Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mabel Dodge Luhan: Preview of the Year of the Remarkable Women of Taos

Happy New Year! This is the year of the Dragon, I’m told. It is also the year of the Remarkable Women of Taos, and it all started with this blog. But that’s another story…

On Friday at noon on January 6th the State of New Mexico’s inaugural event officially launches 100 years of statehood. I found this interesting because in Taos two events – one on the 5th, the other on the 7th – launch for me (in an unofficial way) the yearlong Centennial celebration of the Remarkable Women in Taos. As a preview to the women who will be featured and honored, I thought you might enjoy meeting the remarkable women featured in today’s and Saturday’s happenings.

Tonight SOMOS (the Society of the Muse of the Southwest) will host poetry readings Harwood Museum of Art  that enhance the exhibition “The Legacy of Black Mountain College.” Mabel would have loved this! Black Mountain College echoed her 1912-1915 salon through gathering movers and shakers in a forum for the exchange of innovative ideas. Like Mabel’s salon the experimental, interdisciplinary Black Mountain College served as an incubator for the American avant garde. The institution had quite an impact: as an important precursor, it provided a prototype for many alternative colleges that exist today. From 1933 to 1956 the college attracted faculty and lecturers like Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Josef Albers, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and Albert Einstein. Some of the students later became America’s leading designers, poets and artists, among them painters Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.

Photo by Kathleen Brennan, © 2012

Some Black Mountains students visited and/or settled in New Mexico. Of them two women who live in Taos will be honored tonight: Cynthia Homire and Barbara Harmon. Potter, poet and artist who attended Black Mountain College from 1950-54, Cynthia Homire’s most influential teachers were Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and Karen Karnes. She has lived and worked in Northern New Mexico since 1964, first as a potter in Santa Fe, then as a poet in Taos. What Cynthia had to say about her experience at the college gives a taste of what life was like there for her as a young woman:

Yes, I have rubbed shoulders with the pantheon, a few bellies, too.  Washed the floor Merce Cunningham danced on, then went leaping through his class. Jitterbugged with Rauschenberg, pointed out morels to John Cage, was instructed by Olson in long night classes to write from my roots, dirt and all, but take time out to dig up a few Mayans in Mexico.  Shared steak with William Carlos Williams (he said "I know you").  Cooked a Chinese meal for Eliot Porter and David Brower (before David took to chewing each bite thirty times before swallowing).  Breakfast with Brautigan.  All these things happen if you are there for them and maybe you make pots for 30 years and then maybe you write poetry.

Photo by Kathleen Brennan, © 2012

Barbara Sayre Harmon grew up in a sophisticated artist family – her father was the noted California landscape painter Fred Grayson Sayre. Barbara Sayre first came to Taos in 1946 to study with Emil Bisttram at the Bisttram School of Art. She arrived with her future husband, Cliff Harmon. The couple studied art three summers with Bisttram, and afterwards spent time at Black Mountain College (1949-1950). Barbara and Cliff worked in other places, then returned to Taos in the 1960s. Influenced by their experience at Black Mountain, as one of their projects the Harmons built the first solar home in Taos, anticipating the leadership others in Taos would take in solar resource development. By then both had developed new painting series. Previously Barbara did artistic bookbinding. Back in Taos she turned to painting still lifes and imaginative subjects drawn from fairy tales. At an early age Arthur Rackham’s watercolor illustrations in The Wind in the Willows inspired Barbara. She began to explore the art of classical fantasy English watercolor. Now, in her mystical, dreamlike images, she tries to bring about a sense of peace and contemplation in the viewer. Barbara also writes poems that are as whimsical as her paintings. 

Photo Los Alamos Historical Sciety, © 2012

On Saturday, January 7, Sharon Snyder will give a presentation for the Taos County historical Society based on her recently released biography on Peggy Pond Church titled At Home on the Slopes of Mountains. Peggy Pond Church, who lived in Taos from 1946 to 1956 (her brother Ashley Pond was Mabel Dodge Luhan’s doctor in Taos) has been called the First Lady of New Mexican Poetry, "a significant American voice." Sharon Snyder’s biography tells Peggy’s story, tracing her life through a great flood, through canyons and ruins, trails and tall pines on the Pajarito Plateau (the landscape surrounding present-day Los Alamos), and the loss of her home to the Manhattan Project of World War II. Born in 1903 on a ranch in the Territory of New Mexico, Peggy lived in Pajarito Canyon and at the Los Alamos Ranch School before being uprooted during the war to live the second half of her life in Taos, Berkeley, and Santa Fe. Although her poetry has many inspirations and sensitive observations of land and people, she once described it by saying, "It's the land that wants to be said." Church’s journey is revealed also in her books of poetry and prose. She wrote eight volumes of poetry during her life, and many poems are still being published in anthologies on women, nature, and the American West. Her memoir of Edith Warner, The House at Otowi Bridge has become a Southwest classic. In 1984 Peggy received the Governor's Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts and was also named a Living Treasure of Santa Fe. She died in 1986.

On January 13th the Town of Taos plans to launch its media campaign for The Remarkable Women of Taos. I will post an overview of the year around that time and relate my experiences as I interviewed contemporary women and researched their historic counterparts.

Stay tuned.

Adios for now,

P. S. As part of the year's Remarkable Women of Taos events, The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has planned a workshop, "Meetings with Remarkable Women."

Thank you to photographer and filmmaker Kathleen Brennan for providing photos of Cynthia Homire and Barbara Harmon. Kathleen interviewed them for and featured them in her new documentary film Vast Spaces, Unique Vistas: The Artists of Black Mountain College and the New Mexico Connection, which airs tonight as part of this evening's poetry reading at the Harwood.

Fellow writer and compadre Sharon Snyder provided the photo of Peggy Pond Church. Thanks, Sharon.

Appreciation to Jan Smith and Dori Vinella of SOMOS for providing informative material on Cynthia Homire and Barbara Harmon.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Liz for this lovely post!!! As one of the newcomers to the cultural landscape of Taos and the Mabel Dodge house more specifically, I find it tremendously inspiring to read about the Remarkable Women of Taos and look forward to joining their ranks!! All the best from Cincinnati, Ohio....