Friday, August 6, 2010

Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Remarkable Women of Taos Inaugural Blogsite Posting

A Sign from Taos: “The Three Fates” Launch Mabel and the Remarkable Women of Taos Blogsite

Weeks ago I heard that the New Mexico State Highway Department had called the Mabel Dodge Luhan House to ask where the staff wanted their highway sign placed. “What sign? We didn’t order a sign…. No, we don’t want a highway sign in our driveway.”

Then staffer Karen Young noticed a new highway sign on Route 64, placed near the “Places of Interest” marker, just a mile north of the crossroads leading to the Rio Grande Gorge to the west and to the Taos Ski Valley to the east. It read: “THE THREE FATES.”
Intrigued I went looking for the sign. After one failed attempt, I finally located it, and took this picture.

As I had hoped “THE THREE FATES” referred to Mabel, Frieda Lawrence and Dorothy Brett. The sign’s text read:
Three extraordinary women contributed to the unique artistic culture of Taos in the 20th Century. Sometimes called “The Three Fates”, they had a long, passionate and often contentious relationship with each other. Mabel Dodge Luhan created a haven for artists, writers and musicians at her Taos home, including D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda. They arrived in Taos in 1924 with their friend, Dorothy Brett.
Well if that isn’t synchronicity at work: that this sign should appear just at the time of the blog launch for “Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Remarkable Women of Taos.”
The idea for this blog came from a question posed at a Mabel Dodge Luhan staff meeting in early August 2008:
  • “What is it about Taos that has proven, over the last 80 years, to provide such a supportive and encouraging environment for strong, independent-minded women, and has encouraged them to successfully pursue their careers, their lives, and their professional and artistic interests.?”
This question of why this area has attracted so many remarkable women has provided a discussion topic for several other residents of and visitors to Taos. Steve Parks, Director of Parks Gallery in Taos, ponders this in “Taos Women,” the introduction to a forthcoming book A Precarious Balance: Creative Women in Taos, New Mexico by Robbie Steinbach and Lyn Bleiler, featuring photos and quotes from a cross-section of women living in Taos County – dancers, visual artists, musicians, writers and those who live a creative life.
In an excerpt from the introduction, Parks conveys his early impressions of some remarkable Taos women:
When I stumbled into Taos for the first time, September 30, 1973, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. A few months earlier I’d packed my small family into a Volkswagen van, crossed the Hudson and headed west in search of a new life. …I quickly became enamored with the town and its history, and one of my first and strongest impressions was that the place was filled with strong, independent women. In those years, 4 of the 5 best galleries in town were owned by women – Maggie Kress and Tally Richards, Mary Sanchez and Rena Rosequist. The co-founder of the Lama Foundation was Asha Breeson, a woman of great physical and spiritual authority. Billy Blair was the fearless editor of the Taos News. All the elected officials in the town and the county were male, but arguably the most influential political figure in town was Sally Howell – she gave me my first job in town as her gardener. Then I tended bar for a few years at the old La Cocina on the plaza, a raucous joint on a Saturday night but nobody messed with Ruth Moya, the sweet but steely strong cocktail waitress who could stop a drunken brawl without raising her voice.
Halfway through his essay, Parks poses two questions:
  • Why Taos?
  • What attracted so many strong women?
Part of the Mabel and the Remarkable Women of Taos blog’s goal is to invite a dialog around those two questions and two more:
  • Looking at the lives of remarkable women like Mabel Dodge Luhan, Frieda Lawrence and Dorothy Brett, what brought them here? What caused them to stay?
  • What is it about Taos that invites women who come here to become remarkable women?
Those of you who have spent time at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House might have noticed some remarkable women among the staff. I thought they would provide some interesting answers. I decided to ask them and some of the remarkable women who conduct workshops here -- like Natalie Goldberg and Michele Cassou – to serve as my sample group. As of this post, they are writing down their thoughts.

In the meantime, as I eagerly await that group’s responses, I invite you to answer these questions, too.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Liz Cunningham, blog host

What’s next: Profiling women of Taos; The First of the Three Fates: Mabel Dodge Luhan


  1. This is absolutely wonderful!!! My husband and I visited Taos last summer, stayed in the MabelDodge Luhan house, and fell in love with the area. I could feel the creative spirit of the place, and when I came home (to the east coast), my pottery took on a whole new dimension. I'm sure this was influenced by visit to Taos. I will enjoy keeping up with your posts. Amy

  2. I sure hope you will write at some point about Eya Fechin, Nicolai's daughter, who certainly qualifies as one of Taos' remarkable women! An extraordinary spirit whose story deserves to be told as well!

  3. Congratulations on the launch of this blog! I look forward to turning to it for inspiration. And may I contribute a link to a (former) Taoseno who certainly deserves credit for continuing the tradition of strong, smart, tough and powerful women -- namely Natalie Goldberg? I had the privilege of interviewing her a while back for ThoughtCast:
    Thanks very much!

  4. i first came to taos in 1969... in the spring. fresh out of college. it felt like home. i stayed for a few years. and i was able to call mabel's 'my home'for over a year after mr. hopper purchased it. mabel's granddaughter bonnie was a friend of mine, and helped make me part of the crew that kept some sanity as restoration began and a movie was edited. over the last 40 years, i've returned to taos almost every summer during my teaching breaks, and to mabel's for the last six or seven years. i do feel remarkable, it's true, when i'm there, especially surrounded by the remarkable women on staff in house and as guests in the workshops. mabel's draw sustains, and brings together still some of the most REMARKABLE women with great strength, energy, inquisitiveness, and centers all into states of graceful peace.

  5. A remarkable lady and myself will visit in October and look forward to meeting the staff at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. My friend is a 30-year Army veteran who has commanded huge hospital nursing staffs. Her strength comes from her love of nursing and providing the best care possible for patients. I think it is a wonderful coincidence that we are staying in a home of strong, smart, tough and powerful woman--it reminds me of my friend, Lennie Enzel, the greatest Army nurse, i served with. CJ Moore

  6. My husband & I are scheduled to spend a night in the Robinson Jeffers room next month and I am even more excited about that prospect after reading this blog! I wonder though why Georgia O'Keefe is not mentioned here. It has been my understanding that she lived in Taos at one point in her career and loved being there. Am I wrong? Regardless, a toast to all the "Strong Women of Taos"! Virginia

  7. and I MUST include SAS COLBY...whose workshops at MABEL'S channel the ART SPIRIT, as well as MABEL'S SPRIT (one in the same)!! great women gather each year and seem to be fueled from the energy of both ...

  8. i wrote earlier to make note of sas colby's influence as a "remarkable woman" who draws many other remarkable women to mabel's every summer. sas's "studio in the sky" workshops certainly pay homage to, or perhaps 'channels' mabel's art spirited soul!

  9. I believe you're right about Georgia O'Keeffe, Virginia. One of the bedrooms in the house is named after her, and I stayed in it the first time I attended one of Natalie Goldberg's writing retreats. The room seemed full of her presence.

  10. How wonderful! I've stayed at the Lodge twice and each time felt so inspired. Can't wait to find out more about the remarkable women out there as well as contribute to your endeavor!

  11. Forgive me, I just tested the comments response mechanism, and I still have some kinks to work out. SO....

    Oh how I have enjoyed reading your comments. It's exciting to have followers, too. And for those of you that will be staying at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, you are in for a treat!

    To respond to some of your comments:

    . Jenny, thank you so much for sending the link to the interview you conducted with Natalie Goldberg. What an informative piece-it's lovely to be able to hear Natalie's voice (and to hear her read an excerpt from her
    book, "The Great Failure" and see a sampling of her paintings) and her reflections on writing.

    . Virginia and Nancy, yes, Mabel Dodge Luhan hosted Georgia O'Keeffe and fellow adventurer and artist Rebecca Strand (then married to
    photographer Paul Strand) in late spring and part of the summer of 1929.
    Their experience in Taos and northern New Mexico transformed their lives.
    Georgia O'Keeffe (as well as Rebecca) will be subjects of posts sometime in the near future.

    . CJ Moore, how good to hear mention of your friend, Army nurse Lennie Enzel. If you have the time during your stay at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, I would be honored to hear more about her.

    . Neva, appreciate your feedback and your words about and experience with Sas Colby. It's been years since I've seen her, and I look forward to reconnecting with her. How wonderful also to have a direct connection with Mabel through your friendship with her granddaughter Bonnie.

    . RE: Eya Fechin - I will also be profiling Eya. I had the privilege of knowing her and will continue to gather stories on her from Taosenos who knew her.

    I wanted to let you know that I will be creating a newsletter to give an overview of each month's postings - in digest form. If you wish to receive this, please provide me with your email.

    Looking forward to your next comments.


  12. I stayed at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house when Bonnie, her granddaughter lived there. I was eight years old and was with my parents. I remember waking up and everyone in the house was asleep. . .I walked through the house while it was quiet, not knowing where I was but feeling like I was in a womb...the art, the books, there was a presence I have never felt before or after. . .and then I made it to the kitchen! That beautiful kitchen and dining room. Fourty years later my Mom and I went back and stayed in the guest house - still the same feeling. My Mom died this year...I hope to go back and continue the memories. We were both pulled back to this special place...and we'll meet there again soon.

  13. My husband and I have stayed several times - we've always had Tony's room and enjoy the D.H.Lawrence painting of the windows in "our" bathroom. I became aware of MDL when I happened upon her "European Experiences" at a rare book fair. I also recommend "Edge of Taos Desert". We look forward to many, many return visits.