Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Inaugural Remarkable Women of Taos Immersion weekend

In the synchronistic way of Taos, Remarkable Women events conjoined to create the inaugural immersion weekend showcase on the weekend of February 24th and 25th. For me, this weekend came as the culmination of months of long hours researching, writing and soliciting profiles of some of Taos's remarkable women and helping assemble a roster of Remarkable Women of Taos events (currently running through December 8, 2012).

One event grew out of a historic woman profile I was commissioned to write. If you've been following this blog, a historic scenic marker paying tribute to Mabel, Frieda Lawrence and Dorothy Brett provided the context for my first posting. The search for this marker led me to another one that featured Taos Pueblo potter Virginia T. Romero. To find out more about her life, this past winter I met with her children and their families to interview them. As none of these women's scenic markers had ever been dedicated (there is a 3rd one in Taos), we decided to bring them to public attention with a roadside dedication.

From attending the 2010 ribbon-cutting for the Peggy Pond Church/Marjorie Bell Chambers marker in Los Alamos, I learned about the New Mexico Women's Historic Marker Initiative and met some of its co-founders and members. Established in 2005 by members of the New Mexico Women's Forum, the initiative recognizes women's contributions to New Mexico on the state's Official Scenic Historic Markers. To date, the initiative (funded by the 2006 state legislature) has placed 64 historic markers throughout the state to ensure that "women's diverse histories will be remembered and told, and will inspire and provide a guide for future generations."

After settling on the date of February 25th with the Romero family, Mabel Dodge Luhan House staffer Karen Young and I helped with preparations for the roadside dedication of the Virginia T. Romero marker. As it turned out the date fell on the same day as the 90th anniversary celebration, "Who's Been Sleeping at Mabel's? Three Generations of Utopian Visions at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House." The timing coincided with exhibitions on women artists at three Taos museums that had opened weeks prior. And to top it off, on Friday, February 24th, to honor of the Remarkable Women of Taos and the 90th anniversary of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Las Taoseñas--"daughters, grandmothers, mothers and crones encompassing five decades of life"--hosted an evening of poetry and music that provided the entree into Saturday's full roster of events. We had the makings of the Inaugural Remarkable Women of Taos Immersion weekend, to officially launch the project--and it became the cover story in the Taos News' Tempo Magazine.

Virginia T. Romero    Photo © Stephen Trimble*

Here's what happened as writer Ariana Kramer told it:

     The remarkable women of Taos. Many have been noticed, but few have been noted down for posterity. That is about to change, and salon-hostess Mabel Dodge Luhan appears to be the responsible party.
      It all started when the women who currently run the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, now a retreat center, asked writer Elizabeth Cunningham to start a blog featuring Luhan and other "Remarkable Women of Taos."
    The project soon spiraled outward and the Town of Taos picked up the idea for its 2012 tourism theme. This weekend kicks off a year of activities celebrating the many women who have contributed to Taos' past and present. The effort aims to provide further insight into the contributions and qualities of those often remarked upon women like Luhan and her cohorts. It also hopes to share their limelight with the many influential Taoseñas who have pursued their passions unnoticed and unremarked upon.**

Adriana's story, "Unsung Heroines: Poetry, music, art and conversation celebrates the powerful women of Taos"  led with a quote from Virginia T. Romero: 

Nobody taught me how to make pottery. My mother made pots. I used to cook and do housework, but I saw her make them. I never thought I would touch the clay. Then one day my husband and my father went for clay. My father gave me a bag of clay and told me, “Daughter this will give you all you need—food, clothing and money.” And, you know, he was right. – Virginia T. Romero, 1989

And the Virginia T. Romero roadside marker dedication headlined the weekend events. At 11 a.m. on February 25th dignitaries from Taos Pueblo, the Town of Taos, the State of New Mexico and the family of Virginia T. Romero, visitors and the greater community turned out for the roadside dedication of the women's historic marker honoring Taos Pueblo potter Virginia T. Romero (1896-1998). The festivities, emceed by Virginia's great-grandson Clyde Romero Jr., opened with an song by the Taos Pueblo Drum group.

Taos Pueblo Drum Group    Photo © Rick Romancito ***

Among the speakers were Taos Pueblo Governor Laureano B. Romero (far left below) who expressed  pride on behalf of tribal members for the recognition this beloved grandmother received from the State of New Mexico.War Chief Ben Sandoval recalled that the multi-talented Virginia T. Romero made the traditional white wedding boots for his wife.

Robin Collier recording comments of Clyde Romero Sr.
The sons of Virginia T. Romero, Paul Romero and Clyde Romero Sr., told about their mother, a woman who was deeply connected and committed to the traditional lifeways of Taos Pueblo. A busy mother of 10 children, Virginia took time out from household chores and making pottery to bring lunch to the men who worked the fields of the corn, wheat and oats that helped sustain the family.

Examples of Virginia T. Romero's pottery

Family members recalled how Virginia's fame as a potter brought her worldwide recognition. Today her works are in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum and the Southwest Museum of the American Indian (now part of the Autry National Center in Los Angeles), the School of American Research and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, and the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos.

New Mexico Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales addressed women's contribution to the state's history, part of "what makes us unique." Next Beverly Duran,  co-founder of the Women's Historic Marker Initiative, stated the importance of honoring the unsung women of New Mexico and how their stories might inspire young women to follow their example and a similar path.

The ceremony closed with an old beloved round dance song from the Taos Drum Group, one that Virginia T. Romero might have danced to. Afterwards Paul Romero invited Beverly Duran and six other representatives of the marker initiative to pose with him and some of Virginia's other children in front of the marker they had helped create.

Virginia T. Romero's children and members of the NM Women's Forum****

Then Virginia T. Romero's remaining children stepped up and took their places for a photograph. I quickly captured the moment because the Romeros had to leave within minutes. They and their relatives were hosting a traditional Taos Pueblo feast for all dignitaries and the community present at the honoring.

L-R: Celestino, Jimmy, Paul, Tony, Catherine and Clyde Sr.

Days later, Nancy Bartlitt (New Mexico Women's Forum member from Los Alamos) wrote me saying how honored she was to be invited to the dedication of the Historic Marker for Virginia T. Romero and how the event brought happiness to many lives. Nancy concluded her note: "It was fun to be in the open sky, huge mountains as the comforting backdrop, and see the faces of the family and Pueblo tribal members beaming with great pride."

I echo Nancy's sentiment. It gave me deep satisfaction to headline the weekend (and the year's events to follow) with the honoring of such a deserving remarkable woman from Taos Pueblo. I believe this would have pleased Mabel equally as much.

Stay tuned. I'll be introducing the remarkable women I've met and written about as well as keeping you posted on exhibitions and events (including our "Meetings with Remarkable Women" workshop) created around them.

Adios for now,

I would like to thank Rick Romancito, Ariana Kramer,The Taos News, Beverly Duran and Nancy Bartlitt for their contributions to this posting.

* Published in Talking with the Clay: The Art of Pueblo Pottery in the 21st Century  by Stephen Trimble, revised edition. Copyright 2007 by School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico.” Photo © 2012 Stephen Trimble /
 ** from "Unsung Heroines" by Ariana Kramer. Tempo Magazine/The Taos News, February 23-29, 2012:24-25.
*** Caption reads: "Little Kiana Bozzuto attends the roadside marker dedication honoring Taos Pueblo micaceous pottery-maker Virginia T. Romero, Saturday (Feb. 25) Photo courtesy of Rick Romancito, appeared in Tempo/The Taos News' March 1-7, 2012 edition: 38.
****Left to right:  Jimmy Romero, Paul Romero, Rhonda Faught, Barbara Beasley Murphy, Bev Duran, Paula Tackett, Catherine Romero, Nancy  Bartlit, Betty Downes. Present but not pictured New Mexico Women's Forum member Karen Durkovich.