Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten - Taos

September 18, 1999
Taos is surely one of our country's most famous -- and interesting -- small towns (2006 pop.5193). While intimately associated with the Old West, the village has for the last 100 years been better known for the Taos Society of Artists, and as one of the country's important art colonies. Roughly one out of every six persons is a working artist, "perhaps the highest per capita artist count of any town in the United States." During its history, the Taos Society of Artists, as a group of painters, established the foundation of the recognition enjoyed by Taos artists today.  
The Spanish first visited Taos in 1540. Colonists followed. By 1615 a substantial Spanish village existed. In the early 1800s, Taos was a gathering place for trappers, miners, and traders, and in 1846 it because part of the U.S. In 1994, the National Civic League selected Taos as an All-American City in recognition of its citizens' exemplary grassroots community problem-solving.

Taos is situated at 7,000 feet altitude in a valley ringed by mountains on three sides. The land slopes gently down to the Rio Grande Gorge six miles to the west. The rarified air and the gentle western slope produce a special, luminous quality of light every day at dusk -- the entire valley lights up for a few minutes.

Taos' spectacular scenery, high mountain air, and particular quality of light began attracting artists in 1883 when Joseph Sharp's first visited. He spread news of Taos through the Paris art circles, and starting in 1893 young artists such as Bert Phillips, Ernest Blumenschein, Eanger Irving Couse, Oscar Berninghaus, and Herbert Dunton (a painter of cowboys and ranch life), Walter Ulfer, Victor Higgins, Martin Hennings, and Kenneth Adams began congregating in Taos along with Sharp. According to one account, 

"In 1914, six members of the thriving art colony of Taos founded the Taos Society of Artists with the mission to develop a high standard of art among its members, and to aid in the diffusion of taste for art in general…[and] to facilitate bringing before the public through exhibitions and other means, tangible results of the work of its members. Ultimately, the organization grew to involve 21 artists, variously classified as active, associate, or honorary members of the Society." -- Museum of Texas Tech University

September 19, 1999 

Taos Plaza (See Map)

Located just west of the main street (Hwy. 64), the Plaza is the gathering place for the town, with original Spanish buildings (mostly homes) now converted to restaurants and shops.

Taos Plaza has a long history of having the buildings around it burn down. Thus most buildings around it are fairly new.

So much has changed in fact that there is an interesting site, Where Things Used to be in Taos.


Kit Carson Home and Museum

As Daniel Boone was associated with the frontier settlement of Kentucky and Tennessee, Christopher "Kit" Carson was associated with the exploration and expansion of the West to the Pacific Ocean

He first moved to Taos in 1826 and is probably the West's most famous frontiersman. Carson National Forest is named for him. This modest little house near the Taos Plaza, which he bought for as a wedding gift for his 14-year-old bride Maria Josefa Jaramillo, is now a museum and member of the Museum Association of Taos. It is also a National Historic Landmark. Except for some memorabilia, I was not overly impressed.


September 19, 1999

September 18, 1999

San Francisco de Assisi Church

Perhaps more than any other Southwestern church, the St Francis of Assisi Church in Rancho de Taos has been an inspiration to artists and photographers such as Georgia O'Keefe and Ansel Adams. Built between 1772 and 1816, its white stucco covered adobe walls are truly massive.

Its sculptural has been portrayed, it is claimed, by more artists than any other church in the United States. It too is a National Historic Landmark. (See bottom of Map)


Welcome to Orlando's

On the edge of Taos on our way back from the Rio Grand Gorge we found a charming little outdoor cafe called Orlando's.

Orlando's was colorful, pretty and unpretentious. Its two harried but pleasant waitresses took care of 18 tables filled by office workers and van delivery drivers and a few tourist on their way to or from someplace, but not staying in Taos. A three-generation family from the Midwest were seated on our left.

Our fajitas were fine for the occasion.

September 19, 1999
September 20, 1999
  The Taos Inn is intimately associated with Taos history and Doc Martin and his wife, Helen, a batik artist, and sister-in-law of artist Bert Phillips, one of the "Taos Founders." According to the Inn's history, it was in the Martins' dining room in 1912 that Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein founded the Taos Society of Artists. Through the years, the Hotel Martin (later renamed Taos Inn) has been the hub of Taos' social, intellectual and artistic activity. (See center of Map)

We stayed in the Sandoval House in room 202, a lovely, homey room with wood-burning fireplace and seating bancos and viga ceiling. The Inn is on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.


The Stakeout Restaurant

We ate in some memorable restaurants in New Mexico. The one I will remember best and longest was the Stakeout and its gracious owner Mauro Bettini. (See bottom of Map)

Located on Outlaw Hill among piñon trees, junipers and aspens, the Stakeout has a commanding view of the entire Taos Valley. According to the Legend of Outlaw Hill, outlaws would hole up there, perched in a position where they could see for miles. If a posse was in pursuit, there were plenty of time and places to run - on Tierra Blanca Road by horse toward Truchas or up a canyon.


September 19, 1999

September 19, 1999

Van Vechten-Lineberry Taos Art Museum

This is the first of many Taos museum I visited and is one of seven institutions that make up the Museum Association of Taos. Others include the Fechin Institute, La Hacienda de los Martinez, and the Harwood, Blumenschein, Kit Carson, and Millicent Rogers museums. (See top of Map)

The museum has 200 plus works by more than 50 Taos artists, including Duane Van Vechten. Dedicated to Duane Van Vechten and to the Taos Society of Artists, The museum is sometime called the only place one can see all the Taos Society of Artists under one roof.


Taos Sunset

For generations, much has been made in the art world about the peculiar quality of light in the rarified mountain air of Taos, and of its spectacular sunsets. These were some of the primary factors that led Taos in becoming an important art colony and home of the famed Taos Society of Artists.

Currently active is the Taos Society of Watercolorists and its 33 signature members.


September 18, 1999


Email: Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten