Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve at Taos Pueblo and at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House

Throughout her life in Taos, Mabel attended various Pueblo celebrations. Of all of the holiday events, Christmas Eve at Taos Pueblo is one of the most special. The Pueblo people gather pitch pine, cut it to various lengths, and stack it criss-crossed to build ricks of wood from one foot to twelve feet high. These are lit just after dusk, and the whole area between the North and South houses come alive with bonfires. The fires light the Christmas Eve procession around the Taos Pueblo plaza that follows mass at the San Geronimo church. It's magical, as a description from D.H. Lawrence conveys:

Never shall I forget the Christmas dances at Taos, twilight, snow, the darkness coming over the great wintry mountains and the lonely pueblo, then suddenly, again, like dark calling dark, the deep Indian cluster -- singing around the drum, wild and awful, suddenly rousing on the lost dusk as the procession starts. And then the bonfires leaping suddenly in spurts of high flame, columns of sudden flame forming an alley for the procession.*

Over the years my friend Judith Bronner has photographed this event (here, the plaza in front of the North House at dusk, just before the procession), and I share one of her pictures with you.

"Christmas Eve", Taos Pueblo © 2010 Judith Bronner

When guests at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House return after the Pueblo festivities, a cheery fire and steaming bowls of posole await them. This spicy hominy stew, a dish for celebrating life’s blessings, is served throughout New Mexico. It can be made either with red or green chile. The recipe here (below), made with pork and using dried red chiles, is quite traditional. However, chicken, turkey, or vegetable protein may be substituted for the pork. Enjoy.

Adios for now,

Photo courtesy of Judith Bronner. Thank you, Judith! 

* Quote from "New Mexico" typescript, D.H. Lawrence Papers, AC 131-p, Angélico Chávez History Library, Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe.

Posole Recipe:
12 dried long red chile**
3 pounds boned pork roast cut into 1" cubes
1/2 head of garlic peeled and chopped
A large pinch of Mexican oregano
1/2 large onion, chopped

1 large (industrial-size) can hominy 
Salt and pepper to taste

1.Break open the chiles and remove the seeds and veins.
2. Put the chiles to cook in a medium sized pot. Cover with fresh water and gently boil until chiles are very soft.
3. Let the mixture cool and using a favorite method, blend the chile and the water to make a paste and strain.
4. Put the cubed pork, oregano, garlic, onion and salt into a large heavy pot and cover with water. Boil meat gently for 30 minutes.
5. When the meat is soft, add the chile and hominy and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the mixture is boiling nicely. Add oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle the posole into heavy bowls and serve with thinly sliced cabbage and radishes, quartered limes, and fresh corn tortillas.
This recipe serves 20-24 people. 

**Using frozen or powdered red or green chile eliminates steps 1-3 -- the preparation and cooking time for the chile mixture.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mabel Dodge Luhan's "Winter in Taos" -- and Solstice 2010

In reading parts of Mabel’s book, Winter in Taos, it occurred to me that she arrived in Taos in December 1916 – one hundred and four years ago. My reading turned up a section by Mabel that seems appropriate to this holiday season:

Tracks in the snow at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House

It is so good to ride horseback in the snow... the snow crunches under the horses hooves, and it is bright and sparkling to make one's eyes ache; but in the shadows, it is a vivid blue....From far away, down in the valley, we can hear a motor racing, or the high-school bell, or sometimes a rooster crowing out of the usual hours; we can see the smoke curling up from the cozy houses and it is pleasant to warm one's heart by these signs -- but sometimes when we are out riding, the snow begins to fall, softly. The sun goes and all the color. There is no wind and the big flakes come down in a leisurely way, turning over and over. Then there are no sounds to be heard except those very near us. We can hear our horses still crunching in the snow, and the dogs breathing, but we cannot see them a few feet away, for a snowfall shuts out the familiar sounds of life.

Among the Christmastime festivities celebrated at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House are a Winter Solstice sit and tea ceremony held before dawn in the classroom at Juniper House. My husband Skip and I attended last year. People arrived in the dark to luminarios lighting the walkway outside and a few candles burning inside on the stage and around the corner fireplace. After an opening ceremony, we sat in the still darkness for some twenty minutes, then did walking meditation. Sitting again, we watched as the celebrant began the tea ceremony. Just as he started whipping up the first cup of powdered green tea into a fine, delicate froth, the sun rose to illuminate the fragrant steam as he poured it—a truly magical moment in time.

This solstice will be marked by a full eclipse of the moon. It seems like an auspicious time. I hope, in the midst of busy preparations for the holidays, you will join me and take a moment for stillness, and to reflect on Mabel’s words:
Yet, if one listens, there is something else one can hear in the silence, something very different from the homely noises of the distant village. Another world is opened up to one in the cessation and the stillness, another music that is hidden deep within the world, that is usually inaudible and that is impossible to describe.
May you, on the occasion of this winter solstice, welcome the return of the Light, hold it and let it warm your hearts.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Introducing Frieda Lawrence

Some time ago I promised to write something about Frieda Lawrence. Since then I have discovered several archival sources that have brought new insights on Frieda—for example, she served as an associate editor for the “New Mexico Writers” page of The New Mexico Sentinel newspaper in the latter 1930s. Although I have read some works on her, I am eager to discover more writing by her. Frieda was a fascinating woman. In The Genius and the Goddess, Aldous Huxley wrote that she was “Hera and Demeter and Aphrodite gloriously rolled into one.” In admiration, Tennessee Williams called her "a valkyrie…a real woman." Intriguing, to say the least. 

Frieda Lawrence, 1938 Courtesy of Jenny Vincent

In my quest to discover the real Frieda, I am following several leads, including setting up interviews with local people who knew her. In the meantime, for those of you who don’t know about her, I provide a few introductory paragraphs from an overview that Karen Young compiled before I became blog host. (Thank you, Karen.)

Frieda von Richthofen was born into an aristocratic family in Metz, Germany. In 1899 she moved to England after marrying the much older, Ernest Weekly, professor of French at the University College, Nottingham. After giving birth to three children, Frieda met the author D.H. Lawrence in March, 1912. Two months later the couple eloped to Europe.

After marrying in 1914, the Lawrences returned to England. At the outbreak of the First World War the authorities became concerned that Frieda was a spy. The couple settled at Zennor in Cornwall, but local people reported that the Lawrences were using the clothes hanging on their washing line to send coded messages to German U-boats. After searching their cottage, the authorities forced the Lawrences to leave the area.

 When D. H. Lawrence was diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis, the couple went to live in Sicily. Over the next few years they also spent time in North America, Mexico and Australia. Novels published by Lawrence during this period included Women in Love (1920), Aaron's Rod (1922), Kangaroo (1923) and The Plumed Serpent (1926). He also wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover but unable to find a publisher, he had it printed privately in Italy.

New Mexico was the place in North America where the Lawrences spent the most time. In 1919, after British authorities relinquished D.H. Lawrence’s confiscated passport, he and Frieda eventually landed in Sicily. In November 1921, while the couple was living at Fontana Vecchia (“Old Fountain”) in Taormina, D.H. received a letter from Mabel Dodge Luhan inviting him to come to Taos.

After a side trip to Ceylon and Australia, the Lawrences finally arrived in Taos on September 11th, 1922 – on D. H.’s thirty-seventh birthday. Both were struck by the beauty of the landscape, as Lawrence would later write: “In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico, one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly and the old world gave way to the new.” *

Frieda echoed her husband’s words in her memoir, Not I, But the Wind: “A new life for us – and we began it straight away. Out from the pueblo to the east of us, a few miles away, came the feel of the Indians, so different from anything we had ever known.”

Frieda and D.H. Lawrence spent months in the Taos area in 1922-1923, 1924 and 1925. I will report on this time and the influence that northern New Mexico had on Frieda during this time of her life as soon as I complete my research.

Adios for now,

* This quote originates from D.H. Lawrence's article, "New Mexico", first published in Survey Graphic in 1928.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mabel Dodge Luhan, Taos and the Inspiration of Place

Lately I've given more thought to the "Why Taos" question, and the phrase "sense of place," a phrase I connect with D.H. Lawrence and his writing. Earlier this week Skip and I met with two remarkable women from California, Linda Lambert and Mary E. Gardner, and with Linda's remarkable husband, Morgan. We talked about the history of Taos, about D.H. Lawrence, about Taos Pueblo as background for Linda's latest historical novel. In the course of our conversation, Linda handed me  "Lawrence of New Mexico," an undated typescript written by Mabel Dodge Luhan.*

Right then, right there--synchronicity at work--I received fresh, new information around Lawrence and sense of place. I share with you two paragraphs from Mabel's typescript:

Of all places where he lived I know he loved Taos best for did he not tell me so, and write it many times, too, when he was far away? How he longed to come back here, and had he been able, perhaps he would be alive today.

Cloudscape by Mort Sheinman, © 2010
He called this country "pristine" and no other word describes it so well. There was a quality in the air, in the spirit of the place, that was more congenial to him than any he ever found in Europe, Asia, or Australia, and it is a strange thing that this genius loci that he loved has much the same effect upon individuals who come here that Lawrence's spirit had upon people? For it also awakens them, stimulates them, makes them more essential; it reveals their buried life, and show them up; it excites them, making them realize the color, taste, sight or sound of unspoiled natural life, almost forgotten in cities.

This seemed the perfect context for a piece written by Mort Sheinman in response to his stay this past summer at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House while taking Harvey Stein's photography workshop. When I put out a call for photos from Harvey's students, I also asked them to comment on their experience at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, on Taos, and on what inspired them. Mort wrote a beautiful, thoughtful essay. With his permission, I am pleased to share it with you.

Have you ever been to a restaurant, enjoyed something you thought was one of the best things you ever ate, then gone back and ordered it again, only to find it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as you remembered? I have, so when I thought about returning to Taos and to Mabel’s this summer for another of Harvey Stein’s photography workshops, it was not without some caution. I had been there for a workshop in the summer of 2008 and it was a rich and rewarding experience. So when I signed up for the 2010 version, I wondered how it would stack up against that memory.

I needn’t have been concerned. The second time around provided even deeper returns. I felt more centered, more at home, entirely at peace. It was great to be back.

I can’t really define the spirit of Taos and the feeling of being at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, but I know this. Whatever it is that’s special about the place — and it is a special place — helps unlock my creative urges. I’m not talking just about the breathtaking landscape and that immense and ever-changing sky. In New York, where I was born, raised and continue to live, there is constant stimulation, an ever-present wave of energy created by the number of people almost literally banging into one another while seeking some piece of personal space — whether it’s space for dwelling or parking a car or simply walking on the sidewalk. If you can deal with it, it’s a high-intensity energy that often fuels creativity. Mabel’s is different. Mabel’s is not Manhattan. My skin seems to fit better out there. At Mabel’s, a great feeling of calm and spiritual well-being suffuses everything, from the way the staff takes care of business to the look of the rooms to the communal dining to the shapes and earth tones of the adobe buildings. In the most basic sense of the word, it is organic. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that one senses the presence of the great artists who are so much a part of the Mabel mystique. They are all around you, and, yes, they inspire, and, yes, they feed the creative flame.

I have been with Harvey for three workshops (one was in Mexico early in 2008) and I can see the differences in the pictures I made then and those from this summer. Perhaps more important, when I pick up a camera now, I feel different. A wise man once said, “Trust your gut.” I’m learning to do that, to have more faith in my own intuition, to risk taking new approaches, to have more confidence about my decisions. The most valuable part, of course, is that this isn’t limited to photography. These are life lessons and they have been learned from Harvey and from my fellow students, and from Mabel, and from all the great ghosts that continue to live in that very special place.

Mort's experience exemplifies how the "genius loci" of Taos continues to inspire people who come here. So too do words from writers like Mabel Dodge Luhan and D.H. Lawrence.

In my latest research, I've come across other writings by Mabel and her circle, some forgotten, some published in obscure places. This material will soon become essays and parts of profiles for future postings.

How has Taos or Mabel or D.H. Lawrence inspired you?

Adios for now. Be well. Write often.


* Mabel's typescript in the  D.H. Lawrence Papers, Fray Angélico Chávez History Library, Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S.A.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What's cookin' at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House? NEWSFLASH...just off the burner...

Kitchen at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House
Two events are on the burner at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House--a cooking class with chef Jane Garrett and a new book.

If you have the time and opportunity, please join Jane Garrett  this coming November 6th and 7th for a weekend exploration of "Cooking Off the Pueblo." Jane's inspiration for this event came from Pamela Martinez, a native of Taos Pueblo, who has been cooking at the Mabel Dodge for fourteen years. Together they prepared a gourmet feast menu, featuring the following dishes: Buffalo Ragout, Harvest Stew, Green Chili Corn Pudding, Roasted Seasonal Vegetables, Prune Pie, and Horno Baked Bread.

For those of you who can't attend, you may enjoy cooking vicariously using Pamela's mini book of cookie recipes (available through the Mabel Dodge Luhan House bookstore), OR if your mouth is watering by now, create your own meal using the recipe (below) for New World Stew.

And hot out of the oven, the book Mabel Dodge Luhan in Her Own Words has just been published (also available through the Mabel Dodge). This 11 x14 inch  picture book, amply illustrated, includes a timeline of Mabel's life, and excerpts from her writing about the house and about Taos.

All of this talk of food and books is making me hungry. I'm off the the kitchen to ladle out some New World Stew. Then I'll put my feet up and enjoy Mabel's newest book.

Be well. Adios for now,

New World Stew

My husband Skip Miller, known as “one of the best camp cooks in the Southwest,” came up with a recipe using ingredients that originate in the Americas. (Yield approximately 12 hearty servings.)

2 onions, chopped
5 cloves of garlic
3 T. peanut oil (yes, it comes from the Americas)
1 pound of turkey burger
2 pounds of fire roasted green chilis
3 cups of water or broth
1 T. mountain oregano (Mexican oregano will work)
4 large potatoes
1 pound fresh or frozen corn
3 cups of cooked pinto or Anasazi beans
2 cups fresh squash
2 T. of cocoa powder

Heat a large (gallon-size) pot. Add oil, onions and garlic. Stir until onions are wilted. Add turkey burger. Stir, break up, and cook until liquid is absorbed and turkey begins to brown. Add green chilis and water or broth, and bring to a gentle simmer.
Cut potatoes into 1 inch cubes and immerse in water. After the stock has come to a boil, add drained potatoes and oregano. Salt to taste. Just before potatoes are crisp done, add beans, corn, squash and cocoa powder. Simmer until potatoes and squash are cooked through. Add more water or broth as necessary. Salt and pepper to taste.
For more zing, add a chipotle pepper (either dry or canned) when the vegetables are added.
Ladle into a bowl and serve with tortilla chips. ENJOY!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Profile Natalie Goldberg: Slow walking and writing down the bones

Photo by Noreen Perrin

I had the land of New Mexico, Taos Mountain, the Rio Grande to rely on....I had found a place that was mine. I realized no day went by there that I didn't stop, take a breath and look around. I'd never seen sky so big, so deeply blue. I'd watch the big white cumulus clouds sail over Taos Mountain and then wispy ones trail behind. I felt immense, limitless as the sky and in the same moment felt unimportant, little--and that smallness felt good, placed me properly in the dimension of life. -- Natalie Goldberg

Author, poet, painter and teacher Natalie Goldberg has taught numerous writing workshops at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House since about 1986. The quote (above) from her book Long Quiet Highway speaks to her abiding love for Taos and to how the area informed her life in her early years of writing. But how did she get here? What was her path to Taos and to writing? I hope the following pastiche will answer that.

Natalie lived in a tipi on the side of Lama Mountain when she first arrived in the early 1970s. An awakening experience she had while teaching in Albuquerque landed her at the Lama Foundation in San Cristobal, twenty miles north of Taos. The first person Natalie met was Barbara Durkee (now known as Asha von Brieson), one of the intentional commune’s founders. Her encounter with this remarkable woman and the Lama Foundation proved life-changing. First Asha encouraged her to find a practice. Natalie subsequently experienced the variety of spiritual traditions—ranging from Native American spiritualism to Judaism—offered at the Lama Foundation. Later Asha supported Natalie in another way. As head of the “hippie school” DaNahazli (Navajo for spring will come again), she hired her to teach there, giving Natalie free rein to develop classes. Through this venue Natalie began to develop the writing practice that culminated in the publication of Writing Down the Bones.

Whether you are just beginning to write or have been writing for a long time, Natalie Goldberg lets you know "there are many truths. To do writing practice means to deal ultimately with your whole life."  -- from review of Writing Down the Bones : Freeing the Writer Within (expanded version, 2005) by Mary Ann Moore*

In an interview with Jenny Attiyeh**, Natalie ascribes the success of Writing Down the Bones (since its first publication in 1986, sales have numbered over 1.5 million copies and the book has been translated into 14 languages) to breaking a paradigm about writing. Natalie likens writing as a practice to the discipline practiced by committed athletes, say a runner or a tennis player. Using the method she first developed at DaNahazli and first conducted with a writing group of eight Taos women in the mid-1970s, Natalie combined writing practice with Zen. After twelve years of study with Katagiri Roshi in Minneapolis, she saw correlations between writing and the 2000-year-old Zen practice of watching the mind. For Natalie writing practice is Zen practice: there is no separation. “It’s all interconnected and interpenetrated.”

As a writing teacher, Natalie sees her job as helping people to understand the process of writing and simultaneously to understand the movements of the mind. Throughout her books on writing, Natalie advocates certain basics for timed sessions meant to get to the heart (or the bones) of writing. Some of my favorites are:

Write! Don’t think.
Keep your hand moving.
Don’t cross out.
Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.
Feel free to write the worst junk in America.

What does writing practice do? In Thunder and Lightning, Natalie addresses this with an example. She and a friend had the blues one Sunday. To ease this condition, they tried meditating, then hiking. When neither activity relieved the doldrums, the two alternated writing for half an hour with reading their a priori work aloud to each other. It worked, as Natalie wrote: “The effort of forming words, physically connecting hand with mind and heart, and then having the freedom to read aloud transformed us.”

I push people off a cliff, get their hands moving. -- Natalie Goldberg, October 12, 2010

Deep-delving explorations of life through writing are characteristic of Natalie’s workshops. I asked her to tell me about a typical one, about what to expect. “You do a lot of writing.” Natalie teaches "a priori" or first thought writing that gets down to the bones. She fosters “a trust in your own voice, a confidence in your own experience, and a way to approach writing.” As a teacher, she is a proponent of “Shut up and write.” That’s her method in a nutshell.

Natalie’s next workshop at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, “True Secret of Writing” (December 6-11, 2010), will be held in silence. She calls it a “Sit, Walk, Write Retreat” as it will alternate between timed writings and sitting and walking meditation. Maybe Natalie will lead a slow walk to the cemetery in Kit Carson Park to pay homage to fellow writer, Mabel Dodge Luhan.

A list of Natalie Goldberg’s books follows. I am particularly grateful to her for her interview with me this month and for Writing Down the Bones, which sustained me through my early years of writing when I most needed a teacher. I salute this remarkable woman.

Be well. Adios for now,

* Marianne Moore's review was posted on Story Circle Book Reviews on March 30, 2006. For the full review, see, accessed October 26, 2010
** Listen to Jenny Attiyeh's interview with Natalie at ThoughtCast
For more information on Natalie Goldberg, please visit

Books by Natalie Goldberg:

Chicken and In Love, 1980
Writing Down the Bones : Freeing the Writer Within, 1986
Wild Mind : Living the Writer's Life, 1990
Long Quiet Highway : Waking Up In America, 1993
Banana Rose, 1995
Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World, 1997
Thunder And Lightning : Cracking Open the Writer's Craft, 2000
Top of My Lungs: Paintings and Poems, 2003
The Great Failure : A Bartender, A Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth, 2004
Old Friend From Far Away : The Practice of Writing Memoir, 2008

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mabel and the remarkable Mabel Dodge Luhan House staff answer "What is the attraction of Taos?"

After the blog launch this past August, "What attracts so many strong women to Taos?" was one question I asked the Mabel Dodge Luhan staff. However, before I share some of their answers, Mabel wants a word. Her thoughts on this question appeared in an article for the New Mexico Quarterly in 1951.

View of Taos Mountain from the Mabel Dodge Luhan House
        Taos brings out the particularity in people. It is the most individualizing place in the world, I think. As Frank Waters says, it is the last outpost of individualism left!
        There is no standardization here, no social structure. People do not live according to a single pattern....Side-by-side, people live their own lives and not the community's life. They do as they please, they say what they think, and nobody cares, for everyone is busy doing likewise. There is only one vague imperative seeming to guide them all. If they come and do not fit into the good spirit of Taos, they do not stay. They cannot. Nobody tells them to go away, they just disappear.
     I do not believe I am imagining this. Taos does things to people. So many people came! Sometimes they stayed, others went away but came back; some like Georgia O'Keeffe never altogether went away....Oh, yes! Taos does things to people.

Six decades later, women have their own views, in answer to the attraction of Taos for strong women. Here's what some of the staff at the Mabel Dodge had to say:

One of the legends of Taos is that it is a hard place to live. You have to be strong to survive here. To some this is a shock and to others a challenge. Perhaps one of the secrets of Taos is it calls forth hidden strengths. -- Judi Jordan

Her aunt's stories about Taos in the 1940s and 1950s initially attracted Judi to Taos; the "sheer aching physical beauty" of the people and landscape kept her here.

Marsha Skinner spoke to Judi's "hard place to live" comment in Lyn Bleiler and Robbie Steinbach's  forthcoming book, A Precarious Balance: Creative Women in Taos New Mexico: "I've been a desk clerk, a bookseller, an assistant curator, an editor, a gardener, a cleaning person, and am now a desk clerk once again." That's often what it takes to be an artist here. Marsha stated that her life is so rooted in the landscape and cultures of Taos that it is impossible for her to think of living elsewhere. Here's why:

Permission in the air to make art. Income not the measure of value. Spiritual and artistic adventures. Adventures in life-making. -- Marsha Skinner

For Bonnie McManus many of the same attributes that attracted generations of artists also appeal to her: "open acres of  sage-studded land, the vast blue sky, the enduring Pueblo." She looks to the strong women who preceded her, women with a sense of adventure, a desire (like Mabel's) to be free of social constraints experienced elsewhere, conditions that allow them the freedom to become individuals, to re-invent themselves. She notes that women often become remarkable in order to survive in Taos. Like many others, to live here sometimes means holding down two or three jobs, something she's willing to do in order to stay.

It's a remarkable place!  There is so much creativity here, it's catching. I'm planning to dabble in art, some painting and collage.... -- Bonnie McManus

Over the next months, I will continue to share thoughts from staff and from readers about the influence of time spent in Taos, and the reasons this region attracts so many strong, independent-minded women. Let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Be well,

Next: an interview with Natalie Goldberg, author of several books, including Writing Down the Bones and Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

End of summer: photos to celebrate the unique light of Taos

In my August 28th posting, I mentioned Ansel Adams and his book titled Taos Pueblo (1930). Harvey Stein's workshop at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House got  me thinking about photography and about the lineage of art traditions. As I worked to finish this post, I still needed an Ansel Adams photo. My husband remembered one of him by local Taos photographer Chuck Henningsen. I visited with Chuck and he gave me permission to use his photo of Ansel Adams set in Yosemite. Ansel Adams was a remarkable man -- master photographer, and a generous mentor and teacher to thousands of students. Here's how he got his start...

Ansel and the Range of Light by Chuck Henningsen, © 2010
A decision to photograph Taos Pueblo in collaboration with author Mary Austin brought Adams to Taos in summer 1929. A guest of Mabel's, he met Georgia O'Keeffe and Rebecca Strand, both connected with New York's Stieglitz circle of modernist painters and photographers. When Adams returned the following summer to work with Austin, he found Rebecca and her photographer husband, Paul Strand, staying at Mabel's. Paul Strand's photos conveyed a luminosity and clarity that Adams did not believe a camera capable of capturing. After seeing Strand's work. Adams abandoned a potential career as a concert pianist to become a photographer.

That kind of mentoring is still happening at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. In late August I met seasoned New York photographer Harvey Stein, who offers an annual workshop at the Mabel Dodge. It occurred to me that it would be fun to feature snippets from his class. I wondered why Harvey chose Taos. (He has a book of New Mexico photographs in the works.) The answer came in his workshop raison d'etre:

       New Mexico has been described as a place of inviolate, pristine
       beauty, engendering an almost spiritual feeling for the land and
       the overwhelming sense of peacefulness. Since the 1880's
       photographers and artists (Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Strand, Ansel
       Adams, Laura Gilpin, Eliot Porter) have been irresistibly drawn
       to the incredible landscape, brilliant clear light, and rich
       Native American heritage.

For over three decades I have dealt with why Taos attracted painters; it was refreshing to get a photographer's take on this region and its particularities. I also learned from Harvey that part of the adventure--besides coming to grips with the brilliance and ephemeral qualities of light and atmosphere in northern New Mexico--would be to explores the diversity of our area. He arranged for a van to transport his students to the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, to the depths of the Rio Grande Gorge, to sites and sights around Taos, to neighboring villages, traveling as far as Santa Fe, Ghost Ranch and Georgia O'Keeffe country, with the cliffs and hills around Abiquiu.

I asked Harvey if his students might be interested in showing their work. He sent out a call for photos to his students. Three of them responded, their photos and comments in response to the Taos area follow.

Lonely Landscape by Carly Blake Sebouhian, © 2010

As soon as I arrived at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, our home away from home for our photography workshop, I knew the week ahead was going to be exactly what I had hoped. The peace, quiet and beauty that surrounds the house is just what I need to find the creativity that I feel sometimes gets buried in the chaos of New York....I found everywhere we went to be so different, and loved trying to capture the feelings and emotions of each place in my photographs. -- Carly Blake Sebouhian

Taos Pueblo Crosses by Jonathan Blum, © 2010

I’m not used to desert-like environments, and being in those spots really made me think about scale, and how, in terms of scale, we (people) are so insignificant in comparison to the natural world in which we live. -- Jonathan Blum

Rio Grande Gorge by Mort Sheinman, © 2010
   I can't really define the spirit of Taos and the feeling of being at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, but I know this. Whatever it is that's special about the place -- and it is a special place -- helps unlock my creative urges. -- Mort Sheinman

This subject seemed fitting as summer ends with the fall equinox, and the light changes. I hope that you have enjoyed these photos as much as I have. It's wonderful to see the lineage of photography from Ansel Adams in 1930 to Harvey Stein's students seventy years later.

The response from Harvey and his students has inspired me to feature other workshops across the creative spectrum in future postings. It's good to know that the same qualities that attracted the early painters and photographers to Taos continue to lure creative artists to our area -- and to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.

Adios for now,


Photos courtesy of Chuck Henningsen, Carly Blake Sebouhian, Jonathan Blum and Mort Sheinman