Taos: A Century of Art

By Leslie Busler

You’ve likely heard the tale: A hundred years ago this month artists Bert G. Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein planted themselves in Taos. Stalled on a mountain pass because of a broken wagon wheel, Blumenschein won a coin toss to take the wheel into town for repair. The misfortune turned out to be a blessing, as both men fell in love with northern New Mexico, stayed there, and eventually founded the Taos Society of Artists.

Such an anniversary is certainly cause for celebration this fall. A number of museum exhibits, festivals, and shows open this month in honor of the birth of the art colony and many other 1998 milestones.

Santiago, The War Chief by Oscar Berninghaus, Harwood Museum, painting, southwest art.
Santiago, The War Chief by Oscar Berninghaus, Harwood Museum

Celebrating the Taos Society of Artists: A Photographic Exhibition of the 21 Society Members at Blumenschein’s home—now a museum—hangs from September 4 through October 24 and includes photographs of each of the original 21 Taos society artists. Located just west of Taos Plaza on Ledoux Street, the adobe house built in the late 18th century is also home to paintings by such Taos legends as Phillips and Oscar Berninghaus as well as the works of Blumenschein himself, his wife Mary, and daughter Helen.

Just down the street, the Harwood Museum, whose permanent collection includes some 1,200 works by Taos artists from the 19th century to present, celebrates both the art colony’s anniversary as well as its own 75th year with the exhibit Taos Artists and Their Patrons: 1898-1950, a unique look at the role patrons have played in supporting artists and art institutions, especially the Harwood. Alongside about 25 artworks are interpretive statements explaining who donated the work and why their contributions were important to cultivating Taos culture. It’s on view September 4 through November 22. Also on display through November 15 is Prints and Drawings of New Mexico (1884-1950) From the Joan and Van Deren Coke Collection.

The Millicent Rogers Museum, located in an old adobe hacienda, opens a show of New Mexican jewelry on September 5. Both historic works from the permanent collection and pieces by contemporary artists are on view, as are several bracelets, necklaces, and rings designed by the late Millicent Rogers herself. Two life-size murals—one of a Navajo silversmith and another of a Navajo couple in traditonal dress—grace the walls at the entrance to the museum. On permanent exhibit is the largest public collection of Maria Martinez pottery as well as textiles, turn-of-the-century engravings from magazines and newspapers, traditional Hispanic folk art, and paintings.

Chant to the Warbonnet by Joseph Henry Sharp, Harwood Museum, painting, southwest art.
Chant to the Warbonnet by Joseph Henry Sharp, Harwood Museum

As for fairs and festivals, the Taos Fall Arts Festival comprises a number of events in the area, from invitational fine-art shows to the Wool Festival. For a look at what contemporary Taos artists are creating, attend Taos Invites Taos, an invitational show that draws nearly 150 artists—R.C. Gorman, Charles Collins, and Maria Romano, to name a few—who work in various media, including painting, jewelry, sculpture, stained glass, and wood. This year’s show displays fewer pieces but has more diversity than in past years. The Taos Open is less exclusive, attracting 300 artists from Taos County who display more than 350 works falling into the same categories as the invitational show. Both open with a reception on Friday, September 18, and run through October 5 at the Taos Civic Plaza and Convention Center.

The Old Taos Trade Fair September 26-27 at Martinez Hacienda (one of few Spanish-Colonial haciendas still open to the public) gives you a taste of early colonial life. Blacksmithing, woodworking, and weaving are just a few of the demonstrations held throughout the hacienda, and outdoor arts and crafts booths offer a variety of objects for sale. Food, traditional music, and reenactments add to the experience.

San Geronimo Day at the Taos Pueblo honors Saint Jerome with a feast day on September 30. It opens with a ceremonial dance Tuesday evening and continues Wednesday with arts and crafts booths, dance performances, and plenty of authentic food. A favorite of the day is the greased-pole event, in which competitors try to climb to the sack of food at the top. A celebratory feast closes the day.

The Taos Plaza Arts and Crafts Fair is just around the corner on the first weekend in October. More than 60 booths with a wide array of arts and crafts—stained glass, ceramics, clothing, drums, furniture, and pottery—line the plaza. That same weekend is the 15th annual Wool Festival, which features 60 booths featuring wool products or supplies for wool production. In addition to garments and other items, sheep-sheering and wool-working demonstrations are conducted both Friday and Saturday, with a fashion show and auction Saturday at noon.

Every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. you can meet artists from Taos Pueblo at the historic Taos Inn. The inn itself—originally the home of Doc Martin, the first physician in the county—is a must-see. Early Taos artists Phillips, Berninghaus, Blumenschein, E. Irving Couse, Sharp, and W. Herbert Dunton founded the Taos Society of Artists in 1915 in what is now the inn’s restaurant.

Taos is a small town, and it’s easy to get around to tour the studios and homes of the Taos founders and other well-known Taos artists, as well as the art galleries on the plaza (most hosting shows in honor of this milestone year; contact individual galleries for details). The studios of Sharp and Couse on Kit Carson Road and Phillips’ home on Pueblo Road offer another glimpse at the painters who found the Taos valley an ideal place to live and work.

Another painter drawn to the area was Russian-born Nicolai Fechin, who decorated his house on Pueblo Road in an eastern-European style unlike the earthy interiors of other local residences. Artwork on view at the Fechin house includes Oriental pieces that he collected along with his own paintings.

The Van Vechten-Lineberry Taos Art Museum near Taos Pueblo also has a vast collection of paintings by Taos founders. More literary types may want to tour D.H. Lawrence’s home north of Taos at Kiowa Ranch.
The art colony’s 100th anniversary is not the only milestone in Taos this year: Spanish colonists first settled in the area 400 years ago, the Harwood Museum turns 75, the Taos Art Association celebrates 45 years, and the Hispanic Arts Council and Taos Institute of Art have 10-year anniversaries. Contact the Taos County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800.732.8267 for more information on area events.

Featured in September 1998