At Mabel’s house

Dear Artist, I’m laptopping you from Ansel Adams’s room in the beautiful old home of Mabel Dodge Luhan in Taos, New Mexico. It’s now a B and B and conference center. In these hallowed rooms Mabel entertained some of the luminaries of her day — D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nicolai Fechin, Walter Lippman, Marsden Hartley, Willa Cather and many others. Mabel was a maven of experimental thought, risky undertakings, free love, new art, new writing, socialism, anarchy and counterculture. In 1916, at age 37, while still in New York and in the process of getting a divorce from her second husband, she began thirty years of psychoanalysis and started a bi-weekly advice column for the Hearst newspapers. With her fifth husband Tony Luhan, a Pueblo Indian, Mabel built this house in 1918. “Now I had come to the place where one life ends and another may begin,” she wrote in her autobiography, “For the first time in my life I discovered I could trust someone always and that I could be trustworthy to someone always.” FYI, we’ve put up a selection of Mabel Dodge Luhan memorabilia at the bottom of this letter. Mabel intuitively cultivated what she considered the right kind of talent and dropped those who were beneath her. Hers was the art of the salon. Often quiet and coy, then again flamboyant and bombastic, she flaunted her narcissism. Above all, Mabel was without fear. She felt writers, painters and intellectuals were naturally attracted to her and that she had a unique ability to bring out their best. “It is my gift to the world,” she wrote. Those of us who seek a quiet life, who don’t do salons or put ourselves forward, can only reflect on the connections we might have missed. Success and fame in the arts often depends on who you know and being in the right place at the right time. To be invited to pass through Mabel’s pueblo gates was worth a long journey by train and jitney. Though many thought her crazy, to be endorsed by her was of some consequence. Mabel’s dance card reads like a who’s who. These walls exude the spirit of some of the creative greats of the first half of the twentieth century. Is it possible some of this moxie can rub off on passersby?

Entrance to the grounds of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House

Best regards, Robert PS: “I have always been myself and at the same time someone else; always able to be the other person, feel with him, think his thoughts, see from the angle in which he found himself.” (Mabel Dodge Luhan 1879-1962) Esoterica: Right now Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones is giving a yoga and writing workshop in Mabel’s house. There’s another workshop coming in August. “In silence we alternate between writing and meditation,” says Natalie. “A cushion or chair is fine — sits are no longer than 30 minutes and some are shorter. We have timed writings and space each day for a nap, a solitary walk and individual writing. Instruction is available.” I’m wondering how enforced silence might work in a painting workshop.   The Goldberg variations by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA  

“Paddling Off Poipu”
mixed media painting
by Angela Treat Lyon

I was at one of Natalie Goldberg’s 10-day writing retreats in 1991 right there at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s place. It was so wonderful to walk around town and see the effects of Georgia O’Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence and the other luminaries of that time who floated through or stayed a while. I never really appreciated what Georgia O’Keeffe painted until I went up to Ghost Ranch and saw the actual landscapes — or how she opened up the art world to female artists. And would that there was a Mabel Dodge Luhan today to mentor and help artists bloom. Incidentally, I love your letters. It’s so cool to not just get your views of everything from acrylic soup to canvas and nuts, but to see the beautiful works of people like Paul deMarrais, Mary Moquin and Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki. Thanks to everyone for being such a great community. It means the world to me when I finish a long day to be able to tune in here and let my eyes feast and heart fill. There are 2 comments for The Goldberg variations by Angela Treat Lyon
From: Dottie Dracos — Mar 22, 2011

I wholeheartedly agree with your eloquent comments about these bi-weekly gems.

From: Anonymous — Mar 22, 2011

Here, here! Well said. My feelings exactly. Even though I am not an artist I am continually amazed at how connected and grounded your missives allow me to feel. Thank you so much!

  Need to explain the value of silence by Kit McDonald, Canada   You were wondering how enforced silence might work in a workshop. I took part in a watercolour workshop given by Anne Popperwell at Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts on Vancouver Island several years ago. She believed that we would be more involved in the painting process and thereby learn more if we didn’t talk or chat during the workshop. Our concentration would be entirely on the painting process. Quite a few of the participants found this impossible to do. They reacted like bad children and giggled & laughed and defied her request for quiet. They also continued to repeat their old way of painting. Those who managed to become totally absorbed in the process did some of their best work ever. The silence really did work but it was difficult to shut out the jabber of those participants who were in defiance of Anne’s request. I loved that workshop! Probably her request for quiet could have been explained a little more fully so that the participants were on board. Otherwise it was amazing. There are 2 comments for Need to explain the value of silence by Kit McDonald
From: trish mcfadyen — Mar 22, 2011

In one of my life drawing classes, one student constantly chattered – even when the instructor was speaking, carried on a conversation with the model (who then kept moving), and continued a cell phone argument with her husband! It was most disrespectful and distracting. Finally the instructer reminded everyone that Picasso had said “you can’t paint when you are talking”. Perhaps because he was quoting a famous artist and not just giving directions, she listened and quietened down.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin TX — Mar 22, 2011

I think the silence that evolves naturally in groups making art is indicative of the fact that Art is in the room! Chatting is defensive?

  Shutting out the chatter by Peter Trent, Hawkesbury, ON, Canada   Have you not, on many occasions and in various ways, told us that painting is a one person deal and that we are always by ourselves; loneliness and self-examination are an essential part of the painting process even when sharing space with others? If one cannot insulate oneself from the surrounding chatter and hubbub of an atelier it is likely that whatever is produced will be of lesser quality.   Silence quells the artist ego by Sandra Taylor Hedges, Cornwall, ON, Canada   I recently watched the movie of Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and Mabel played an important part in her survival as an artist in a man’s world. I think it was the flamboyant personality of Mabel that balanced the introverted Georgia. In the movie we see Georgia spending long periods of silence while painting the Taos landscape and while I watched I wished to see myself there deep in the silence of the moment. I think a silent art retreat would be a way for the artists to get out of their egos, spend time with something greater than his or herself and create.   Bob’s virtual salon by Janice Vogel, Senden-Bösensell, Germany   You write, “Those of us… who don’t do salons or put ourselves forward, can only reflect on the connections we might have missed.” Do you not realize that with your Twice-Weekly Letter you have created a virtual salon enabling worldwide participation? You provide a platform for connections to be made at anytime from anyplace. Thank you, from all of your readers. Perhaps we should start calling you Mabel!   Stewart Cubely’s Painting Experience by Blair Mann, Atlanta GA, USA   Enforced silence at a painting workshop is a wonderful idea. I have attended Stewart Cubely’s Painting Experience, called “Process Art,” several times where it is not allowed to comment on anyone’s work, positive or negative, and it feels odd at first, but is extremely freeing. I have often thought this should be a standard for all workshops. At the end it’s okay for the instructor to give a critique to all…   Another Cubely experience by Virginia Maxfield, Maitland, FL, USA  

“There’s A Dream Dreaming Us”
original painting
by Virginia Maxfield

Several years ago I took a workshop from Stewart Cubley of the Painting Experience. Although the group was large, our days were spent in silence, each of us creating from whatever was within. No critiques, no comments on others’ work as we worked. Just blessed silence. In those three days, people who had never held a brush became painters of their own experiences and the process became sacred. Results were stunning. I can say that now that the workshop is over but what we all learned, even the few of us who paint each day, was that the mere allowing of color, line, shape to come forth without our controls is power – it was the most beautiful, freeing, and lovely of adventures. (RG note) Thanks to everyone who wrote about Stewart Cubely. To get a better idea of his unique approach, please take a look at this video. There is 1 comment for Another Cubely experience by Virginia Maxfield
From: Patrick — Mar 22, 2011

Watching the Stewart Cubely video was a wonderful and life changing experience. Thank you RG! I have long felt like that lady: an egg needing to be cracked. Perhaps now I’ll try

  The lure of the Southwest by Karen Gillis Taylor, Niwot, CO, USA  

“Seco trees”
oil painting
by Karen Gillis Taylor

I was so excited to read this letter as I’ve been returning to New Mexico every year since I moved there for one year in 1985 to pursue my painting and create freelance illustrations for New Mexico Magazine. After my visit in 1985, I returned home, packed up my things and was there to live a month later. Like Mabel Dodge Luhan, the draw for creatives to the Land of Enchantment is strong, and for painters the light is noticeably different and appealing to those that love the full color spectrum and its nuances. The art and social life is welcoming to painters, and people are interesting. I meet people from many walks of life each time I go to visit. The history and cultural richness is an added inspiration to art lovers. The road trip spirit has been calling me again, so thanks for the nudge. I’m packing now…   Feels like family by Diane Ericson, Ashland, OR, USA  

mixed media painting
by Diane Ericson

I have a lovely connection with the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, too. I have been enjoying teaching a retreat at Mabel’s every year in September for the past 13 years. Maria and Roland and the rest of the staff feel like family. My teaching partner and I look forward to our creative time there too. Here is a link to our workshop, Design Outside the Lines, at Mabel Dodge Luhan House.            

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for At Mabel’s house

From: Marilyn — Mar 17, 2011

Le Repos is very flowing and reflective. I could not figure out why something distrubed me at first. After a few minutes, it was the chair leg hanging down from the young ladies thigh. It was ‘distracting.’ Other than that, I felt the relaxation of the human form and perhaps the “nothingess” she was experiencing. The chair and body flows very well. There is a “oneness” which is gratifying. This painting talks to me. Nice painting other than the little distraction that I might have made less significant.

From: PeggySu — Mar 17, 2011

I’ve especially enjoyed these last two posts as I’ve lived partway between Santa Fe and Taos for many years and am always glad when a visitor reminds me how special this area is. Is it possible to see the familiar with new eyes or is it necessary to actually go to a new place to have that experience?

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Mar 18, 2011

I recently watched the movie of Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and Mabel played an important part in her survival as an Artist in a man’s world. I think it was the flamboyant personality of Mabel that balanced that introverted Georgia. In the movie we see Georgia spending long periods of silence while painting the Taos landscape and while I watched I wished to see myself there deep in the silence of the moment. I think a silent art retreat would be a way for the artists to get out of their egos, spend time with something greater than his or herself and create.

From: Kelly Sue — Mar 18, 2011

“For the first time in my life I discovered I could trust someone always and that I could be trustworthy to someone always.” This is freedom to me.

From: sarastar — Mar 18, 2011

I believe you are right about the couch leg, it is at a weird angle, I think for the perspective to be correct it should come down at different angle. That is likely why it distracts.

From: A.J. Meek — Mar 18, 2011

While you are in Taos visit the Taos Museum of Art and the Nicoli Fechin Hosue if you already have not. A film you may enjoy is Local Color filmed in Louisiana but it is supposed to take place in New York and PA. It is semi autobiographical story of the painter, film maker George Gallo. I think you will enjoy seeing both.

From: Junardi Armstrong — Mar 18, 2011

I love Mabel’s house and Taos! Thanks for sharing it. I also love Natalie Goldberg’s (never met her) work. Lucky you! I think a 30 minute meditation daily before each painting session would be the best of all worlds. Thought you’d appreciate the feedback. I’ve attended the ISS Taos watercolor seminars for the last two years so I know you are enjoying Taos.

From: Barbara — Mar 18, 2011

While reading your last letter the expression that comes to my mind is “You are part of everyone you meet.” I don’t know about everyone, but certainly many. Is is similar to painting. After taking workshops and classes I decided that if I wanted to benefit from the instruction I should do everything they told me to do while I was in the class. Later I could use or not use what I liked. The more artists or works of art you come in contact with the more you have to choose from. Then comes the quiet time when you sit down with your information and apply it to your painting.

From: Dianne Egan — Mar 18, 2011

I found this interesting because while Mable was building in New Mexico, Mathilda Dodge Wilson 10 years later built the Wilson Theater in Detroit. It ended up being the home for the Detroit Symphony and later after the Symphony build its own venue, housed the touring dance companies. The Dodge Family did a lot of good – full of eccentricity, but good. The Dodge Mansion at Meadowbrook Center is set on incredibly beautiful grounds and is the summer home of the Detroit Symphony in the pavilion. Don’t you know that every wealthy family had to have a pavilion???

From: Haydee Hirsch — Mar 18, 2011

Just want to say a BIG THANK YOU for all the wonderful information you share with everyone.

From: Bonnie Mandoe — Mar 18, 2011

You probably don’t remember me, I’ve only written you once….but hearing you’re in Taos inspires me to invite you south to beautiful Las Cruces, where pecans and chiles grow under the towering Organ Mountains. My home/studio/gallery is full of paintings lined up for a show at the NM Farm and Ranch Museum. I deliver them Tuesday, and would be happy if you feel like stopping by for a meal and some art talk before or after. I breathe art. My old adobe farmhouse is full of art and food and good karma from years past. I enjoy your blog and Love Letters, and welcome you to the secret town of the south.

From: Darlene — Mar 18, 2011

Lucky you!! I love Taos! What an incredible art place!!

From: Jane Ross — Mar 18, 2011

My husband, Jack, had the amazing privilege of visiting Georgia O’Keeffe at her house in the early ’70s. While you are in those parts, and if you haven’t already done so, do spend some time in the Loretto Hotel at Santa Fe; the lounge is a wonderful inspiration.

From: Wendy Wacko — Mar 18, 2011

Doris McCarthy’s perspective of the place and its history was fascinating.

From: Robin Rier — Mar 18, 2011

Yes, I would definitely go to Mabel’s for a painting workshop and silence. Marvelous idea I think. That is if I could afford it! Or perhaps something in New Brunswick? I could find the yoga teacher, we could figure out the meditation stuff easy enough and you could do the painting instruction!

From: Annoel Krider — Mar 18, 2011

While in Taos check the gallery Taos Blue. It’s more of a craft gallery vs. painting but still fun to visit. And Sue Westbrook, the owner, is a great lady!! Please tell her I sent you. I’ve been to Mabel’s House….you can feel the ghosts of Mabel and her famous friends all around you.

From: Elaine Campbell — Mar 18, 2011

i am now back on Poipu beach for the 30th year. Two years ago, I was where you are now! So artists and art takes us many places in our lives at year 1976, at 36 I traveled to Stonehenge with my History of Art notes from U of Manitoba/Architecture School. Then flew to Greece, Italy and Germany for a “first look” at what I had learned. I now live in B.C. with cold winters to escape from and I am now still “filling myself” with experiences, in my 7th decade. I am an artist born to express my world within and without!! you too seem to know what artists must keep doing….as well as painting

From: Sharon Hart — Mar 18, 2011
From: Al Currier — Mar 18, 2011

I taught a number of plein- air workshops there in the eighties and always loved that place. During the filming of “Easy Rider” Dennis Hopper bought Mabel Dodge’s place. They say he almost lost everything there because of the drug scene at that point in time. As you step of the office, turn left, Hopper’s room was the last down on the left. That is where I stayed when I taught in Taos. That place sure has the history!

From: Janet Papkin — Mar 18, 2011

Yes, it’s a magical place!

From: Jessica Datin — Mar 18, 2011

Loved the note Robert especially the success and fame right place right time sentence. If you are still in this area you may want to visit CHIMAYO; there is a church there of high spiritual aura. It was a very moving experience; for me, and one that has remained. Years ago an area gallery featured Indian sculptor Allan Houser. “HAOZOUS”, his Indian name. Awesome too.

From: Antoinette Ledzian — Mar 18, 2011

You’re with Natalie Goldberg? OH MY! Tell her I have a 1986 copy, signed “For Debbi” of Chicken & In Love! I LOVE her work! HAVE FUN! WISH I had known about this one at Mabel’s house.

From: kyea — Mar 18, 2011

When in Taos be sure to get to the E.I. Couse house, studio and foundation.

From: Allan Stavness — Mar 18, 2011

Mabel was a handful. She processed people. She was extremely jealous of everyone, men and women. Everyone came to her because of her mystique and reputation. Then they had to get away from her. Everybody made a joke out of it. There were cartoons about her in The New York Times. Tony was the only one she could stand because he said little and played solitaire while she went on. Read the biographies. She was in love with Indians — noble savages — and Tony was her ornament. She had to pay off Tony’s family to get him to come and stay at her house.

From: Richard Alan Nichols — Mar 19, 2011

And this is why I live in Taos, New Mexico

From: Hannah Brehmer — Mar 19, 2011
From: Marjorie Moeser — Mar 19, 2011

Your writings on Mable Dodge Lujan and Mabel House up in Taos are making me nostalgic. I was fortunate to be introduced to Northern New Mexico through the eyes and tales of an elderly friend who moved to NM while Dorothy Brett was still alive and who also knew Nicolai Fechin. My friend, R. Pete Colgrove, was also a very good friend of Lawren Harris whom you probably know had a NM connection, being a member of the Gurdjieffian movement. Harris was deeply into Theosophy. Anyway, not to digress, Pete took me to Mabel House where my first night was spent in the “Starlight” room at the top that had all-around glass. It was magical! The bathroom was one where D. H. Lawrence had painted the windows. I made several pilgrimages to Mabel House over the years to paint , and have stayed in various rooms, including the O’Keeffe room. One time, I was able to purchase a pair of earrings made by one of Mabel’s granddaughters who was a jeweler/silversmith. Pete was able to point out (with stories) the Lawrence House, surrounded in the springtime by Persian lilacs; Brett’s house that became a very fine restaurant that housed a fair collection of Brett’s work; and he took me up to the Lawrence Ranch where D. H. escaped to to write. At the time his old typewriter was still on the screened porch. It is there that the huge Ponderosa pine that O’Keeffe lay under and painted from that perspective, is situated. Also, there is, as I recall, the monument to D.H. Lawrence and Freida, there, where their bodies may or may not be buried. (There was some question as to whether or not this was entirely true). Pete also introduced us to Frank Waters and Barbara, and through their eyes I learned a lot more about Taos and New Mexico in the old days. Barbara still lives in Arroyo Seco; but she is not very well.

From: Ned Tyrell, UK — Mar 19, 2011

Not only are your books worth having, but all of the valuable correspondence from the rich resource of your readers is brilliant. Thank you to all who participate.

From: David Wahl — Mar 19, 2011

I read your ‘Mabel’s House’ email the day before I visited Taos. I had never heard of Mabel Luhan before your letter. As soon as I got to Taos I went straight to this incredible house (almost interrupted Natalie Goldberg’s yoga class at the convention center). What a great house! I enjoy reading each of your weekly emails and would have thanked you in person if I had run in to you during my self-guided tour of Mabel’s House. Thank you for introducing me to such a wonderful place.

From: Annie Merrill — Mar 20, 2011

Last fall my cousin organized a week-long retreat at my families’ summer camp on a lake in Maine. I painted, one cousin composed music, one wrote, another person worked on editing a story, one women created a website and another friend did woodworking. The only rule was no talking after breakfast until dinner. We had a sign-up sheet for chores and cooking dinner. That way, you could plan your own time and didn’t have to feel guilty about not helping prep dinner or doing the dishes if it wasn’t your turn. This was especially liberating for the hosts . I highly recommend the no talking rule, it gives you permission to not be social and not to be considered rude. (although we weren’t so strict that you couldn’t say hi in passing) Portland and Georgetown

From: Norman Brooks — Mar 20, 2011

Mabel claimed to have empathy, but like a lot of people who claim it, she had little of it.

From: Dick Wagner — Mar 20, 2011

I slept and worked in the room where Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda edited “Easy Rider.” There were some old tokes lying around in there.

From: Linda Myers — Mar 21, 2011

It was so nice to read your latest ‘At Mabel’s house’. I am a fan of Georgia O’Keeffe and it is on my bucket list to visit that part of our world. I love to try and connect with the icons who have influenced me so. They seem to offer the encouragement that I need even though they no longer walk among us.

From: L. M. Chen — Mar 21, 2011

The Stewart Cubely video at the top is interesting, but it also gives an idea what’s wrong with American art education. Lightweight, self-indulgent, accepting low standards in the name of self expression and no interest in technique or quality. Fun for people with time on their hands, but not much use for anything but “freeing up.”

From: Antoinette Ledzian — Mar 22, 2011
From: Chris Cantu — Mar 22, 2011

One of the best art teachers I have experienced had a subtle gift for enforcing, oh so gently, a silent studio. She would present the day’s challenge and allow us to talk at some length about our responses. Then we would very quietly get to work, and only talk occasionally and very quietly when she visitied each of us at our easels as we tackled the day’s assignment. For some of us, nothing is more fatal to creativity than listening to others’ aimless chatter as we are trying to work out a painting challenge. I bless her for this sensitive approach to teaching. Her name is Julia Hensley of Seattle, Washington.

From: Rick Rotante — Mar 23, 2011

We are surrounded by noise at every turn today. There are few repositories where one can get silence and allow your thoughts to run free. The studio is one of these places for me. The only interruption I will allow sometime is soft music. I also bought a car without a radio, so I could have quiet when going to and from a painting session. Also whenever painting in a group, I will not hesitate to tell a chatterer to takeit outside. My class is also a place where if talk is to take place, it has to do with what we are working on and nothing else. Constant chatter is for those who are not serious about art and use art as a social function. They learn the least and have the most trouble. It’s hard to solve a problem when your mouth is constantly going. Unfortunately, this is a social problem today waht with all the devices we use and the need for constant interruption. We actually fear silence, for in that silence you might hear your heart ticking. And this reminds us we are mortal and time is running out.

From: Patty Patty — Apr 03, 2011

Every July Lorne Loomer teaches Brush Explorations at MISSA, located just outside Victoria, BC. Canada. The studio is on the side of a hill, with large windows looking into the treetops. During the painting sessions he encourages silence. Not an enforced silence, but an friendly quietness that allows the students to focus on the dance of the brush. They are welcome to discuss their work and to socialize during the breaks. I am easily distracted so it is a pleasure for me to not have to listen to someone going on and on in the background.

    Featured Workshop: Barry John Raybould
032211_robert-genn Barry John Raybould Workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.

Le Repos

oil painting, 36 x 48 inches by Elsa Bluethner, Vancouver, BC, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki of Port Moody, BC, Canada, who wrote, “It was interesting to read in O’Keeffe’s biography how Georgia dropped Mabel many times, so Mabel got the taste of her own medicine.” And also Nikki Bryce of Port Moody, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Put me on your dance card!”    

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