“New Women” of the South­west

Pasatiempo - - PASA REVIEWS - Jen­nifer Levin

IN the first decades of the 20th cen­tury, as Santa Fe be­came an art colony for An­glo trans­plants, a cer­tain kind of woman ven­tured into the Amer­i­can South­west. She was most likely from a tra­di­tional up­per-class Vic­to­rian up­bring­ing — ed­u­cated, curious, cre­ative. She was fi­nan­cially able to travel in com­fort. And she was usu­ally con­sid­ered past her prime for the mar­riage mar­ket in the world she came from. Be­fore de­cid­ing to set up res­i­dency on the rugged fron­tier, th­ese women ex­plored New Mex­ico, Ari­zona, Colorado, and Utah on horse­back and in Model Ts, sleep­ing un­der the stars, their true selves un­bri­dled by the vast moun­tains and mesas and a sud­den lack of lim­its on ex­actly who they were sup­posed to be.

The best-known of th­ese women are Ma­bel Dodge Luhan and Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe, both of whom are con­sid­ered pa­tron saints of the arts in New Mex­ico. The for­mer was among the founders of the Taos art colony in the early 1920s, and the lat­ter is for­ever con­nected to the land­scape of Abiquiú and her home at Ghost Ranch, where she moved in 1940 af­ter fall­ing in love with the area sev­eral years ear­lier. Pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion paints Luhan and O’Ke­effe as pi­o­neers, but other less-her­alded women came be­fore them, paving the way for their life­styles and last­ing fame. In Ladies of the Canyons: A League of Ex­tra­or­di­nary Women and Their Ad­ven­tures in the Amer­i­can South­west (pub­lished this year by Univer­sity of Ari­zona Press), Les­ley Pol­ing-Kem­pes traces the lives of Natalie Cur­tis, Alice Klauber, Mary Cabot Wheel­wright, and Carol Stan­ley. Pol­ing-Kem­pes speaks about the women in her book on Wed­nes­day, Dec. 2, at a Brain­power & Brown­bags Lec­ture at the New Mex­ico History Mu­seum.

The four women pur­sued in­ter­ests that have come to de­fine key as­pects of in­dus­try and cul­ture in the South­west: fine arts, an­thro­pol­ogy, and hos­pi­tal­ity. Wheel­wright founded the Wheel­wright Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian in 1937 to pre­serve and show­case Navajo cul­ture and re­li­gion — a goal that was con­sid­ered “non­sci­en­tific” by the male aca­demic es­tab­lish­ment in Santa Fe. Klauber was a painter from San Diego who had stud­ied at the Art Stu­dents League in San Francisco and in Spain with Robert Henri. She was a de­voted friend of Cur­tis’, and though Santa Fe wasn’t her pri­mary res­i­dence, she was in­ti­mately in­volved with the mod­ern artists who came to town in sup­port of the Mu­seum of Art (now the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art), which opened in 1917. Cur­tis was an eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist who tran­scribed the singing of hun­dreds of tribes for The In­di­ans’ Book: Songs and Leg­ends of the Amer­i­can In­di­ans, first pub­lished in 1905, long be­fore she mar­ried the painter

The four women pur­sued in­ter­ests that have come to

de­fine key as­pects of in­dus­try and cul­ture in the South­west: fine arts, an­thro­pol­ogy, and hos­pi­tal­ity.

Paul Burlin. And Stan­ley — who lost her fam­ily for­tune to bad es­tate man­age­ment and then lost her self-made for­tunes to two gam­bler hus­bands — was a bril­liant pi­anist and ed­u­ca­tor who founded Ghost Ranch. If not for her, O’Ke­effe never would have lived there and never would have im­mor­tal­ized in oil paint the cliffs be­yond Abiquiú.

“If Carol hadn’t built Ghost Ranch from the ground up, so many sto­ries would be dif­fer­ent. I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be here,” Pol­ing-Kem­pes said. She first came to Ghost Ranch with her par­ents in the 1960s. The na­tive of Pleas­antville, New York, went to col­lege at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico and spent a sum­mer work­ing at Ghost Ranch, where she met her hus­band. They set­tled in Abiquiú, down the road from Ghost Ranch; he ran the ce­ram­ics pro­gram there for more than 30 years. Pol­ing-Kem­pes has writ­ten sev­eral non­fic­tion books about the area, in­clud­ing Ghost Ranch; Val­ley of Shin­ing Stone: The Story of Abiquiu; and The Har­vey Girls: Women Who Opened the West. When she re­al­ized Ghost Ranch had been founded by a woman who had since been lost to history, she be­gan re­search­ing Stan­ley’s life and found that sev­eral other im­por­tant women in­ter­sected with her time in New Mex­ico. “There were so many sto­ries and so many women who all knew each other. There was so much to find. As I went to get Carol’s story, it en­larged into the ex­tra­or­di­nary story of Natalie Cur­tis, and then her friend Alice Klauber, who was also Carol’s friend. It just kept branch­ing out.”

Willa Cather, Gertrude Stein, Louisa Wade Wether­ill, Charles Fletcher Lum­mis, Will Shus­ter, Wal­ter Pach, and Theodore Roo­sevelt are just a few of the peo­ple who in­ter­acted with Pol­ing-Kem­pes’ sub­jects. But first the book winds from New York’s Green­wich Vil­lage through In­dian Coun­try, as Cur­tis in­gra­ti­ates her­self to the Hopi, find­ing her call­ing in pre­serv­ing mu­sic on pa­per that she was sure was on its way to ex­tinc­tion, due to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­hi­bi­tions on In­di­ans us­ing their lan­guage and cus­toms. On Thanks­giv­ing week­end in 1917, Cur­tis spoke about her work with Na­tive mu­sic at the St. Fran­cis Au­di­to­rium in honor of the open­ing of the Mu­seum of Art. She had re­cently mar­ried Paul Burlin; the couple lived in a small adobe on the cor­ner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Buena Vista. Later, the poet Wit­ter Byn­ner bought the house and added on to it, and to­day it is the sprawl­ing Inn of the Turquoise Bear (342 E. Buena Vista St.). Ma­bel Dodge Luhan first ap­pears in Ladies of the

Canyons when she stops in Santa Fe for tea with the Burlins and the poet Alice Corbin in mid-De­cem­ber 1917. Luhan is a blus­tery and un­friendly pres­ence, pass­ing judg­ment on her hosts as “tire­some,” a rec­ol­lec­tion Pol­ing-Kem­pes pulled from Luhan’s own words. In Edge of Taos Desert (1937), Luhan refers to Cur­tis as a “lit­tle old doll that had been left out in the sun and the rain” and de­scribes Burlin as much younger and fresher than his wife. “He had curly red hair above a round fore­head, and the ab­sent, spec­u­la­tive thought­ful look of an in­tel­li­gent Jew,” she writes.

“Here she is with Alice Corbin, who is this re­mark­able poet, and Natalie, with whom she shares a num­ber of friends, but it just didn’t res­onate at all with Ma­bel,” Pol­ing-Kem­pes told Pasatiempo. Dur­ing her re­search she spoke with sev­eral his­to­ri­ans and schol­ars who con­firmed that Luhan wanted her own place to make her mark. “Santa Fe was al­ready in­hab­ited by some strong and cre­ative women, and Ma­bel didn’t want to be part of a group of women. She went on to Taos and found her own place. It would have been fun to be able to ask Natalie and Alice Corbin what they thought

of that meet­ing and what Ma­bel did in New Mex­ico.”

Stan­ley, who was from Mas­sachusetts, mar­ried Roy Pfäf­fle, a life­long New Mex­i­can, in 1916, and to­gether they ran the Ran­cho Ra­mon Vigil on the Pa­jar­ito Plateau near present-day Los Alamos. A stay there was Wheel­wright’s in­tro­duc­tion to New Mex­ico in 1917. The couple sold the ranch in 1918 and opened Bishop’s Lodge, at Bishop’s Ranch, in Te­suque, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on the post-war in­flux of tourists. In 1920, they went on to own the San Gabriel Ranch in Al­calde, which at­tracted a ver­i­ta­ble neigh­bor­hood of “New Women,” in­clud­ing Wheel­wright, who bought and ren­o­vated a property in the area, called Los Luceros, from the Pfäf­fles, as well as Elsie Clews Par­sons, au­thor of a scan­dalous 1906 book called The Fam­ily, which rec­om­mended “trial mar­riage” and ad­vo­cated for women’s per­sonal and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment.

Stan­ley di­vorced Pfäf­fle in 1931 and moved to a haunted home­stead on the north­ern edge of the Piedra Lum­bre basin that she named Ghost Ranch. She was the first An­glo woman to ever live at what the lo­cals called the Ranch of the Witches and the first per­son of any gen­der to live there in more than 30 years. She put to­gether a staff and started con­struc­tion on a new guest ranch, ever mo­ti­vated to of­fer hos­pi­tal­ity and lodg­ing to in­trepid ex­plor­ers of the South­west. O’Ke­effe first ar­rived in 1934, just as Stan­ley, at age fifty-five, was fall­ing in love again — with a cow­boy who would gam­ble away her money. She sold the ranch in 1935.

When she moved there per­ma­nently, O’Ke­effe lived on a very small par­cel of Ghost Ranch, but she claimed the place so fully that she ex­pected to be in­volved with all ranch de­ci­sions, even if they didn’t af­fect her. That she was dif­fi­cult and prone to out­rage is well-known at the ranch, so it didn’t sur­prise Pol­ing-Kem­pes to dis­cover that O’Ke­effe never men­tioned Stan­ley in any of her writ­ings about her adopted home.

“I knew that’s how O’Ke­effe was,” she said. “The ranch was very much hers.”


▼ Les­lie Pol­ing-Kem­pes lec­tures on “Ladies of the Canyons: Re­mark­able Women of the South­west” ▼ 12 p.m. Wed­nes­day, Dec. 2 ▼ New Mex­ico History Mu­seum, Meem Com­mu­nity Room, 113 Lin­coln Ave., 505-476-5090 ▼ No charge

Carol Bishop Stan­ley, Ghost Ranch founder, circa 1924, Col­lec­tion of Carol Stan­ley

Mary Cabot Wheel­wright, Col­lec­tion of the Wheel­wright Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian

Roy and Carol Stan­ley Pfäf­fle, San Gabriel Ranch, circa 1922, Col­lec­tion of Carol Stan­ley

Theodore Roo­sevelt at Walpi, Au­gust 1913, Col­lec­tion of Har­vard Univer­sity; right, Snake Dance, Walpi, Au­gust 1913. Theodore Roo­sevelt and Natalie Cur­tis (in white hat) are in the cen­ter of the sec­ond row, NAU Cline Li­brary Emery Kolb Col­lec­tion

Natalie Cur­tis and Tawak­wap­tiwa in River­side, Cal­i­for­nia, 1907, Col­lec­tion of Natalie Cur­tis Burlin Archive

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