Monday, January 12, 2015

Taos Society of Artists July 15, 1915 100 year anniversary, Membership Who's Who (Part 2 of 6)

“For heaven’s sake tell people what we have found! Send some artists out here.” Bert Geer Phillips 1898
Blumenschein, Berninghaus, Couse, Phillips, Dunton (seated), Sharp

The first annual meeting of the Taos Society of Artists was held July 15, 1915 at the home of Dr. & Mrs. Thomas Paul ‘Doc’ Martin in the main dining room. Dues for members and associates were decided to be $5. Today their house is the Taos Inn, that very same dining room is the wonderful restaurant Doc Martin’s. The Adobe Bar by the lobby is known as ‘The Living Room of Taos’. 
E.I Couse the first President of the Taos Society of Artists
Ernest Blumenschein

The following year the group again met on July 15, (1916) at Berninghaus’ studio.
Oscar Berninghaus
Bert Phillips

The original 6 members include:
Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953) first visits Taos in 1893
Ernest Leonard Blumenschein (1874-1960) first visits Taos in 1898
Bert Geer Phillips (1868-1956) first visits Taos in 1898
Eanger Irving Couse (1866-1936) first visits Taos in 1902
Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952) first visits Taos in 1899
William Herbert “Buck” Dunton (1878-1936) first visits Taos in 1912 
Joseph Sharp
Buck Dunton

Victor Higgins (1884-1949) to Taos in 1913 joins in 1917
Walter Ufer (1876-1936) to Taos in 1914 joins in 1917
Taos Pueblo Governor Manuel Lujan w Victor Higgins
Walter Ufer
Julius Rolshoven (1858-1930) joins in 1918
Ernest Martin Hennings (1886-1956) to Taos in 1917, joins in 1924
 Julius Rolshoven
E. Martin Hennings
The Taos Ten

Catherine Carter Crichter (1868-1964) unanimously voted into the Society and the only female member joins in 1924
 Catherine Crichter
 Kenneth Miller Adams (1897-1966) joins in 1926
Kenneth Adams

Associate Members were made up mostly of artists living in Santa Fe, they include:
Robert Henri (1865-1929)
Albert L. Groll (1866-1952)
Randall Davey (1887-1964)
B.J.O. Nordfelt (1878-1955)
Gustave Bauman (1881-1971)
Birger Sandzen (1871-1954)
John Sloan (1871-1951)

The Honorary Members included:
Edgar L. Hewitt (director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe/formerly the Museum of New Mexico Art Gallery)
Frank Springer (arts patron)
Taos Artists at the Don Fernando Hotel

Most of the artists at one time or another also belonged to or were associates of other arts guilds, colonies and organizations. Almost all had studied at one time or another in Europe.

“The very air of Taos country, its nearness to big works of nature drives caution from man’s brain. He takes a chance. Perhaps this has led the Taos painters to be original and to be so devoted to the country and it’s people.” Victor Higgins 1917
A few years later Higgins ran for Mayor of Taos, amazingly he lost by 12 votes!
 Victor Higgins at Taos Pueblo
The notion of these artists having romantic visions through their paintings of Native Americans has been expressed a great deal by other writers. I would like to add to this scenario that these men were indeed romantics, their entire way of life of moving to an idealized west to paint could be considered romantic or foolhardy, but too, these men were gentle and kind of spirit towards their partners who they adored. Much of the correspondence between these men and their wives is quite romantic, much of their actions toward their spouses is wonderfully romantic. Often their wives helped manage careers of these men who were dedicating as much of their time as possible to creating masterpieces.
That's Mrs. Dunton posing on horseback while Buck paints

The Taos Founders presented their vision to a fascinated public who wanted more and couldn’t get enough. These artists documented what they witnessed and what they were exposed to on a regular basis in Taos, whether Native American ceremonies or day-to-day life of the Hispanic people around them. Everything and anything was subject matter for these painters. Most of what was being painted still exists to this day in and around Taos. Buildings have changed, streets are paved and are named, the population has grown, the way people dress has changed, yet the mountains remain reflected in the magical shifting light under a sky of ‘Taos blue’, the cultural ceremonies of the people and the daily struggles of living in a remote mountain town remain.
Taos Plaza 1907

I have already mentioned in ‘part 1’ of this story line that most of the artists did not stay in Taos during the harsh winter months, eventually they do, but not early on, except for Phillips who settles in Taos upon his arrival.
Artist easel in Winter

The first motivation for the artists to band together may have been an exhibit at the Santa Fe Palace Museum in 1914. They also had a second exhibit there in 1915 and for a while annually. The museum may have slipped in a few Santa Fe artists along the way, motivating the Taos Society to give a few of these artists Associate status. Adding a few extra members also raised more funds with billing for annual dues. The exhibitions were wildly successful drawing large crowds who through the years seemed to have admiringly followed these homegrown artists and looked forward to their annual exhibits in Santa Fe.

It’s also important to note that in Europe, World War 1 was taking place during the years 1914-1918. How this affects true American Painting and these artists is up to debate. It would seem that the availability of European paintings would be scarce, and that there would be a rising market for American paintings.
Taos Plaza onlookers with Taos Pueblo ceremonial Dancers 1908

The original goal was to gather a group of paintings to be sent on a traveling schedule across the country through the support of galleries, museums, art and arts minded organizations. At the outset sales were brisk, yet towards the end the artists began adding contractual obligations to the exhibitors asking that they guarantee at least one sale by each artist. If the exhibitor could not sell to a client they would need to purchase paintings outright for their own inventory.

The group exhibitions they sent on tour included each artist’ very best work, absolute masterpieces. Each and every one of these paintings would impress even the most casual visitor to any gallery. The paintings themselves were often quite large. When you consider the crating and shipping paintings to each venue, this was quite an undertaking.
Ufer standing under the furniture sign, he has a tall hat on his head and is in profile looking left 1933

As for exhibiting their work in Taos during this time period there were not as yet any galleries to exhibit in. There were no art galleries in Taos prior to 1933. Thus the artists would welcome visitors to their studios and homes where paintings were on display to collectors looking to make purchases. Ufer may have been the one exception, on his studio door at one point he posted “Keep Out TNT Explosive” in hopes of frightening off curiosity seekers. Yet Ufer was known to talk to visitors into the night, lest he not get any painting done, I believe he needed to focus, and this was the best way he could imagine to divert distractions. The Taos artists seemed to have had a unique understanding of what buyers would be able to take with them upon purchasing. Each of them made what they referred to among themselves as ‘suitcase paintings’, sizes that could fit into the average luggage of travelers of this time period.
Taos Pueblo represented in the Panama-(San Diego) California Exposition brochure 1915-1917
In the early 1920’s the Fred Harvey tours begin arriving in Taos with visitors requesting two things, a trip to the San Geronimo de Taos Pueblo and a visit to an artist studio.

Phillips, Sharp and Couse collected blankets, beaded bags, pottery, beaded moccasins, basketry, kachina dolls, and various Native American artifacts to use as props. More than likely they also loaned and traded each other for desired objects to complete authentic looking scenarios.
Taos has been a trade route for more than a few100 years, with the Mountain Men visiting and the roaming Native peoples who followed the great migratory routes of wildlife. Much cultural material has been brought into Taos for quite some time, in particular traded to the people of Taos Pueblo. It’s not surprising to visit someone’s home there and see a Northwest Coast artifact or a pair of beaded Ute moccasins.
Taos Bonfires

In 1915 Mrs. Ellis and Mrs. Lina Scheurich (Governor Bent's Granddaughter) opened the first art supply store making available to the local artists the very best art materials being provided by the Royal Society of Art.
Taos Pueblo today with Taos Blue Sky above

It’s all about marketing, the Taos Founders formed to enable these artists a way to market their paintings. Comparably this could be thought of as a Taos Founders “Wild West Travelling Show” featuring paintings on canvas rather than real live rodeo Cowboys and Indians on horseback. By exhibiting paintings of a so-called ‘vanishing’ American West in viably strong economic markets, winning various nationwide competitions adding cache to and making their works more desirable, making Taos, New Mexico in the Southwest a destination for visitors from all over the Country. None of this would have been possible without a whole lot of dedicated hard work and truly great talent.

Henry Balinck, Nicolai Fechin, Joseph Fleck, and Leon Gaspard had all been blackballed. A number of reasons were given, yet the most likely would have been the fact that they were selling paintings quite profusely. In an 18 week time period Balinck had sold 16 paintings while in Taos!

A great deal of research reading everything I could get my hands on from scrapbooks to gallery catalogues to monographs and everything in between has gone into these stories. I find that nothing has really changed in Taos, or in any small town art colony. We struggle, we quibble and bicker, we become territorial, along with horrific jealousies, all of which are better left unsaid. At the end of the day making art and finding the market for that art are after all, struggles enough.
 “Ourselves and Taos Neighbors” Ernest Blumenschein (collection of the Stark Museum)

Seated left to right: Bert Phillips, Mrs. Lucille Harwood, daughter Helen Blumenschein Standing left to right: Oscar Berninghaus, Woman?, Dr. Light, Walter Ufer, Leon Gaspard, Mrs. Lucille Couse, D.H. Lawrence, Mrs. Lockwood, Mrs. Mary Blumenschein, Joseph Sharp,  Kenneth Adams, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mary Austin. Tony Lujan, Ernest Blumenschein, D. Martinez Mote, Taos Pueblo woman and 2 Taos Pueblo men

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Taos Society of Artists on July 15, 1915. Thank you for your interest, I hope that you will visit us in Taos and wonder at what was past and show your support to the artists of this art colony 75 miles north of Santa Fe.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

“The Sacred Site” aka the Broken Wagon Wheel Story (The Taos Society of Artists, part 1 of 6)

Bert Geer Phillips at the Wagon on the road to Taos
2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Taos Society of Artists on July 15, 1915. As anniversaries go this is a very big occasion for Taos, we hope you'll visit and support the artists in Taos of today and celebrate the artists of yesterday.
View overlooking Arroyo Hondo deep in the Sangre de Christo Mountains
“It is high time for (the) artists to come to the Southwest”. Charles Lummis, ‘The Artists Paradise’

“The story of the founding of the Taos Art Colony is the chronicle of youthful enthusiasm, of the love of adventure of discovery. It is also the story of enduring friendships.”
Ernest Leonard Blumenschein

An art colony in Taos was the last thing any of the artists visiting and passing through Taos were expecting of their trips here. In the late 1800’s art colonies began springing up in the eastern US, with the first recorded stateside colony a plein air painting school in Magnolia, Massachusetts begun by William Morris Hunt in 1877.
It’s noted that Joseph Henry Sharp was first to visit Taos in 1893, he had come to New Mexico on a trip through Santa Fe in 1883, (it could take as many as 3 days to journey the 75 miles from Santa Fe to Taos at this time, thus he did not visit until later). During his studies in Paris he met other artists from the States, he’d tell them all about the little mountain town in the remote far north of New Mexico alongside the village of Taos Pueblo. Sharp, it could be said, was Taos’ first true one man marketing service, with his illustrations and paintings of this charming place he convinced others that Taos had (has) much to offer. Sharp and the other Taos Founders were very, very good marketers and market Taos they indeed did.
Joseph Sharp in his Taos Studio
A side note to the founders story, in 1895 Frederic Remington is known to have had a studio for a short time in Taos Plaza. Remington not being an insignificant artist of the old west I believe his being in Taos at the end of the 19th century is an important sidebar.*
The classic story of how Ernest L. Blumenschein (at 24 years old) and Bert Geer Phillips (at 30 years old) discovered (or wound up in) Taos has been oft told. Blumie was known to tell the tale over and over through the years with very little variation of the story. In a court of law he’d have made an ideal witness.
Phillips and Blumenschein studied in Paris together, later sharing a studio in New York. In 1898 they journey to the American Southwest, beginning in Denver where they purchase a wagon and gear along with a few horses. Some of the gear they had purchased the previous year in New York which had been raffled off by stranded members of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Once determined to journey west Bert’s father remarked: “Geronimo is on the warpath. You will lose your scalp!”
Normally the story told is that the artists were on an illustrating trip from Colorado to Mexico sent on assignment by magazine editors, they actually came to paint. Artists are often encouraged to be illustrators in order to ‘make a living’ (in Phillips case his father had tried in vain to persuade him to become an architect). A few years previous a trip by Blumenschein was indeed to illustrate the west of Arizona and New Mexico for magazine stories. Sharp too, had been to the west and Taos to illustrate stories for newspapers and magazines.
Blumenschein illustration for Harpers magazine of Taos Pueblo San Geronimo Feast Day
At the end of May 1898 they began a journey from Denver into the Rocky Mountains, each a tenderfoot with no idea how to ride a horse or hitch it to a wagon, they became quick studies in the art of pioneering. Even to the bandit groups they encountered along the way the pair looked too much like travelling vagabonds to be robbed.
Blumy on Horseback, Bert driving the Wagon
Wagon roads were bad, heavy monsoon rains of summer had washed out the dirt trails, at one point a wagon spring broke along with other mishaps, the trip included many stops at local blacksmith shops wherever and whenever they could find one. Just north of Taos a wheel spoke broke on a mountain pass, exhausted they decided with the flip of a ($3. gold, Phillips keepsake from his father) coin, which one of them would ride into the village of Taos to have the wheel fixed. It was now September 3, 1898 when Blumenschein who lost the coin toss was on his way carrying the cumbersome wheel, shifting it in any and every position, in his lap, along side the horse and so on. 
Blumenschein giving the horse a rest on the way to Taos
Arriving into Taos on the 4th at the local blacksmith shop in Taos Plaza, the wheel was gratefully fixed and brought back up the mountain on September 5 to where Phillips waited.
The Old Bill Hinde Blacksmith Shop
The exact location of the Blacksmith shop is at the North side of Taos Plaza on the eastern corner, marked by an iron horse-head hitching post. 
 Blacksmith Shop location in Taos today.
Soon after (September 5 or 6), they together arrived in Taos. Upon their arrival they attempted to camp out at Taos Pueblo where they were quickly discouraged from doing so. Instead they decided to sell the wagon, horses and its outfit, then to rent a studio where they would paint through the Autumn months. At this time there were no other artists in Taos, yet there were tourist visitors from other parts of the country.
Soon they were invited to visit Taos Pueblo for the annual San Geronimo Feast Day held on September (29 &) 30. To some accounts witnessing the ceremony at Taos Pueblo had entranced Phillips, convincing him to stay and settle in Taos. If this weren’t enough, another enticement occurred, at a party on October 19 at Doc Martin’s home, there Phillips met the sister of the beloved doctor, Rose Martin, visiting her brother from Pennsylvania. Before the onset of Winter, Rose became Bert’s manager and encouraged Phillips to begin teaching art classes in Taos.
Due to prior commitments back in New York, Blumy left, bringing with him some of the paintings completed by Phillips. In Chicago he showed the paintings to gallerists M. O’Brien (O’Brian) and Son who purchased the entire group, beginning a much needed gallery relationship for the artist.
Phillips decided to remain in Taos, falling in love with the beauty he found here all around him, the golden yellow aspens of autumn, the winter white and shaggy animals of crisp winter days and nights by the fire, the blooming of the wild flowers of the mountains and valley each spring, and of course the beautiful Rose Martin, whom he married a year later on October 11, 1899.
The Trailhead in the Taos mountains to the 'sacred site'
The artists engaged the people of Taos Pueblo although skeptical and fascinated, they agreed to pose for paintings. It was Phillips who impressed them the most with his very fast running skills, he was challenged to foot races, time and time again outrunning each of the fastest of the Pueblo runners.
Most of the early founders of the Taos art colony lived and painted in Taos during the summers, in winter season they spread out across the country to homes in Chicago, New York, California and St. Louis among other places. Phillips was the first of the art colony to become a permanent resident. The Phillips home still stands today directly across from the Taos Inn, it has been split up to contain four shops from the corner of Bent Street to the corner of Martyr’s Lane.
The Phillips House in Taos today.
Through a few photographs taken by Blumy and Bert at the site of the Wagon breaking down, we are able to locate what we refer to today as the ‘sacred site’. An almost long forgotten place where two artists stopped and pondered the potential of creating art in these magical mountains.
The old wagon road and rock north of Taos today
As for the location today it can be found near the Lama colony, north of Taos near the D.H. Lawrence Kiowa Ranch. The trailhead and trail are not marked and are quite rough, (especially the start) with a bit of scrambling the old road eventually reveals itself. The ‘sacred site’, is shown to be by a boulder in the foreground and mountain range in the distance lining up with the historic photographs. Walking through the overhanging tree branches up to the rock is akin to seeing Plymouth Rock at the Massachusetts coastline. It took a group of 10 historians 4 years to re-locate this site, some of whom no longer reside in Taos.
The "Plymouth Rock" of Taos today with 1898 image
 I am honored and fortunate to know the location, which was shared with me recently, after 10 years of earning my dues and waiting for the right moment to be taken there (patience and timing in Taos is everything).
Thus began a unique magnetic draw to Taos, or as D.H. Lawrence later put it: “The peculiar ‘otherness’ of Taos.”
In 1898 a broken wagon wheel becomes the beginning of the historic Taos Art Colony

* The 1895 date for Remington being in Taos may or may not be correct, this is also the year he becomes actively involved in sculpture, and is quite busy, yet this is the best date I have found.