Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Artists Color Taos’ Past

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By Igor Lobanov and Silvia Shepard-Lobanov

Mature Life Features

TAOS, N. M. — Our earliest remembrance of this small town in northern New Mexico is of a quiet, dusty village that was a lodestone for painters, writers, and other free spirits. The year was 1940 and our family was spending the summer at a modest inn just off the main plaza. The clear air and bright sun at 7,000-feet on this high-desert plateau at the base of the Sangre de Christo Mountains produces an extraordinary quality of light.

Except when a rain squall sweeps in. One such remains in sharp memory. We had driven some 20 miles north of town on a dirt road that wound up a forested mountain slope to a five-room cabin 8,500 feet up. We were to have tea with Frieda Lawrence, widow of the controversial English novelist and poet D.H. Lawrence. The couple had lived on this peaceful forested slope for the portions of several years until shortly before his death from tuberculosis a decade earlier in France.

The ranch was the author’s respite for a troubled soul. He enjoyed cutting wood, hammering repairs to the building, baking bread, and galloping his horse through the woods. He even looked forward to milking his recalcitrant black-eyed cow, Susan, that would run away if he showed up wearing pants it did not like. Each morning, he could be found sitting under a tree, pen in hand, doing his writing.

“Lorenzo,” as Frieda called him, could be moody, joyful, loving or hateful — all in the same short period of time. Though he had traveled and lived over much of the world, his time here with the coterie of world-renowned people his presence drew — from Lillian Gish to Leopold Stokowski and Alduous Huxley to Margaret Sanger and many more — brought an ongoing artistic and intellectual richness to the community.

When we headed back to town, rain pelted the rutted track and our slipping and sliding car barely made it to the valley floor. On a return trip here in the winter of 1952, nighttime temperatures dropped below zero (Fahrenheit) making for chilly strolls through unheated galleries in the homes of some of its better known artists. To warm up there was the cozy bar in the Taos Inn where young novelist and former Korean War veteran Walter J. Sheldon played his guitar at one time to unwind from daily writing stints.

Taos has managed to weave its centuries-old Spanish and Native American cultures with a nationally recognized art colony. Painters Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips arrived here from Paris in 1898 and founded the Taos Society of Artists that celebrates the community’s standing in the art world with annual festivals. This has created an expensive elements that include a sprinkling of upscale shops, well-lit galleries, fine restaurants, and ski resort said to equal Colorado’s Vail and Aspen.

One local official offered that Taos has “two industries – tourism and poverty.” The waiter who served you dinner last night may have created the art you purchased today.

South of town, you’ll find the 18th century adobe-walled San Francisco de Asis church celebrated in a series of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. Three miles north of the central plaza is the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo (see photo), a World Heritage Site with small art colony of its own.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2003

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

January 17, 2012 at 12:05 am

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