The Harwood Living History

In August of 1998, the Associated Press  reported a bizarre story about the discovery of an artist’s urn at a recycling center in Taos.

Luis Maestas of Taos spotted the box, which had  (Burt), Harwood’s name on it, during a routine stop at a Taos recycling center that bought scrap metal. Maestas offered to trade a small coin collection for it, that he had picked up at a garage   sale.

“I think (the box) was being turned into a piggy bank,” said Maestas,  at the time, “because someone had recently cut a coin-sized hole in it”.  Maestas took it home, shook the box, and ashes drifted out.


”So I put some holy water in there and decided to take the urn to the museum,” he said.

At first he had  intended to sell it, then changed his mind. “They were part of history, so that’s why I took them over there,” Maestas said.

Elihu Burritt (Burt) Harwood had a major influence on the art community and cultural history of Taos. In 1882, at the age of twenty-seven, Harwood enrolled in the Art Students League in New York City. Two years later he enrolled in Paris’ Académie Julian, where he studied under Gustave Boulanger, Jules Lefebvre, Amie Morot, Raphael Collin, and the sculptor, Mercier. Harwood returned to the United States in 1887 to set up the Academies of Art and Design in St. Paul (1888) and Minneapolis (1889), where he met and married Elizabeth (Lucy) Case in September of 1896. 

Shortly after their marriage he returned with Lucy to Paris. His inherited wealth had enabled him to set up the art academies in Minneapolis and St. Paul. His and Lucy’s combined inheritances provided both with the opportunity to travel, to study art abroad, as well as finance a hospital in Brittany (for wounded soldiers) during WW1. Once it became evident that the U.S. would get involved, they thought it wise to return home, and purchased the property on Ledoux Street known as “El Pueblito”, upon their move to New Mexico in 1916. They were part of the new wave of artists, who discovered the magical light and mystical allure of Taos and the region.

With his architect of choice, Abe Bowring, Burt Harwood connected the structures that made up “El Pueblito”, and added a second story – making it the first two-story building in Taos, aside from the community structures at Taos Pueblo. The Harwood compound was reputedly the first residence in Taos to have electricity, and one of the largest until Mabel Dodge Luhan built her home bordering Taos Pueblo lands.

The Harwoods opened their newly renovated home as a social center, or Southwest style salon, with informal or semi-formal discussions, lectures and art exhibitions. The Blumenscheins would move down the street a few years later, and that residence is now the E.L. Blumenschein Home and Museum.

When Lucy discovered that Taos had no library, she made the couple’s vast book collection available to the community and created a small “Lending Library.” Mabel Dodge Luhan and others in the community donated to the collection over time. Early on, the couple began displaying old Pueblo pottery, weavings and other Native and Regional crafts, including furniture, creating a Cabinet of Curiosities; a precursor to the museum.

In spite of  the Harwoods’ hospitality and Burt’s credentials as an artist and his training in Paris – during which time he exhibited in the salon of the Société des Artistes Français – he was rejected outright for membership in the Taos Society of Artists, having been nominated by Bert Phillips.

Apparently the rejection of the cliquish group, did nothing to impede Burt’s creative output;  he continued to paint at the same time as he oversaw the remodeling of the El Pueblito compound, keeping to local construction techniques and traditions.

An article in the September 26, 1922 issue of The Taos Valley News stated that Burt Harwood’s death on September 12th was due to heart failure, noting that he suffered from pleurisy.  Elizabeth Harwood resided at the complex until her death in 1938. The museum, founded in 1923, is the second oldest art museum in the state.

In 1929 the University of New Mexico opened a Field School of Art at Harwood. The Harwood Foundation was gifted to the University of New Mexico in 1935, and became a source of programs for the university in Taos County.

In 1937, UNM and the Works Projects Administration (WPA), working in cooperation to create an enhanced facility, embarked on a major expansion and yet another renovation project of the Harwood complex. Designed by John Gaw Meem, one of the best known architects of the Southwest, the Harwood addition became one of the tallest adobe structures in Northern New Mexico, and included an auditorium, stage, exhibition space, and a library facility.

When I arrived in Taos in the spring of 1981, pregnant with my youngest daughter, Genevieve, we stayed for a couple of weeks with friends (in the house on Quesnell Street, Genevieve and her husband now rent from Polly Raye), until finding a house to rent on nearby Liebert Street.  As soon as we moved into our rental I began having nightmares about the roof caving in on my daughter Angelica’s bed. I began looking for another place to rent immediately.

Through friends of my then husband, Sonny (who coincidently is from Minneapolis like the Harwoods, and had lived in Taos prior to our meeting), I learned of an apartment for rent above the Harwood Children’s Library on Ledoux Street. I walked over to see it and rented it  on the spot. The Liebert Street landlady was livid but I didn’t care. Within hours we had moved in to our new home.

Having come from NYC with very little in the way of possessions (we’d sublet our city apartment for a year), I was delighted to discover that the gorgeous light filled space was partially furnished and that (Bob Ellis) the Museum Director didn’t mind if I painted a few kitchen chairs and a table, white. I set to work making a home for my small, growing family.

I divided the bedroom in half with a bookcase (also whitewashed), and created a small nursery for the children on one end. I placed a futon in the alcove beside the kiva fireplace, where Genevieve was born on a cool September night, by candle and firelight.

My OBGYN was gay and awesome; he encouraged me to spend the better part of my labour in the deep, clawfoot tub in the spacious bathroom, I filled it with rose petals and rose and lavender oils and soaked the contractions away.

I recall at the time, Bob Ellis telling me that one other baby had been born on the property during the 1930’s, but my daughter Genevieve is certainly a part of the Harwood’s living history. I loved living there. Ledoux Street was rich with art and artists; Bill Rane and Aliyah Sage had studios across the street, and artists and musicians occupied the little warren of apartments between the Harwood and the Blumenschein. One could feel oneself walking in the footsteps of History.

We returned to NYC and seven years later, our marriage fell apart and in 1990, I moved to Taos full-time, to the same apartment at the Harwood which I was able to sublet for six months. I have always thought of that space as my shelter, my safe harbour. Oh, before I forget – the week after we moved into our new home, breaking our lease on Liebert Street, the Taos News came out as always on a Thursday, with a photograph of a house with a collapsed roof on the front page.

It had occurred in the middle of the night right above where my baby daughter had once slept.

When Shemai Rodriguez, the Harwood’s Marketing, Media and Membership Manager approached me to do a series of articles on the Harwood, I didn’t think twice! Clearly this building, this institution has played a large role in my own personal history here in Taos.

When I lived in the building, it was still as it had been when Burt and Lucy held court in their salon and gardens, a refined and genteel rambling adobe structure. Well proportioned rooms with lots of built in cupboards and hand crafted woodwork, that gleamed from years of oiling and attention required little to increase their inherent charm. Many pieces of the couple’s original furniture remained, as did the first edition books donated by Mabel, Dorothy Brett, Frieda Lawrence and others. I read many of them, all signed by the hand of their former owners. Many of them can still be checked out of the town’s library to this day.

In 1997 the Harwood Museum underwent another major renovation and expansion, including the Agnes Martin Gallery to house seven paintings donated by the artist to the museum. The gift of the paintings, and the design of the octagonal space to the artist’s specifications by Albuquerque architectural firm, Kells & Craig, were negotiated and overseen by museum director Robert M. Ellis, a close friend of Martin’s. The Agnes Martin Gallery attracts visitors from all over the world. Rumour has it Martin’s ashes were scattered on the Harwood grounds. The total renovation and expansion of the Museum was completed in 2010.

The building became the Harwood Museum of Art in 1998 when the library was moved to its present  location.

The Harwood Museum of Art in Taos has a permanent collection of over 4500 works of art and thousands of historic and archival photographic images.  The collection dates from the 19th century to the present and reflects the multicultural heritages and influences of the Taos artistic community. The museum’s collections include traditional Hispanic Arts and Crafts,  the Taos Society of Artists, the Taos Moderns along with Contemporary work, Prints, Drawings and Photographs.

Since World War II, Taos and the Harwood entered a new phase, embracing and encouraging new trends in American Art. The Harwood strives to fulfill its educational mission by presenting special lectures, offering docent tours, and working with local schools and community groups with a variety of special programs.  It continues to expand and grow its vision as a cultural center, presenting the art of our region, while also serving as an important educational asset to northern New Mexico.

There’s a whole new rush of energy at the Harwood these days, in keeping with the changes here in Taos and globally. In my next post on this venerable Taos Institution, I’ll introduce you to a few of the people who are responsible for keeping the Harwood current, fresh and eternally relevant.

For more information about The Harwood Museum of Art, please visit their site linked below this post.

Harwood Museum


This is Part 1 in a series of posts about The Harwood Museum in Taos.


Caveat:  Shemai Rodriguez’ office at the Harwood, is in my former apartment. Her Aunt Sylvia Rodriguez – once occupied the smallest of the three apartments in the Harwood complex – professor emerita of anthropology and former director of the Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies at UNM,  her studies in ethnic relations, identity, tourism, land and water issues are important contributions to New Mexico’s cultural legacy.


All images of the Harwoods (in the garden), the library and museum, and photo of Agnes Martin in her studio next door, on Ledoux Street, stock files.