Around Christmastime December 1917, Mabel Stern (1878-1962) rolled into Taos. A few days later she invited the painter Andrew Dasburg to come join her, and famously, to “bring a cook.” The Anglo art community, established 19 years earlier, was healthy and growing, thanks in part to the Taos Society of Artists. It was the first big marketing effort to come out of Taos and still one of the most successful.
The story of Mabel Dodge Luhan (as she become known to us) is well-documented from books (including her own beautifully written memoirs) and film. She soon ridded herself of her new husband, Maurice Stern, who had encouraged her Taos visit. She replaced him with the tall, dark and handsome Tony Lujan of Taos Pueblo. Read Frank Water’s wonderful “Of Time and Change” for more on the social side of things.
Mabel brought a burst of creative energy to the fledgling Taos art enterprise in a way that its founders, Bert Phillips, Ernest Blumenschein, could not match. Her guest list, which would have been notable in New York where she was from, was extraordinary for remote New Mexico. Many were already famous, such as Carl Jung, and others were the soon-to-be famous, such as Ansel Adams. Mabel’s stormy relationships with D.H. Lawrence and Georgia O’Keeffe are legendary.
Taos began riding a wave of art popularity that carried it through the 1920s. Its light, somewhat diminished, continued to shine in the art world through the Great Depression and World War II. Never deterred, Mabel published “Taos and Its Artists” in 1947, recognizing both the continuation of the early art colony and its revitalization in the nascent era of the Taos Moderns.
Here I can only summarize, but my premise is supported by a wealth of scholarly histories: that Taos is a different place because of Mabel’s presence than it would have been without her. One could argue that it is either better or worse. (I would argue better.) Either way, Mabel’s arrival here remains worthy of recognition 100 years on.
David Witt is a Taos author and former curator of the Harwood Museum of Art and curator of the Seton Legacy Project.