ARRIVAL AT TAOS Kate’s Journal


Episode 28 Taos

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.

Tony Reyna Tony Reyna
kiva san ildefonsoKiva San Ildefonso

kiva interiorKiva 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.

Taos Man 2 Taos Man

Photo Taos 1966 Taos 1966

Taos Cemetery 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.

THE ROAD NORTH Kate’s Journal


Episode 27 New Mexico

Georgia’s mother had taught in several of the villages on the way north, and our first stop was at San Ildefonso, home of friends of Georgia.

San Ildefonso is another sleepy village with large cottonwood trees sheltering the homes. It is the home of Maria Montoya Martinez, one of the most famous of the Pueblo potters.

I was fortunate to own a small pot by Maria which had been given to me by my aunt. Maria and her husband Julian had been a feature in the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1939 as potters demonstrating the art of Indian pottery making, and they were quite famous among their peers.

Today there are 14 families and extended families active in making pottery. Many of the younger potters are using their own designs, but much pottery is still the old black on black type. Traditionally the pottery was unglazed and fired in dirt kilns using dung as fuel. It gained its black color from the firing process.

black pot2

We pulled up in front of one house and suggested I stay in the car while she approached the house but did not go to the door. Presently a man came to the door and looked suspiciously at her as she asked for someone by name. He hesitantly said “That’s me.” Then she introduced herself and he smiled broadly while he recognized her. She asked after her friend Desideria, and he said “I married her!” With that over, he stared at me sitting in the car, so Georgia introduced us and then I got out of the car. He invited us in and his wife came out of the kitchen. They said the priest was coming for lunch so we were invited as well. Desideria, who was Maria’s sister and also a noted potter, said that Maria was coming to lunch too. It was rather like imagining you were about to meet Merle Streep for me to meet her. Her husband Julian and son, Popovi Da are both active potters as well. At some point during the lunch, Georgia told them I was also a potter, and nods and smiles were exchanged. Maria was as gracious as I had imagined her.

During the summer, my Laguna-Isleta friend and I visited many of the villages, sometimes to renew longtime friendships of Georgia’s, and sometimes to attend a seasonal celebratory dance. All villages do not welcome outside guests, and those which do, expect that strict rules of decorum be observed. This includes no cameras, which would be confiscated, no unnecessary talking during the performance, and to my great shame, no quick drawings of the dancers. I was unaware of doing anything wrong, until I heard Georgia’s whisper not to look up. Keeping my head down I saw two moccasined feet directly in front of me, and heard Georgia say that I was writing a letter home. I guiltily looked up into an old and angry hawk-nosed face, deeply tanned and wrinkled, with not an ounce of compassion or forgiveness. I smiled weakly and quickly looked back at the dancers. After an abnormal length of time, the old man moved on to try and find any other miscreants. I realized that the best sketchbook is frequently in your head, and a lot safer too.

The various villages, all slightly different, on our way north to Taos, gave an opportunity for sketching, until we found the day drifting away and knew we needed to find a place to spend the night. It was Saturday evening and in Georgia’s words: “Not a good time to be on the road with a lot of drunken Indians!” We found a cheap motel offering a dance next door, so we chose it as our place of residence for the night.

The owner said there were no more vacancies, but he had a trailer in the back which we could rent for a small sum. The trailer consisted of two sleeping areas with a small kitchen in between. The man explained how to lock the door, and I had my small gun, so we felt safe enough, but after watching the dancing next door, we forgot how to lock the door. We spread newspapers on the floor in case anyone entered we could hear them and I could threaten them, but awoke next morning to bright sunshine unscathed.

Kiowa Kiowa dancer watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

O' Odham Tash O’Odom Tash dancer waterfolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Gratefully saying goodbye to our “trailer home”, we continued north to Taos, whose stories had long fascinated me.