ABOUT A CENTURY AGO IN TAOS; February, 2011
ABOUT A CENTURY AGO IN TAOS
One of the seminal Taos artists, Ernest L. Blumenschein, recorded these initial impressions of northern New Mexico upon his arrival in late summer of 1898:
“The sky was a clear, clean blue, with sharp, moving clouds. The color, the effective character of the landscape, the drama of the vast spaces, the superb beauty and serenity of the hills, stirred me deeply. I realized I was getting my own impressions from nature, seeing it for the first time with my own eyes, uninfluenced by the art of any man.”
Blumenschein's reaction to the region typifies the kind of response that the early artists had to the landscape of New Mexico and its unique tri-cultural society. Joseph Henry Sharp, one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists, was the earliest of that group to visit New Mexico, arriving in Santa Fe in 1893 before continuing north to Taos. By 1912, all of the six original members of the society (they included, In addition to Blumenschein and Sharp, Bert Geer Phillips, Eanger Irving Couse, Oscar Edmund Berninghaus, and W. Herbert 'Buck' Dunton) were painting in Taos and the TSA was formally incorporated three years later. It was not until 1904 that Santa Fe boasted its first full-time resident artist—the California-born painter, Carlos Vierra. Many others were soon to follow.
The second decade of the twentieth century saw several significant developments that served to advance the profile of the fine arts in northern New Mexico. First was the establishment of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915. This group was the first to make a concerted effort to promote New Mexico art to a national audience. Their success introduced the American public to a little known and uniquely picturesque corner of one of the country's newest states. In 1916 Mabel Dodge established her home in Taos. She arrived as the wife of the artist Maurice Sterne but they were divorced within a few years and Dodge became the wife of Tony Lujan, a native of Taos Pueblo. Born in Buffalo, New York, to wealth and privilege, Mabel Dodge Lujan was well connected with avant garde art and literary circles in New York City. At Lujan's invitation a steady stream of cultural notables arrived in Santa Fe and made their way north to Taos to experience the hospitality of her bohemian salon and the special beauty of the region. In November of 1917, the Museum of Fine Arts was opened at the northwest corner of the Santa Fe Plaza. The inaugural exhibition included nearly 300 canvasses by a diverse group of artists who had been drawn to northern New Mexico since the turn of the century. By the end of the second decade of the century Santa Fe and Taos had solidly staked their claim as meccas for the arts—a legacy that continues to the present day.