Monday, January 9, 2012

Mabel Dodge Luhan, 'Genius Loci' of Taos, NM

I begin with this excerpt from the book by Mabel Dodge Luhan "Taos and it's Artists" 1947
these are the last 2 lines: "So Taos grows and expands under the beneficent skies and beauty increases. The genius loci is still exerting its age-long influence." 
Loosely translated the meaning of genius loci used here would be 'the protective spirit of a place' seems to me this phrase is quite a fitting description of Mabel herself.
Taos promotion campaign this year (2012) is titled "The Remarkable Women of Taos", I think it's a great fit and am looking forward to the many events around Taos that will tie into this theme.
The photograph above is something I purchased recently and is a discarded press photo of 1945, please do not use this or any other images here without my permission, thank you.
 I'm always looking for unusual items for my shop Two Graces Plaza Gallery of those items that I have in my own personal collection are what I share with you here in this story. Above is the copper printers bookplate for printing page 68 of "Winter in Taos" my favorite book by Mabel Dodge. This was a gift from a woman from California which she sent to me after purchasing one of my paintings this past year.
I may add that this was a pleasant surprise, but also one of the nicest gifts I've received, a thoughtful gesture and a piece of Taos history.
 The signature of Mabel graces a second edition of this book we currently have at the store.
 A pair of photographs of Mabel at the Kiowa ranch which she gifted to D.H. Lawrence back in the day. Not quite ready to accept a gift from Mabel, Frieda Lawrence gave her as an exchange Lawrence's handwritten manuscript of "Sons and Lovers".
A complete collection of the autobiographic Hardcovers with rare dust jackets of the writings of Mabel Dodge Luhan, available at TGPG. "Edge of Taos Desert", "Winter in Taos", "Lorenzo in Taos", "Intimate Memories, Background", "European Experiences", & "Movers and Shakers" Please note, at this time I do not have a copy of Mabel's book "Taos and it's Artists" with a dust jacket. The dust jackets from these books are on very lightweight paper and are prone to tearing leading them to be discarded by their owners through the years, making these dust jackets extremely desirable, in some cases even more so than a signature! 
 An endearing signature from Mabel, with a beautiful portrait of her husband Tony Lujan (this may be my favorite signature I've seen of Mabel's).
 As I've said before in other posts the Mabel Dodge Luhan house is a wonderful place to stay here in Taos. This year in particular it may be the toughest place to get a room in Taos. If you really want to stay there, be as pleasant as you can be and perhaps the staff will be able to accommodate you, I hope they will. On our honeymoon to Taos, Holly & I stayed there in early June of 1998, (we were married in August of 1997).
 Andrew Dasburg created this woodblock of the house, somewhere in my possessions I have this as a bookplate, now if I could only find it again...
 The front portal at Mabel's, complete with roosters and chickens on the roof line, from this she called the house 'Los Gallos'. If you don't get a chance to stay there at least stop in for a visit, the staff is genuine and generous with answering questions (that they've probably been asked a whole lot). Last year the owners celebrated the birthday of Mabel Dodge, although I'd missed it, I heard afterwards what a wonderful evening it was. Hopefully this year we'll be invited guests, (or we may have to sneak in).
 A wooden retablo of Saint Francis is embedded into the adobe exterior near the small front study/conference room. Below a letter to Boyce Eakin from the Honorable Dorothy Brett, a dear friend of Mabel and another of those remarkable women of Taos, written on her stationery 'The Tower Beyond Tragedy'.
 It reads: Boyce Mabel is kind of weary - & wants me for lunch today - What about tomorrow I'll pop along around 12 o'clock to the school & fix a date Lord what a party but how nice those people were Brett
These letters are the sort of thing that bring these ladies alive for me, I am grateful to own them.
 A handsome handmade bench in a side courtyard at Mabel's. A nice place to rest and read.
This next letter of March 1, 1954 is from Mabel to Lee J. Farran, who in 1959 became the editor of the newly incorporated Taos News.
 In this letter she writes: Taos Saturday '54 Dear Lee - Thank you so very much for remembering me on my birthday yesterday. They were especially lovely & the thought was too. Yours ever - Mabel L.
 This envelope as you can see is unusual with just a name and Taos, evidently it reached him and I'd like to believe the gift he'd sent to her was a bouquet of flowers. This letter was tucked into a copy of Mabel's book "Lorenzo in Taos"
 Our inventory of books about and by Mabel Dodge Luhan.
The Mabel Dodge House and conference center has produced a large format coffee table book of pictures and a timeline of the history of Mabel, you can contact them directly to purchase your own copy of this treasure or they also carry new paperback editions of Mabel's books currently in print.
 Through the back window of the conference room study, a writer writes.
One of the things I enjoy about the book "Taos and it's Artists" is how pleasantly she writes about each of the artists she chooses to include, (yes she left out plenty). As for the reproductions of their paintings, all are unfortunately in black and white which does no justice to the wonderful color of artists like Ila Mcafee, Emil Bisttram or Gisella Loefler, and the Taos Founders to say the least. Her quick synopses of each of these artists are but a glimpse and a small taste of them, each and everyone of which deserves a monograph in their own right (some do have monographs of their work, mostly out of print, our book collection at TGPG carries as many books on Taos artists as we can). Yet here in her own words is a nice gesture for the reader and a reminder to all writers of how to write something endearing and flattering about someone. Sometimes I feel this to be lost today.
Below: the cemetery grave marker of Mabel Dodge Luhan as it was a few days ago. I think from time to time someone cleans this up a bit, as it was quite messy upon my visit.
So why all this about Mabel after all?
My answer is this, without her Taos would have never been this art colony of these past 100 years, (even with the Taos Founders important contribution, they probably would have all left for Santa Fe as many do) as an artist I am grateful for her input. Back in the day Taos was a difficult place to reach, to get here you really had to want to get here. There was no highway or railroad, even the Santa Fe Trail was more a backroad branch to Taos. As you drove north from Santa Fe and arrived in the village of Velarde, the road narrowed through a mountain pass of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. The Blood of Christ mountains with that sort of name for it and covered as it was and still is to this day in the memorial crosses known here as 'descantos' making for an ominous journey ahead scaring away many who upon this sight refused to go any further and returned to the 'safety' of Santa Fe. The descantos it seemed made people think of 'indian' ambush raiding parties, and what may happen to travelers who chose to continue. Today, although very well maintained by the State Highway patrol, boulders (from the size of a football to the size of a small car) tumble onto the road which hugs the mountainside. To settle in Taos can also be an unsettling experience, most newcomers last anywhere from 1-3 years. The locals say: "The Mountain accepts you or turns you away". This little town of Taos accepted Mabel all these years ago, and Mabel stayed and made Taos her home.

One last small footnote: When I was just beginning to learn how to drive a car, my Dad in the passenger seat would point out that I tended to slow down as I was driving up a hill. I was afraid of what might be coming at me on the other side. My Father's answer to this was you wouldn't know what was on the other side until you reached it.
I hope that people visit Taos this year and for many years to come, we have a pretty great community here and if you choose to join it and become a part of this place, I say 'Welcome'.


  1. another luminous scene of Taos, gently drawn with love.

  2. the best ever post....and i loved the best ever book we bought from you with mabel's drawings a few years ago for sas. i have my room booked for july and and the workshop. and i'm waiting to here if there's any space a few extra days now. they have back to back weeklong workshops scheduled. so happy for that.
    and i do love her writing. perhaps this place is the dearest of all to me. i missed it last june when i was there. i remember the magic of reading winter in taos in her room, back in the 70s, and her words described just where i was sitting.
    her granddaughter, bonnie bell, was the connector from me to dennis...when he bought the house. lucky young woman i was to be in that MIX....and i soooooooooo appreciate your love of this place, all parts, and patience and the way you honor it all. i'm a big fan, Mr. C!!

  3. I just finally got some time to read this post. It is just wonderful and I am going to say it again, you need to write a book, you are the finest ambassador that Taos has! And a wonderful writer! xx