Saturday, September 4, 2010

Edge of the Taos Desert

An Escape to Reality

Mabel Dodge Luhan
University of New Mexico Press
Albuquerque 1937

This is an autobiographical account describing Luhan's first months in New Mexico.

In 1917 Mabel Sterne, patron of the arts and spokeswoman for the New York avant-garde, came to the Southwest seeking a new life. This autobiographical account, long out-of-print, of her first few months in New Mexico is a remarkable description of an Easterner's journey to the American West. It is also a great story of personal and philosophical transformation. The geography of New Mexico and the culture of the Pueblo Indians opened a new world for Mabel. She settled in Taos immediately and lived there the rest of her life. Much of this book describes her growing fascination with Antonio Luhan of Taos Pueblo, whom she subsequently married. Her descriptions of the appeal of primitive New Mexico to a world-weary New Yorker are still fresh and moving.

She put Taos on the map of the international avant-garde, bringing, among her scores of visitors, D. H. Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe, Willa Cather, and Ansel Adams. In prose, paint, poetry, and photography, all of them celebrated her frontier paradise.

I'm reading this again now because we watched a movie this week about Georgia O'Keefe. It was so beautiful, and the caste was magnificent - Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons; Tyne Daly played Mabel Luhan. Seeing again the lush and colorful landscape of New Mexico made me long for the tiny cabin there where I spent one glorious year at Jemez Springs in Northern New Mexico, not far from Taos.

Winter in Taos
first published in 1935
by Haracourt Brace

"Winter in Taos" unfolds in an entirely different pattern, uncluttered with noteworthy names and ornate details. With no chapters dividing the narrative, Luhan describes her simple life in Taos, New Mexico, this "new world" she called it, from season to season, following a thread that spools out from her consciousness as if she's recording her thoughts in a journal. "My pleasure is in being very still and sensing things," she writes, sharing that pleasure with the reader by describing the joys of adobe rooms warmed in winter by aromatic cedar fires; fragrant in spring with flowers; and scented with homegrown fruits and vegetables being preserved and pickled in summer. Having wandered the world, Luhan found her home at last in Taos. "Winter in Taos" celebrates the spiritual connection she established with the "deep living earth" as well as the bonds she forged with Tony Luhan, her "mountain."

This moving tribute to a land and the people who eked a life from it reminds readers that in northern New Mexico, where the seasons can be harshly beautiful, one can bathe in the sunshine until "'untied are the knots in the heart,' for there is nothing like the sun for smoothing out all difficulties." Born in 1879 to a wealthy Buffalo family, Mabel Dodge Luhan earned fame for herfriendships with American and European artists, writers and intellectuals and for her influential salons held in her Italian villa and Greenwich Village apartments. In 1917, weary of society and wary of a world steeped in war, she set down roots in remote Taos, New Mexico, then publicized the tiny town's inspirational beauty to the world, drawing a steady stream of significant guests to her adobe estate, including artist Georgia O'Keeffe, poet Robinson Jeffers, and authors D.H. Lawrence and Willa Cather. Luhan could be difficult, complex and often cruel, yet she was also generous and supportive, establishing a solid reputation as a patron of the arts and as an author of widely read autobiographies. She died in Taos in 1962.


Nan said...

Very, very interesting. I knew of her, but nothing about her. Thank you for this. I was fascinated. I love hearing about people who live where they feel they really belong. Like the old Fred Neil song: 'goin' where the weather suits my clothes.'

Janice said...

Hi Nan

such a sad song - and the movie Midnight Cowboy - tears are running down my face as I remember the scenes and the music - a very young John Voigt and Ratzo

thanks for the memories

I'm going to look for this at my video rental store