Keeffe continued to attract renowned photographers as she aged. The English photographer Cecil Beaton captured her with a skull, contemplating it like philosophers of old. Or maybe she was contemplating the feather she had stuck in its eye. Her necklace, BTW, was made for her by Alexander Calder.
Photo of Curt Mekemson contemplating skull used to compare with Georgia O'Keefe contemplating skull.
Alas, poor Bucky, I knew him well. (Apologies to Shakespeare.) Seeing Georgia’s photo, I couldn’t help myself. Bucky once hung out in our neighborhood until he met his unfortunate demise down on the road. Peggy wanted me to go cut off his head. Being reluctant (I wonder why), she bribed our neighbor, Jim the hunter, with a can of beer to do the job. The skull now guards our garden, warning deer of their possible fate if they eat our plants. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

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.

Like most photographers and painters who make the pilgrimage to Taos, O’Keeffe painted the historic and beautiful adobe church of St. Francisco de Asis. This perspective is from the back.
Ansel Adams photographed the church from the back.
And from the front..

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.

I was fascinated by the soft angles of the church.
Here is another example.
If a church could be said to have feet, the Rancho de Taos church seems to. Big guys!
Walking around the church, I came on an interesting sculpture of Joseph, Jesus and Mary.
And peeked in a window.
A sideview of San Francisco de Asis including the sculpture and window.
While I was working my way around the church, Peggy focused on the front. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Playing with Peggy’s photo, I gave it more of an Ansel Adams look.
Peggy also stood back beyond the arched entrance way and took a photo focusing on the left side of the church. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Shooting up, she caught this shot of the belfry… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And noticed a pigeon, which I thought made an interesting photo considering the backdrop. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I took a shot lining up the front of the church and its crosses with the archway.
And two photos looking up at the front of the church.
I also caught a photo of people walking into the church for a Saturday service, a reminder that San Francisco de Asis is still a very active church.
Peggy took this photo of an adobe ruin on the square surrounding the church. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And this very red building. It’s for sale in case you are interested! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
I’ll conclude my post on Rancho de Taos with a final photo I took of the back of the San Francisco de Asis church.

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.