There is an attractive group of women artists in Taos, cosmopolitan, industrious, and sociable. It is amazing that some of these women, accustomed as they are to the life of cities both here and in Europe, to the glamour of Spain, the artless natural charm of Bavaria, the brilliant salons of Paris, are content to struggle with the daily inconveniences of Taos life.
Indeed Mary Blumenschein's initial period in Taos lasted less than 2 weeks. In 1913, coaxed to try living in the remote village by her husband, Ernest, she bravely agreed. When she and 4-year-old Helen arrived in 1913, the family stayed in rented rooms in the Wengert boarding house. Having no fresh dairy milk available for their sickly daughter, no electricity, and no house to make a home, when a diptheria outbreak threatened days later, Mary "threw down the gauntlet," packed up Helen and their luggage, and returned to the civilized world of New York and the sanctuary of the Greene family home in Brooklyn.
|Mary Greene Blumenschein in New York studio, ca. 1918|
There Mary devoted most of her time to providing a beautiful and comfortable home--an important expression of her personal aesthetic and design sensibilities--for her husband and daughter. Her art took a back seat to the needs and desires of her family and to entertaining guests. In 1922, Mary began to design and fabricate her own line of jewelry, a craft she maintained through the remainder of her life. Mary's jewelry was exhibited as part of her husband's solo show at New York's Grand Central Art Galleries in 1927. Mary's silver work was later exhibited at the International Folk Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe.
|Husking Corn (1939)|
|Portrait of Lucy Case Harwood (ca. 1890) |
Courtesy the Harwood Museum of Art
While the Blumenscheins were in Paris, they met Burt and Lucy Harwood. (In fact, Ernest Blumenschein told the Harwoods about Taos.) Both Burritt Harwood and Elizabeth "Lucy" Case (1867-1938) were born in Charles City, Iowa. In her youth, the adventurous Lucy had traveled with her lawyer father to Mexico, where the two explored the country on their own, without guides. She graduated from Vassar at a time when few young women went to college. This background and a love of the arts made Lucy a perfect wife for photographer and painter Burt Harwood.
|Church at Chimayo (UR) by Lucy, Photo of Harwood home by Burt Harwood.|
In 1916 the Harwoods arrived in Taos and bought property from Captain Simpson. They added on rooms to the home they dubbed "El Pueblito" because it was built in the style of Taos Pueblo. The Harwood's home was the first in Taos to have electricity and the largest one of this type until Mabel built "El Gallo" in 1922, the same year that Burt Harwood died.
|Virginia Couse in her Taos home|
|The Portal by Virginia Couse|
Encouraged to come to Taos by Ernest Blumenschein (Irving Couse became a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists), when the Couses bought a house and property on Kit Carson Road in 1909, Virginia gave in to her passion for gardening. She leveled and terraced the land around their home, built rock walls, designed flower beds and garden paths, and installed stone seats to enjoy the garden and the surrounding view.
|Gardens at the Couse House, Virginia Couse's legacy|
|Mary Monrad Frederikson|
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Mary Monrad Frederikson (1869-1947) studied art at the Academie Julian in Paris and took classes with James McNeill Whistler. Later, while attending classes at the J. Francis Smith Academy, a Chicago division of the Academy Julian, Mary met Walter Ufer who would become her husband and a member of the Taos Society of Artists. Once married to Ufer, Mary supported him and encouraged him to leave illustration and take up portrait painting. Through this endeavor, Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison noticed Ufer's work, and encouraged him to go to Taos to paint. Harrison become Ufer's patron, and the Ufers subsequently moved to Taos.
|Alice in Big Chair by Mary Ufer|
After settling in Taos, Mary continued to paint but Walter’s alcoholism, increasingly poor health, debts and the low demand for his paintings put a strain on their marriage. To help with finances, Mary delivered lantern-slide lectures on artists both at the Art Institute of Chicago and on a traveling lecture circuit. When Walter Ufer died of appendicitis in 1936, Mary's life became more difficult. For a while she was employed as an artist under New Mexico's Works Progress Administration. Then she was disqualified from the WPA program because she was over 65 years old. After moving to New York, Mary eventually secured work with that state's WPA program. Money from Social Security augmented her meager income until her death in 1947.
|Edith Evelyn Higgins Cheetham|
Edith Evelyn Higgins (1870-1955) was born on the family farm in Cook County, Illinois (near present-day O'Hare Airport), then moved with her family to Kansas while still a young girl. There she met and married lawyer Frank Cheetham. In 1911 the Cheethams and their two sons relocated to Taos where he established a law practice. Part of the social scene, Edith mingled with members of the Taos Society of Artists and their wives. Although she never had formal art training, she showed her paintings alongside other New Mexico artists at the Harwood Foundation in Taos and at the Museum of Fine Arts (now the New Mexico Museum of Art) in Santa Fe. Like Rebecca James (to be covered in part two), she also made paintings using colcha embroidery techniques introduced to Taos in the Spanish Colonial era. (Mabel praised Mrs. Frank Cheetham "who makes the best cakes in the Taos Valley" for her small intimate scenes of "this neighborhood.")
|Helen Campbell Martin|
|Untitled Batik wall hanging|
This begins to address "Who are the remarkable women of Taos?" Next I'll be in the kitchen with Mabel and the Remarkable Women Chefs of Taos, with Part Two of "Out of the Background" to follow after that.
Adios for now,
Thank you to Anita McDaniel, curator, Taos Historic Museums for photo and text assistance (and an insightful, interesting exhibition of the early women artists of Taos), and to Nancy Delpero, marketing and public relations at the Taos Historic Museums for the virtual video tour of the "Out of the Background" exhibition. Photos and images presented here are part of the exhibition.