Exploring the Art of Taos

by Valerie Summers

Taos Mountain, a sacred Mecca for Native Americans, has long been regarded as one of the spiritual high points in the world and is believed to have the power to draw those who visit back if it likes them and to make those leave who it does not like.   I am thankfully on the OK list since I keep going back. In the past, when I have visited Taos during the winter months, I have spent most of my time skiing at the skier’s paradise known as Taos Ski Valley which just recently has admitted boarders to its snowy slopes.  However, on this visit I concentrated on the arts and artists of Taos, both past and present.

Touchstone B&B

Touchstone B&B

This winter I returned to Touchstone, my favorite Bed & Breakfast/art gallery owned by artist/innkeeper Bren Price.   Taos has long been regarded as one of the great art centers of the world which began when the wagon artists Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips were traveling in broke down in 1898.  They fell in love with Taos and its magical light and never left.  Many artists have followed that road to Taos for more than a century and have created a beautiful cultural community.  Painters, writers, jewelers, poets and sculptors flourish in Taos which has drawn many notables to its bosom including Georgia O’Keeffe and D. H. Lawrence.

Bren Price of Touchstone

Bren Price of Touchstone

What I love most about Touchstone is the art.  It is like sleeping in an art gallery which indeed is what it was originally intended to be.  Talented, spiritual Bren Price’s exquisite watercolors fill the rooms.  My favorite area of Touchstone is where breakfast is served, a gallery lined with windows overlooking the mountains and Taos Pueblo lands, its light reflecting on the vibrant colors of her intuitive paintings.

And lest I forget, my beautiful room, named The Frida, which featured a handsome watercolor of that Kahlo woman, also included a spacious, colorful Mexican tile bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub for two.

Price’s involvement with art extends into the Taos community and beyond.  Her once a year invitational show, Leda’s Pond, is a call for erotic, not pornographic, art and there is standing room only for the show, which generally takes place around Valentine’s Day for two weeks.  She is also involved in the newly formed TAO (Taos Artists Organization) which arranges studio tours for visitors to the area and creates a forum for visual artists.  In an excerpt from the 1915 constitution of The Taos Society of Artists it reads “This Society is formed for education purposes, to develop a high standard of art among its members, and to aid in the diffusion of taste for art in general.”  TAO seems to be a 21st century version of this.

One afternoon, following a massage in one of Touchstone’s spa rooms, I headed towards the down town plaza where I intended to visit the Harwood Museum on the historic Ledoux Street  where the original art colony, the Taos Society of Artists, began.  There, I discovered a beautiful modern two-story space housed in one of the earliest examples of Pueblo Revival Style.  It was filled with the works of the Taos Society of Artists, Hispanic traditions, Taos Moderns and major American Modernists including John Marin and Marsden Hartley.

Fortunately, when exiting the museum, I strolled down Ledoux for some exploring.  The first gallery I entered featured the enticing contemporary art of Nancy Ortenstone.  One particular painting, which the gallery director managed to bring out for me to view, took my breath away…a 60×72 inch ethereal painting called Floating Mesa. While there, a gentleman, who turned out to be the artist’s husband, invited me to stop by at his gallery at the other end of the street.   Further along the narrow street, the whimsical sculptures in the garden of the Inger Jirby Gallery caught my eye.  Inside, the artist herself showed me through her gallery filled with vibrant colors, commenting that she always picks unusual, gorgeous places to live and paint and that New Mexico is one of the most splendid places on earth for a landscape painter.

Pierre Delattre at his Gallery & Studio

Pierre Delattre at his Gallery & Studio

At the Pierre Delattre Gallery & Studio, I found the gentleman I had met at my first gallery stop, paintbrush in hand, in conversation with poet Dora McQuaid. I learned that she was collaborating with photographer Lenny Foster whose work “evokes an other worldliness.”   I spent close to an hour chatting with the affable Pierre while admiring his whimsical and happy works of art.  He took great pains in describing how giclees are produced and I was pleased to be brought up to date on this art process.  He shared his philosophy of happiness with me and told me what he does to keep in a happy frame of mind.   It certainly shows in his art.

My final stop on Ledoux Street  was at Lenny Foster’s Living Light Photography studio situated on the far side of the Harwood Museum.  I felt as though I was visiting a friend in his living room surrounded by expressive photographs of all sorts of subjects.  His latest project, The Dreamtime of Horses featured several black and white images, from an equine detail to a magnificent white stallion charging across a meadow, accompanied and enhanced by the descriptive poetry of McQuaid.

Speaking with the artists added a new dimension to my art tour.   Many of these artists’ works appear in private collections and museums all over the world. With more than 100 galleries in Taos, I had only enough time for a sampling, but it was a start.

I ended my art foray with visits to two other iconic arts museums, the Taos Art Museum and Fechin House  and the Millicent Rogers Museum.  The Fechin house itself is a work of art designed and built by Nicolai Fechin between 1927 and 1933.  In addition to the painting collection of Taos artists, I enjoyed viewing the artist’s intricate wood carvings adorning the furniture in the otherwise traditional adobe house. Fechin’s hand carvings reflect his love of wood and his Russian peasant folk art heritage.  Although the metal works in the house were also of Fechin’s design, very few of his paintings were on view.

I concluded my Taos art tour at the Millicent Rogers Museum which I always enjoy because of the diversity of its collection.   Beautiful, talented, wealthy art patron Rogers was heir to the Standard Oil fortune.  Her museum collection encompasses Hispanic arts and crafts, traditional and contemporary potters, textiles, paintings, photography, graphics and an extraordinary exhibition of jewelry, much of which Rogers designed.  The core of the 8,000 piece museum collection was personally amassed by Millicent Rogers.

The museum’s of Taos capture its true spirit by enabling visitors to experience the theatre of the past and by retracing the footsteps of the original players while creating a bridge to the present and the future for the artists of Taos.  Hopefully, many more of the works of the talented artists of Taos will find their way from their galleries into the museums of the world.  In the meantime, I am happy to continue my future walks down the artist’s gallery trail of Taos.

For information:

Touchstone Bed & Breakfast/Art Gallery
0110 Mabel Dodge Lane
Taos, NM  87571

Harwood Museum of Art
238 Ledoux St., Taos

Millicent Rogers Museum
1504 Millicent Rogers Road

Taos Art Museum & Fechin House
227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte

Inger Jirby Gallery & Sculpture Garden
207 Ledoux St.

Ortenstone Gallery
241 Ledoux St.

Lenny Foster Living Light Photography
246A  Ledoux St.

Pierre Delattre Gallery & Studio
Ledoux Plaza