The Taos Society of Artists was founded in 1915 and although it disbanded in 1927, the art and artists associated with it, continue to inform Taos’ reputation as an Art Colony.
When Joseph Henry Sharp, who had decided to make painting Native Americans his life work, visited Taos on a trip through New Mexico in 1893, he couldn’t have imagined that he was initiating what would become The Taos Society Of Artists.
He was immediately captivated by both the people of the Taos Pueblo and the landscape they lived in. Hearing about Sharp’s fascination with Taos and the Native People who called it home, Ernest Blumenschein, (who had shared his obsession with Native American culture while they were both studying art in Paris) decided to visit the territory himself with fellow artist Bert Phillips in 1898. Planning only a short visit, after their wagon broke down they were equally taken with the Taos valley and its people, and decided to stay longer. The seeds for a Taos art colony had been sown.
“The month was September, and the fertile valley a beautiful sight, and inspiration for those who ply the brush for happiness.” Blumenschein wrote about his first sight of Taos. “There a peace-loving, democratic society has maintained, and continues to maintain, its history, culture, dress and way of life over centuries.”
Blumenschein returned to New York City for a time to attend to unfinished business, but Phillips stayed behind, by then enamored with Rose Martin (Thomas “Doc” Martin’s sister.) Blumenschein kept up a correspondence with Phillips and discussed setting up an artist colony in Taos. He also wrote incessantly to other artists in New York and Paris “about the “beauty and artistic promise of northern New Mexico.” Inspired by the pristine beauty of the High Desert and its magical light, he was clearly a man on a mission.
Eventually, he returned to New Mexico and on July 19, 1915 Joseph Henry Sharp, E. Irving Couse, Oscar E. Berninghaus, W. Herbert Dunton, Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips formed the Taos Society of Artists. The six founding members were known as the “Taos Six”. E. Irving Couse was the Society’s first president.
Although many were refused membership, the group grew to include 12 active members and several more associate and honorary members.
Along with the Blumenschein Museum (and Doc Martin’s Restaurant at the Historic Taos Inn, which is where the six met to draw up their criteria for the Society of Artists), the Couse-Sharp Historic Site reflects the original goals of these artists and continues to promote their mission.
The Site includes the home and studio of E. I. Couse, the garden designed by his wife, Virginia, the workshops of his son, Kibbey, and the two studios of his neighbor and fellow artist, J. H. Sharp. Couse’s studio and darkroom are maintained in a state very close to how he left them upon his death in 1936.
The Site also brings to light the contributions of the models from Taos Pueblo and members of other Tribes who sat for their paintings, as well as the Native artists whose work was collected by both artists.
Sharp’s later studio, built in 1915, was completely restored in early 2017 and now contains a permanent rotating exhibition of his artwork, personal effects, and Native art he collected and used in his paintings. His earlier studio, converted from an 1835 chapel, hosts changing exhibitions of artwork and contextual material related to the Taos Society of Artists.
The Couse Foundation has just announced that The Lunder Foundation of Portland, Maine, is providing a grant of $600,000 in support of the Taos Society of Artists archive and research center that will be located in the Mission Gallery building being acquired by The Couse Foundation later this year.
Once the building has been renovated for this purpose, it will be known as The Lunder Research Center. The Lunder Foundation is a highly respected philanthropic organization that has provided major support to Colby College in Waterville, Maine, including the Colby College Museum of Art and The Lunder Institute of American Art, among numerous other beneficiaries.
“This grant from The Lunder Foundation is by far the largest single gift in the history of The Couse Foundation. It is a significant endorsement of our vision and will ensure the realization of our goal to create a research center of national importance at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site,” said Carl Jones, President of The Couse Foundation.
The mission of The Couse Foundation is to preserve and interpret the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, its buildings, grounds, collections, and the archives of the Taos Society of Artists, through education, collaboration and scholarly engagement.
The Lunder Research Center will be the repository for documents and art created, and artifacts collected, by the twelve members of the Taos Society of Artists and scholarly materials relating to the group. The materials include original documents, personal correspondence, photographic prints and negatives, sketchbooks, original works of art, along with Native American ethnographic items.
The facility will house a research center and library that will welcome scholars, students and authors who wish to conduct research relating to the Taos Society of Artists and its individual members, affirming and enhancing Taos’ reputation as an artistic community of international importance and renown.
For more about The Couse Foundation, please visit the site linked below.
All images of Couse and Sharp in their studios, current images of their studios and Couse home and gardens, thanks to the Couse Foundation. All other images, stock files.