Friday, May 18, 2012

Mabel Dodge Luhan and Taos 5th Graders’ Remarkable Women

Before I wrote my first post in August 2010, Karen Young, the owners of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House and I agreed that in addition to Remarkable Women celebrity we would like to feature women from everyday life—women that we wouldn’t know about who played an important role within the fabric of the Taos community. What better way, I thought, than through the eyes of children. Months later an amazing collaboration began which resulted 43 portraits by 5th graders from Enos Garcia Elementary School. The portrait of Mabel Dodge below is one of them.

For various reasons, I chose 5th grade, 7th grade and high school students as my target groups. I soon learned that Tanya Ocañas Vigil and her husband Michael had curated art shows created by pupils from municipal and private elementary schools and home-school children for the past fifteen years. I knew Tanya as the capitana or leader of Izcalli In Nanantzin Danza Azteca, her group of dancers based in Taos. I would discover that she also curated art shows for professional artists with her husband at their Gallery Elena.

Photo by Rick Romancito*

What I didn’t know was that Tanya had created the Visiting Artists Program for elementary grades in the Taos Municipal Schools. She hired local professionals to teach their area of expertise. This not only allowed school children to have contact with working artists and experience various artistic media (including jewelry, puppet making, Spanish Colonial colcha embroidery, Taos Pueblo micaceous clay pottery, fused glass, flamenco dancing and writing in addition to the more traditional drawing and painting), the program also created a kind of apprenticeship. The quality of work inspired the Millicent Rogers Museum to showcase the creative talents of elementary school-age children starting in 2006.

When we met last spring to explore the possibilities of having 5th graders portray the remarkable women in their lives, Tanya invited one of her visiting artists, artist Amy Cordova, to brainstorm with us. Amy had dreamed of becoming a book illustrator, a career that opened up after two decades of exhibiting her highly regarded paintings in galleries and museums. She now has over fifteen children’s books in print. Besides creating two of her own, she has illustrated stories for other writers including Rudolfo Anaya and Enrique Madrid, two of New Mexico’s most celebrated authors and folklorists. 

Photo by Patti Traynor**
Assigned to two 5th grade classes, Amy prepared them to paint portraits of and write about remarkable women in their lives. To introduce the Remarkable Women of Taos project, Amy quoted me: “Women have long been known as the backbone of the community. The REMARKABLE WOMEN OF TAOS PROJECT is meant to celebrate and recognize outstanding women – past and present- in our community who are worthy of notice.” Amy then gave the children the overall goal of their artistic endeavor:

Taos has a history of many creative, remarkable women from all cultural backgrounds, who have stood out in the history of our community. Today, there are many wonderful women who continue to make Taos a special place. Do you know a special woman who helps make Taos a special place? She could be a member of your own family, a neighbor, a friend, teacher, or someone you may have heard about who lives in or near Taos. Is there a famous woman of Taos from our past who seems “remarkable” to you?

Additionally Amy defined remarkable and provided the 5thgraders with examples of some of the community’s well-known women including Mabel Dodge Luhan, Millicent Rogers,Pop Chalee, Eva Mirabal, Josefa JaramilloCarson, and Corina Santistevan. From there each of the two classes set to work on their remarkable women.

Amy’s own painting and skill as a portraitist helped guide the children. She emailed me when they started work in January. A month later she showed me four portraits that the youngsters had created. Not only had they painted vibrant, adept likenesses of women important to them, the students had penned several lines, incorporating another notion Amy introduced:  the idea of simile and metaphor. The resulting work became a kind of painting-poem. I’ve included six examples for you to enjoy. 



Amy arranged the portraits by class and affixed them to a long, black banner. They became part of the Visiting Artists Program’s “Anything is Possible” exhibition at the Millicent Rogers which opened this past April.

On Saturday May 12th, photo reproductions of Priscilla Romo’s and Darlene Archuleta’s 5th grade classes were featured at the Stables Gallery as part of ¡CELEBRANDO! which celebrated the arts of Taos elementary and secondary schools and women in Arts Education.

Among the Remarkable Women honored last Saturday were Visiting Artist Amy Cordova and the two 5th grade teachers she worked with: Darlene Archuleta and Priscilla Romo.

 The Stables Gallery show ended on Monday, May 14th, just in time to for the teachers to give their 5th graders their Remarkable Women portraits to take home for the summer. Now only memories and a few photographs remain.

And a few thank you notes. One of them I’ll share with you: my gratitude to Tanya Vigil and Amy Cordova for making my “Remarkable Women Through Our Children’s Eyes” dream come true. They and the women art educators we honored are working hard to build future generations of artists. Through them the Taos art colony that Mabel wrote about in her book, Taos and Its Artists (1947), will continue to thrive.

Adios for now,


*Photo of Tanya Vigil by Rick Romancito from an article that appeared in the Taos News in October 2011. © 2011 The Taos News and Rick Romancito

*Photo of Amy Cordova by Pattie Traynor