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Taos & the Enchanted Circle

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THE FIRST WAVE OF PAINTERS

In the late 1800s the landscape of the Southwest was a blank canvas that attracted a new generation of American painters. American artists Joseph Sharp, Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein met studying painting in Paris, but each found his way to the small high-desert town of Taos, New Mexico. They were inspired to apply their European training to rendering the landscape of the Southwest in all of its exquisite color and to depicting the Native peoples who lived there.

Sharp fi rst discovered Taos while on a sketching trip on 1883. A few years later Phillips and Blumenschein were passing through the town their friend had told them so much about, and by sheer happenstance their wagon broke down. While waiting for it to be fi xed, the two became enchanted by the area’s rustic beauty and ended up staying for several months. By 1915 all three artists had relocated to Taos, and along with Oscar Berninghaus, Eanger Irving Couse and William Herbert Dunton, founded the Taos Society of Artists.

The members of the collective did not have one homogeneous artistic style, although they were all fascinated by Taos Pueblo and its peoples, and by the breathtaking beauty of the high desert, which features heavily in their work. To be a member of the society, one had to commit to exhibiting work on a regular basis. The Taos Society of Artists showed their paintings widely, especially in New York City, where they continued to pique the interest of other artists and society women, including Mabel Dodge Luhan. Luhan was a wealthy patroness of the arts who left the East Coast for “a new world” in Taos. Once settled in her new home, she hosted famous artists and writers. Among them were Georgia O’Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams and Andrew Dasburg, all of whom came to stay at her home in Taos.

Today the Mabel Dodge Luhan house is still open to visitors who want to immerse themselves in the history of the woman who helped craft the early arts scene in Taos. Guests can stay in Luhan’s room or one of the rooms that housed luminaries such as Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nicholai Fechin and D.H. Lawrence, among others. The Mabel Dodge Luhan Inn and Conference Center also hosts workshops and retreats year round. They include ones on creativity, writing, photography, painting and yoga.

While many artists came and went from Luhan’s home, Andrew Dasburg was a regular visitor, spending part of every year in either Taos or Santa Fe. A native of France, Dasburg became a pivotal fi gure in shaping the Taos modern art movement of the 1940s. The vivid colors of the high-desert landscape and the Native culture influenced the work of the Taos Moderns, just as it had the Taos Society of Artists. However, their abstract compositions reflected this inspiration in a much different fashion than the earlier artistic movement in Taos. Today Dasburg’s works are featured in some of the world’s most famous art galleries, but gems are also tucked away in local Taos establishments, such as the Harwood Museum of Art.

In the early 1900s Taos was the birthplace of a new American arts movement, one inspired by a people and a culture that had existed for hundreds of years. Taos Pueblo is one of the Southwest’s oldest continuously inhabited pueblos. Over the centuries, it has produced generations of artists, some of whom have helped shape our understanding of the region‘s early history, and some of whom are alive today. Much of the work of the Taos Society of Artists focused on depicting the life and culture of the residents of Taos Pueblo. During the same time the Taos Society of Artists was active, three men from Taos Pueblo were also making names for themselves by depicting the daily life of the pueblo.

Albert Looking Elk Martinez, Albert Lujan and Juan Mirabal were known as the “Three Taos Pueblo Painters.” Although once Martinez served as a model for Berninghaus and later took a few painting lessons from him, Martinez developed his artwork independent of the members of the Taos Society of Artists. What is most distinctive about this trio of artists is that in contrast to interpretations of their Native culture by artists from the outside, they depicted pueblo life as members of the Taos Pueblo.

Taos’ rich cultural history, paired with the unrivaled natural beauty of the high desert, helped transform Taos from a small town into a world-class art destination. Members of the Taos Society of Artists were the first painters to relocate in the area, but they certainly weren’t the last. The society lasted formally for only twelve years, yet its members’ art turned Taos into a focal point for the arts from the early-20th century onward.

EXPLORING TAOS TODAY

In Taos you can immerse yourself in more than a thousand years of history. Visitors can stop to sample local beers at Taos Mesa Brewing and try some regional cuisine at Orlando's New Mexican Caf.. Local museums feature a plethora of contemporary and ancient American Indian artwork, paintings by the original Taos Society of Artists, works by the Taos Modern artists, Hispanic works and modern pieces by the current generation of Taos artists.

Visitors who want to learn more about the Taos Society of Artists can explore some of the museums that feature their artwork: the Taos Art Museum, the Harwood Museum of Art and the Blumenschein Museum, which is housed in that founding member’s home. Guests who visit the Taos Art Museum between March 2019 and March 2020 have the opportunity to see an exhibition of works of Marjorie Eaton. Eaton was part of the wave of artists who were inspired to come to Taos in the late 1920s. While there, she befriended Mabel Dodge Luhan and ended up marrying Juan Mirabal, one of the three Native Taos Pueblo painters. Mirabal is the subject of many of the paintings Eaton made before leaving Taos to assist Diego Rivera in New York and later in Mexico. The show centers on paintings she made in Taos and Mexico, during the two most formative periods in her career.

For anyone who wants to learn more about Southwest American Indian and Hispanic art, the Millicent Rogers Museum is the place to go. Visitors can learn about micaceous pottery and other mediums, such as painting and weaving, as well as view works by local Taos artists. Those who specifically want to see works by the Three Taos Pueblo Painters should check out the Harwood Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

Once visitors have taken in Taos’ rich art history, they can peruse the work of contemporary artists at galleries such as Sage Fine Art, Parsons Gallery of the West and Mission Gallery. One such artist is Taos Pueblo Native Ira Lujan, who tells the stories of traditional American Indian symbols through sculpted hot glass. Lujan likens working at the glass furnace to sitting around the community fire. Fire plays an important role in pueblo ceremonies inside the kivas, and during outdoor ceremonies, the fire is never allowed to go out, day or night. Similarly, in glassblowing, the furnace is always lit. Fire is a natural element and, for Lujan, it plays a central unifying role between his culture and his art. Lujan’s artwork can be found in the Millicent Rogers Museum and is often featured in local gallery exhibitions.

A trip to Taos wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Taos Pueblo, which even today remains a cultural focal point. More than a thousand years old, it has a long history as a center of trade among American Indian Nations, of which there are twenty-three remaining in New Mexico. Taos Pueblo is where the Spaniards came looking for the fabled cities of gold. Remnants of the Spanish church destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt battles in 1680 are still visible today. In 1992 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the pueblo a World Heritage Site. It contains the ancient ruins of the tribes that first settled in the Taos valley, with original structures that date back to around 1325 CE. What remains of these buildings, known today as “Cornfield Taos,” lies to the east of the famous, multi-tiered adobe dwellings in the center of the pueblo. These large structures consist of clusters of adobe abodes stacked up to five stories high, in two separate buildings that flank the Rio Grande.

The pueblo, which is surrounded by a low, defensive wall, also has kivas (circular underground chambers used for ceremonies), several ancient unexcavated mounds, the remains of another Spanish church, an existing church constructed in 1850 and a ceremonial racetrack. Many guests choose to visit the pueblo during its special feast days, which take place primarily during the spring and summer months.

While driving through scenic downtown Taos, visitors should be sure to drop by the Ranchos de Taos Church. Georgia O’Keeffe painted it during her first trip to Taos in 1929 and many times thereafter.

In a town steeped in history it’s hard to stop anywhere that doesn’t have a story. Visitors from around the world come to Taos to experience the region’s art and history, but they also come to bask in one of the Southwest’s most beautiful landscapes.

TRAVELING THE ENCHANTED CIRCLE

Taos marks the beginning and end of the Enchanted Circle, an 83-mile loop of scenic roadway that weaves around Wheeler Peak. Located in the Carson National Forest, Wheeler Peak is New Mexico’s tallest mountain, with a summit that reaches 13,159 feet. In warmer months, visitors travel to Wheeler to camp and to hike the Bull of the Woods Trail and the Williams Lake Trail. In colder months, visitors can enjoy some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the United States at any of the four ski resorts on the loop.

Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos Ski Valley (TSV) features more than 100 pristine trails that accommodate skiers and riders of all levels. In the spring and summer, visitors can enjoy mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding. In the winter, Taos Ski Valley provides some of the country’s most challenging ski runs. A favorite among expert skiers, TSV also offers weeklong ski lessons for those learning the basics, as well as those looking to take their skills to the next level.

“Taos Ski Valley is a destination unlike any other,” says Dash Hegeman, Marketing Manager. “Iconic and independent don’t always go hand-in-hand in this industry, but when they do, it’s often something pretty special, and this mountain is very special.” He adds, “The culture of Northern New Mexico radiates throughout the TSV resort and within its guests. That energy and diversity are what truly make Taos such an incredible place to visit.”

Since 2014 the Ski Valley has continued to evolve, adding a new high-speed quad chair lift, additional runs, more places to eat and shop, improved snowmaking capabilities and in 2017 Taos Ski Valley added a world-class hotel to its list of amenities. Named after the founder of the resort, The Blake at Taos Ski Valley melds the European architectural style of the native countries of many of the area’s first skiers with an interior design that is authentically Northern New Mexico. Visitors can view original works by the Taos Society of Artists, Georgia O’Keeffe lithographs, Taos Pueblo pottery and a collection of black-and-white photographs depicting the valley’s early years. Visitors can enjoy museum-quality art, all while dining at 192, an eclectic culinary experience, or they can choose to indulge in one of the body treatments at the Spa & Wellness Center. This gem of a hotel also boasts an outdoor saltwater pool and heated deck from which guests can enjoy the crisp mountain air and breathtaking twilight views of the slopes.

Even with all of that taking place, the resort continues to evolve. Construction for The Blake Residences is scheduled to begin in spring 2019, along with lift-serviced mountain bike trails off of Lift 4 in the Kachina Basin, where the resort has also invested in infrastructure that accommodates weddings and conferences. Amenities such as these, among others, will allow Taos Ski Valley to become a year-round destination resort, one steeped in culture and rich in experience.

A little farther along the Enchanted Circle is Angel Fire Resort, which offers an abundance of summer and winter activities. When the snow has melted, guests can paddle out on Lake Verde to fish for rainbow trout, hike the mountain trails, mountain bike the paths, zip line over the Moreno Valley or tee off on Angel Fire Resort’s expansive 18-hole golf course. Guests who visit in August can also catch Music from Angel Fire, the 36th annual chamber music festival. Winter guests of all experience levels have their pick of 80 ski trails. The resort even offers night skiing and snowboarding down the front of the mountain.

Looking for something a little farther off the beaten path? Red River, with its small-town charm and outdoor activities for the whole family, may be the perfect choice. It was once an old mining town, and the resort has incorporated that history into the themes of some of its terrain parks. It has the added benefit of being less crowded than the Taos Ski Valley and the Angel Fire Resort, and it offers terrain for all abilities, including those looking to learn their way around the winter slopes.

The village of Eagle’s Nest, like the other Enchanted Circle resorts, has a wide array of activities that appeal to outdoor enthusiasts of every type. Situated on Eagle Nest Lake, the town has become a well-known fishing destination. The lake is fully stocked with trout and salmon, and is open year round. Visitors can even try their hand at ice-fishing. Guests who visit during the Fourth of July weekend can lay out blankets on the shore and watch the brilliant fireworks display over the lake. Visitors often pair a trip to Eagle’s Nest with one to nearby Cimarron Canyon State Park, where they can hike, fish and camp in the canyon, and enjoy seeing a wide variety of wildlife.

Taos and the Enchanted Circle offer some of the best outdoor sporting opportunities in the Southwest. The mountain terrain of the high desert makes for stunning views and excellent skiing, hiking and fishing. The beauty of the Southwest isn’t limited to what you find in the hills, valleys and vistas, however. It is also well represented by the many artistic movements inspired by the landscape and cultures of the area. The vibrant history of artistic expression exists to the present day. Visitors can come to spark their creativity, learn more about the region’s history, visit the pueblo and other local landmarks, steep themselves in the art or just take a break from city life. The area has something to offer everyone who is willing to take a step off the beaten path and into an adventure.

By Flynn Murray

Flynn Murray was born and raised in New Mexico and is now a writer and activist in New York City. She works in publishing, and her writing has appeared in Jacobin magazine, The Essential Guide and on the websites of a number of prominent New Mexican artists.

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Leah Pinkus