With Monsoon Season fast approaching, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite ways to while away a rainy day in Taos.
It might be wet but it’s also hot and there’s no better way to cool off and stay dry than in one of these adobe homes turned museums, where you can kill more than two birds with one stone!
By taking a step back in time, to experience the rich, living history of art and culture that continues to draw visitors to Northern New Mexico from all over the world, you’ll come away from this rainy afternoon, with a far better understanding and appreciation of the cultural heritage that makes Taos so unique.
The Blumenschein Home & Museum
Celebrating its centennial this summer, a family home turned museum, this was the house of E.L. Blumenschein, his wife Mary Greene, and their daughter Helen. E.L. Blumenschein.
Ernest L. Blumenschein was arguably the most well-known of the Taos painters during his lifetime. His canvases, executed in his distinctive style that was first labeled “post-impressionist” and later modernist, garnered him a wide audience, critical acclaim and numerous awards.
Blumenschein was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to parents of German Jewish descent, and raised in Dayton, Ohio. His father was a professional musician and composer, who made his living as a conductor. Ernest excelled at music and his father had high hopes that he would follow his footsteps and become a professional musician. When Ernest showed an early interest in art, his father ignored it and pushed him to stay devoted to music, feeling that was where his greatest talent lay.
At 17, Blumenschein won a scholarship to study at the Cincinnati College of Music. However, while studying music he also enrolled in classes at the Art Academy which led to his move to New York City to study painting at the Art Students League.
At the end of the 19th Century, it was de rigueur for an aspiring painter study in Europe. Blumenschein made his first trip in 1892 to study at the Academie Julian in Paris. While there he met the other future Taos painters: Bert Phillips, E.I. Couse, and most notably, Joseph Henry Sharp. It was Sharp who would inspire the other three with his stories and sketches of Arizona and New Mexico. Blumenschein determined that he would visit the Southwest as soon as the opportunity arose.
Upon his return, Blumenschein began his successful illustration career. He worked for magazines including Harper’s, Scribner’s and McClure’s. It was an assignment for McClure’s that first sent him to the Southwest.
He returned from his trip enthralled, and excited about the possibility of a painting trip to the region. He urged Bert Phillips to save enough money to join him, and 1898 they set out by covered wagon. Crossing into northern New Mexico in early September, they encountered roads that had been destroyed by summer storms and famously, one of the wagon wheels broke. They needed a blacksmith, and the nearest town was Taos. After a coin toss, Phillips stayed with the wagon while Blumenschein set out on horseback with the broken wheel.
Phillips was even more inspired by the surroundings than Blumenschein, and in fact he stayed on when Blumenschein left Taos after three months and went back to Paris for further study. He stayed a year in France before returning to New York to continue his work as an illustrator, but went back to Paris in 1902 for a more protracted stay. He met fellow artist, Mary Shepard Green in Paris in 1905 and they were married that same year. The couple spent the next four years in France, sharing a Paris studio and supporting themselves with illustration work for American magazines. In 1909 the couple returned to New York for the birth of their daughter, Helen.
In 1917, Mary Blumenschein received an inheritance that included a house in Brooklyn, the sale of which two years later left the Blumenscheins financially independent, enabling the family to relocate to Taos, their money enabling them to buy a large property.
Blumenschein is remembered for his extremely high standards, both as an artist and an intellectual. He was so uncompromising with his work that today only his best work survives. He long concealed his Jewish heritage which was probably covered up after the family moved to Ohio, where he was raised Episcopalian, but in October of 1930, his inclusion in an important show left no doubt as to his origins.
On October 16 1930 it was reported that “thirteen American Jewish painters (including Blumenschein), are among ninety-nine artists of the United States displaying 152 canvasses in the twenty-ninth annual Carnegie Institute International Exhibition of Modern Painting which formally opens in this city tomorrow immediately following Founder’s Day exercises at Carnegie Institute.”
As well as achieving National and International recognition, he was a prominent local artist and the museum is filled with a collection of his works, as well as pieces of art by other famous figures in the Taos art world.
Visitors can also see examples of antiques from the Spanish Colonial and European period, as well as memorabilia in the form of the family’s personal possessions that still fill the beautifully maintained house. More than just an art gallery, this museum allows visitors a rare glimpse of life during the early twentieth century in Taos.
The Couse-Sharp Historic Site
Two other visionary painters, whose art captured the Southwest as it was then, E. I. Couse and J. H. Sharp were along with Blumenschein and Phillips two of the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists. These two painters contributed so much to both the cultural fabric of Taos and its longstanding reputation as an artist’s colony. It should be remembered that it was due to Sharp that all of them came here in the first place
A visit to the Couse-Sharp Site allows one to see and get a feel for how these painters lived. Stand at Couse’s easel, one can imagine the his model on the small stage with its props. Everything remains intact, just as it was a century ago. This unbroken chain of history is being preserved into the future, with the restoration of Sharp’s 1915 studio and the addition of a new archive and research center
The historic Site includes not only the home and studio of E.I. Couse, but the gardens designed by his wife, Virginia, the workshops of his son, Kibbey, and the two studios of his neighbor and fellow artist, Joseph Henry Sharp.
The Site sits on a ridge overlooking a pasture, where Juan de Luna built a family chapel in 1835. Although the Luna chapel remained a separate property, Luna built a small house against the chapel’s south wall in 1839. Various owners added to the original house over the years, and by the time the Couse’s purchased it in 1909, it had grown to seven rooms. The artist immediately added a large studio to the existing structure.
The Couse’s continued to make significant changes and additions throughout their lifetime. After Virginia’s death in 1929, Kibbey returned to Taos to care for his widowed father. He converted the family garage into a machine shop and added another building to the south, where he planned to manufacture his invention, the Couse Mobile Machine Shop. After his father’s death in 1936, his plans changed and he built his factory in New Jersey.
J.H. Sharp purchased an old adobe house on the adjacent property in 1908. He acquired the Luna chapel from the Diocese in Santa Fe in 1909 and converted it into a studio. He later purchased land to the south of his house on which he built a larger studio in 1915.
The Couse family acquired the Sharp property after his death in 1953. His house no longer exists but his first studio, the Luna chapel, and his second studio remain a significant part of the Historic Site.
There are ongoing events at the site all year round, so do check their website for updates.
Millicent Rogers Museum
Mary Millicent Abigail Rogers, better known as Millicent Rogers, was a socialite, fashion icon, and art collector. She was the granddaughter of Standard Oil tycoon Henry Huttleston Rogers. Rogers is notable for having been an early supporter and enthusiast of Southwestern-style art and jewelry. Later in life, she became an activist, and was among the first celebrities to champion the cause of Native American civil rights. She is still remembered today as an influence on several major fashion designers, most especially Charles James.
Rogers was married three times and had three sons. Her third and last husband was Arturo Peralta-Ramos. Rogers continued to be romantically linked to a number of notable men throughout her life, including authors Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming, the Prince of Wales and actor Clark Gable. She died on January 1, 1953 after spending the last years of her life at Turtle Walk in Taos.
The Millicent Rogers Museum was established in 1956 by her youngest son Paul Peralta-Ramos, to showcase the arts and cultures of the southwest that had so fascinated his mother. Paul Peralta-Ramos dedicated much of his life to building and curating this extraordinary collection of more than 7,000 objects that document the arts and cultures of the Southwest.
His friendship with Maria Martinez, the famed potter of San Ildefonso Pueblo, ultimately led to her family donating what is the largest publicly held collection of Martinez material in the world. This collection encompasses not only Martinez’s professional career as a potter but also includes numerous items relating to her private life, including clothing, jewelry, and papers. That collection is now the centerpiece of a major permanent exhibition on her life and work.
The museum’s galleries and exhibition spaces contain a priceless assemblage of art created by the Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo artists in the region throughout the last 2000 years. Wandering through the galleries, the history of the region through the eyes of the artists reminds one that this is a cultural heritage that remains as vital and alive as it was when Millicent first began collecting Native and Hispanic arts and crafts.
Reproductions of the gorgeous and timeless jewelry Millicent created during her time here, inspired by the Native pieces she loved to wear, are available for purchase in the museum’s gift shop.
This museum too, is located in a charming historic hacienda with stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, donated to the museum by the Anderson family of Taos.
You can discover more about Millicent Rogers by picking up a copy of Taos author Cherie Burns’ acclaimed Biography, Searching For Beauty – The Life of Millicent Rogers, also available in the museum’s gift shop.
Make the Millicent Rogers Museum your last stop, and once you emerge from an afternoon of immersing yourself in Taos’ rich history, the sun is sure to be shining, accompanied by a glorious rainbow arching over the mountain. The views from here are spectacular and if you are really lucky, the rainbow will be double!
For more information on these and other museums in Taos, please visit the site linked below.
Featured image by Geraint Smith
All other images thanks to the Blumenschein, Couse-Sharp Site and Millicent Rogers Museum