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.


  1. Really lovely post. And it is spot on. I came to Taos about 15 years ago, when there was no other place for me. It is a place to work, to reinvent, to be, could anyone ask for more? So beautiful, but that is only the superficial, only what one sees. Taos is so much more. And maybe you have to stick around for awhile. Let it get under your skin, flow through your veins, let it become you, and you it. For me Taos is a place of hermits, everyone is doing their thing, becoming who they are....based on long tradition, it's just not like anywhere I've been.

  2. taos does things to people: appreciating mabel, judi, marsha, and bonnie's thoughts!

  3. Thank you, Neva and Annell, for your comments. Taos does do things to people -- so often those who have left find a way to come back. Yes, I once described Taos as a community of hermits. Natalie Goldberg has some things to add as well, will post by early next week.

  4. Liz, I really resonate with the passages and quotes you chose to describe Taos, and the toolbox all we wise women need to draw from.

  5. I travel to Taos whenever I can...reading your blog is food for my soul, I can feel the air and the echo of the sky....I am so enhanced, thank you.

  6. Thank you, Kary! I appreciate your feedback. I'm just about to launch a short called "Why Taos?" in an effort to post more frequently.
    All best to you,