Episode 28 Taos
“Taos In Winter” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen
Taos stands resplendent in the late afternoon sun, magnificent against the backdrop of the Sandia Mountains. Taos is the jewel in the crown of the nineteen New Mexican Pueblos, unchanged throughout the centuries, despite the influx of visitors who come to marvel at the three story architecture still inhabited by this proud people. The tourist town of Taos and the Pueblo village of Taos are separate places, and no where is this more apparent than in the peace and quiet of a sleepy summer afternoon, with a few wispy white clouds drifting around the mountain, and the buildings painted hues of pink or yellow with deep purple shadows, all accomplished with a solar paintbrush. It is the most highly photographed of all the villages, and the camera fee has increased throughout the years. In the l960’s it was $5, but a number of years ago when we were there, it had grown to $15. There are restricted places where visitors may not enter or photograph, because of course this is home to many people. Of course, common courtesy demands that permission must be obtained before photographing the people, and a fee tendered, whatever the going rate.
It is estimated that the pueblo was built between 1000 and 1450 AD and is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. There are over 1900 people in the community with some of the people having modern homes near their fields and stay in the pueblo in the cooler weather. There are about 150 people who live year around in the pueblo.
Many families still conduct their businesses in their residence in the pueblo. We first met Georgia’s friend Tony Reyna, in his jewelry shop on the road into the pueblo. Tony , who is now 100 years old, still sells the very best Indian jewelry from the finest artisans in the area. Tony’s son now runs the shop.
Kiva San Ildefonso
Kiva Ruin showing sipapu in floor
The kiva is a place for religious ritual, and solemn ceremonies. Though there were no “Keep Out” signs posted, the sight of the ladder emerging from underground sent the mysterious message that this was a holy place. I felt it to be spiritual yet crackling with life from the ages. Ancient kivas had a sipapu, or small hole in the floor, symbolizing the portal through which man arrived.
Old Taos cemetery at sunset
Bert Geer Phillips and Ernest L. Blumenschein came to Taos, New Mexico as part of a tour of the western United States in 1898, but upon seeing Taos, decided to stay. Within a few years other American and European artists joined them and they formed the Taos Society of Artists which heralded the beginning of the Taos art colony, who collected around the visually spectacular Taos Pueblo. The founding members fostered the emergence of a major school of American painting.
Many artists were drawn to Taos due to the presence of Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy heiress from Buffalo, New York who had run a prominent art salon in Florence, Italy, and Manhattan, New York, before settling in Taos in 1917. After both divorced their spouses, she married a Pueblo native, Antonio Lujan, and built a house. She spelled her married name ‘Luhan” as it was easier for her friends to pronounce.
Luhan carried on the tradition of the European salon. For decades she invited artists, writers, and other luminaries to be inspired by Taos and each other. Among them were Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, author D.H. Lawrence and his wife.
As the summer drew to a close, we spent a lot of time in Santa Fe, which was not completely taken over by the tourists yet, and was beginning to develop a thriving gallery business on Canyon Road. I entertained highly unrealistic dreams of living there, being quite sure that Dr. Advice would thoroughly enjoy running a gallery while I spent my time painting and sculpting off in the hills somewhere.
In the week before we departed for home, there were many bread bakings at Isleta, stewed chile feasts and much laughter. On one such evening, more women seemed to be dressed in traditional clothing, and there was lots of giggling and whispers as if a secret were there trying to escape. I became aware that I was the object of their mirth when Georgia announced that she was giving me a new name. After much thought and many discussions with the other women, she had decided that my new name should be “Pacho Fa” which means Three Feathers, signifying family, friends and Art. It was a special moment for me climaxing a long visit in which we began as strangers wary of one another, and ended with a community which had embraced and honored me as a friend.