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

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Summer Photo Review: July at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Salon Dodge, and the Mystical Arts of Tibet

From 1913 to 1916 Mabel Dodge opened her New York home at 23 Fifth Avenue to avant garde movers and shakers. In recognition of Mabel's ability to draw people out, writer Lincoln Steffens urged her to "have evenings."  Mabel held her first salon in January 1913, which provided a forum for "radicals" of that period. A year later a New York reporter devoted a full page to "The Salon Dodge" where, according to the topic, an eminent Columbia University professor might speak on Freud and psychoanalysis, or an English scientist discuss eugenics, or feminist leaders argue for communal nurseries, birth control and higher education for women. 

Mabel Dodge, no date 
During those New York years Mabel explored various aspects of spirituality, including mysticism and theosophy. Later poet Witter Bynner, one of the earliest American translators of Chinese poetry, introduced Mabel to Laotzu and Taoism. With her interest in eastern spirituality, I think she might have conducted a salon around the mystic arts of Tibet.
Tibetan monks with Judi Jordan at Juniper House
This past July, eleven Buddhist monks and their driver from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Dharamsala visited the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.These Tibetan monks have been coming to Taos since the 1990s. This is the third or fourth time the Mabel Dodge has hosted them.Years ago I attended a performance of Tibetan sacred music at the Juniper House (the Mabel Dodge's classroom/meditation hall/performance space). This year, however, the focus was different.

Although they spent most of their time at Juniper House, I first noticed the monks in the kitchen helping Chef Jane Garrett with lunch preparations. Maria Fortin caught them cutting up vegetables.
One monk told me how the Mabel Dodge Luhan House staff made everyone feel at home. Their happy faces appear in so many of the photos Maria took of them, like the one with Karen Young in the dining room. (The monks honored Maria for her managing skills and kind assistance throughout their visit;  you'll meet her soon.)
Karen directed me to Juniper House where the monks were constructing a sand mandala. I went to investigate. I found out that it takes years of training to construct mandalas. A young monk memorizes texts that define the basic structure of each design (there are numerous Tibetan mandalas, each representing specific enlightened beings), learns to draw a chalk pattern outlining it, and then masters the exact placement of the sand as well as how to control the pour of colored sand from the cornet onto the mandala's chalk pattern.
Placing colored sand using cornets (inside Juniper House)

During their visit the Dalai Lama celebrated his 75th birthday. The monks honored him with sacred chanting  and music.
Honoring the Dalai Lama on his birthday (Juniper House)
In seven days, the monks completed the mandala. On Saturday afternoon, the time came to dismantle it. 

Prior to the closing ceremony, Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, spiritual director of the Drepung Loseling Institute in Atlanta, explained that the mandala -- here a beautiful sand painting -- is more than a work of art. It represents the healing Amiya Buddha, and throughout the week the monks became that being, represented that being, and offered  prayers for healing, supplications for blessings and peace for the community and for the world. The dismantling of the mandala represents impermanence, a symbolic reminder of change. In a traditional ceremonial manner, the sand is swept into swirls until the pattern dissolves and leaves a mound of color. 

Along with several other observers, I received one of the small bags of sand from the monks to use for healing. The monks gathered the other half into an urn, drove to a nearby river, and poured the sand into the water. The river will carry the sand to bless the ocean...and the blessings will someday fall as rain.

I think Mabel would have liked that.

Adios for now,

NEXT: Mabel and the defense of native rights, the 40th anniversary of the return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo

Mabel Dodge photo courtesy of the Beineke Library, Yale University
All other photos by Maria Fortin, Mabel Dodge Luhan House

Friday, September 3, 2010

More on Mabel -- from Spud Johnson's Point of View

I know I promised Frieda, but Mabel wasn't ready to relinquish the stage yet...

Poet, columnist and editor Walter Willard "Spud" Johnson edited and wrote news for his own periodical, The Horse Fly, and for a while managed and ran the Laughing Horse Press in Taos. (more on Spud at a later time). In the 1930s he contributed to various newspapers: "The Perambulator" column to the short-lived newspaper, The Santa Fe Plaza; and eventually to the Taos newspaper, El Crepusculo (the dawn), later The Taos News.

Spud knew Mabel (and Frieda and Brett) well. He began working at Los Gallos as Mabel's secretary in 1927. The following piece on Mabel [printed verbatim] was written in the 1930s for Johnson's "Kindly Karicatures" feature in El Crepusculo.  

Drawing of Mabel by artist Oscar Berninghaus

SHE IS A FRIEND of the Indians and the Spanish-Americans, writes about the Olympians of American Arts and Letters, and is the undisputed intellectual high priestess of Taos.

    What Witter Bynner is to the Southwest along poetic lines, Mabel Dodge Luhan is to Taos along creative prose.

    Mabel Dodge Luhan has been described as absorbing, witty, sensational, frank and gay. She is all of that and something more. She is Mabel Dodge Luhan, a Southwestern institution, by many looked upon and envied, she is a character that Oscar Berninghaus's series of kindly caricatures will be incomplete without.

    She is the gayest entertainer on record in present days. She has acted as hostess to fabulously titled persons. Great and near great who at some time or another have visited Taos have absorbed a particle or two of that artistic atmosphere that Taos is nationally famous for.

    Undoubtedly, she is the wealthiest resident of the Southwest. Her income comes from power. The dew drops of Niagra Falls have been kind to her economic stability. Being the grand hostess that she is, Mabel Dodge Luhan has made the whole world her backyard playground.

    At Villa Curonia, in romantic Florence, Italy, she showed all Europeans that when an American entertains, she entertains. Nothing was too good for her guests. Leading world citizens came and went. There was Eleonore Duse; Lady Paget; Gertrude Stein who writes like Gertrude Stein; Gordon Craig, the liberator of the theater; Jacques Emile Blanche and countless others. All have received Mabel Dodge Luhan's hospitality. Her "European Experiences" speak about them.

    An author of the first rank, her books are characterized for their candid expose of the workings of the human psychic machinery. The aesthetic Lorenzo -- better known as D.H. Lawrence -- was her friend in Taos...have you read "Lorenzo in Taos?"

    In spite of her leading position in the literary and social world of America, Mabel Dodge Luhan takes time to think about matters that pertain to Taos.

    As a resident of Taos she has formed definite economic theories regarding the economic salvation of the native Spanish-Americans. She opines that true relief will come by the establishment of community barter markets where the public congregates, exhibits its goods and exchanges the same for other goods from their friend neighbors. She also believes that eating Chile is detrimental to racial imagination.

    The Taos Indians, she cherishes their friendship. She has them nearest to her heart. She married the most picturesque of all Taos Indians, Tony Lujan.
*     *     *     *     *

Spud's words and wit still makes me laugh. I hope you enjoyed his insight on Mabel.

Adios for now,

NEXT WEEK: Mabel and the defense of native rights, and a very special celebration coming up in Taos...