Wheel His­tory

ERNEST BLU­MEN­SCHEIN & THE TAOS SIX

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS -

New Mex­ico, es­pe­cially if you’re an art his­to­rian, the names Bert and Ernie may not put you im­me­di­ately in mind of the pop­u­lar

Se­same Street char­ac­ters as read­ily as they will the names of painters Bert Phillips (1868-1956) and Ernest Blu­men­schein (18741960). The artists, two of the found­ing mem­bers of the Taos So­ci­ety of Artists, ar­rived in New Mex­ico in 1898. They were here on the ad­vice of their friend and con­tem­po­rary, painter Joseph Henry Sharp (18591953), whose pas­sion­ate de­scrip­tions of New Mex­ico in­spired them to visit. But they were only pass­ing through, trav­el­ing by horse-drawn wagon from Den­ver en route to Mex­ico. Out­side of Taos, so the story goes, a wagon wheel broke on rough ground. The two artists, forced to stop in town for a black­smith, re­mained, se­duced by Taos’ scenic land­scapes, hum­ble peo­ple, and rus­tic life­style. Phillips went on to make Taos his per­ma­nent home, and Blu­men­schein, who ini­tially stayed for only a few months and later spent his sum­mers in Taos, moved there per­ma­nently in 1919. But the ad­ven­ture of the wagon wheel be­came a defin­ing mo­ment in the found­ing of the Taos art colony. “I only ex­ist be­cause the wagon wheel broke,” Margo Beut­ler Gins, Taos res­i­dent and Phillips’ great-grand­daugh­ter, told Pasatiempo.

In ad­di­tion to Phillips and Blu­men­schein, the found­ing mem­bers of the Taos So­ci­ety of Artists, known as the Taos Six, in­cluded Sharp, E. Irv­ing Couse (1866-1936), Os­car Bern­ing­haus (1874-1952), and Wil­liam Her­bert “Buck” Dun­ton (1878-1936). The Taos Six is the sub­ject of a new, pri­mar­ily photo-based ex­hibit at the E. L. Blu­men­schein Home and Mu­seum in Taos. Found­ing Vi­sion­ar­ies: The Taos Six and Their Fam­i­lies, open­ing Fri­day, Aug. 5, fea­tures rare and never-be­fore-seen pho­to­graphs and art­work, some of which comes from the col­lec­tions of the Taos So­ci­ety mem­bers’ liv­ing rel­a­tives. “There are ac­tu­ally five of us, grand­chil­dren and great-grand­chil­dren, who live here in Taos,” said Beut­ler Gins. “Vir­ginia Couse, who of course is Irv­ing Couse’s grand­daugh­ter, lives here. Bar­bara Bren­ner, who is Bern­in­haus’ grand­daugh­ter, is here. On my side of the fam­ily, I am the only one left that was born in Taos.” Beut­ler Gins is also pres­i­dent of the board of di­rec­tors for Taos His­toric Mu­se­ums, which over­sees the Blu­men­schein Home as well as the Ha­cienda de los Martinez, a late Span­ish colo­nial struc­ture built in 1804 that marked the end of the Camino Real, link­ing North­ern New Mex­ico to Mex­ico City. “We’re an in­di­vid­ual en­tity, a non­profit,” she said. “I would like these mu­se­ums to be self­sus­tain­ing for gen­er­a­tions to come.”

“When Bert and Blumy first got to Taos, they rented a room in what be­came R.C. Gor­man’s gallery at the end of Ledoux Street,” Beut­ler Gins con­tin­ued. Phillips mar­ried Rose Martin, sis­ter of physi­cian and art pa­tron Thomas “Doc” Martin. Blu­men­schein, mean­while, re­turned to Paris to study again at the Académie Ju­lian — his sec­ond time at­tend­ing the school — where he had first met Phillips and Sharp in 1894. This time, he met artist and il­lus­tra­tor Mary Shep­ard Greene and mar­ried her in 1905. They moved to New York City in 1909 to raise their daugh­ter He­len. On

ERNEST BLU­MEN­SCHEIN AND BERT PHILLIPS WERE ONLY PASS­ING THROUGH, TRAV­EL­ING BY HORSE-DRAWN WAGON FROM DEN­VER EN ROUTE TO MEX­ICO. OUT­SIDE OF TAOS, SO THE STORY GOES, A WAGON WHEEL BROKE ON ROUGH GROUND. THE TWO ARTISTS, FORCED TO STOP IN TOWN FOR A BLACK­SMITH, RE­MAINED, SE­DUCED BY TAOS’ SCENIC LAND­SCAPES, HUM­BLE PEO­PLE, AND RUS­TIC LIFE­STYLE.

their reg­u­lar vis­its to New Mex­ico, ac­cord­ing to Beut­ler Gins, the Blu­men­scheins stayed in four of the rooms of an 11-room home they shared with two other fam­i­lies, but they even­tu­ally ac­quired all the rooms for them­selves. A por­tion of the house, lo­cated near the Har­wood Mu­seum on Ledoux Street, dates to 1797, mak­ing it among the old­est struc­tures in Taos. The house’s lay­out has re­mained vir­tu­ally un­changed since 1931.

The ex­hibit of­fers a glimpse of how the Blu­men­scheins lived. Per­sonal be­long­ings, paint­ings, pho­to­graphs, and other ephemera that be­longed to the fam­ily com­pose much of what is on dis­play. A se­lec­tion of Mary Blu­men­schein’s il­lus­tra­tions based on tales from The Ara­bian

Nights fills one wall. Most of the Taos Six had back­grounds as il­lus­tra­tors, in­clud­ing Ernest Blu­men­schein. When they were liv­ing in Paris, Ernest and Mary even col­lab­o­rated on il­lus­tra­tions for U.S. pub­li­ca­tions. Ernest de­signed cov­ers for sto­ries by Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Jack Lon­don. Mary’s work ap­peared in Col­lier’s and The

Amer­i­can Mag­a­zine, but she was also an ac­com­plished oil painter and por­traitist. “Mary Greene Blu­men­schein was ac­tu­ally bet­ter, in my opin­ion, than Ernest Blu­men­schein,” said Beut­ler Gins. “But be­cause of the time and the way so­ci­ety worked, when they fi­nally moved to Taos, he in­sisted that she not paint.”

It took some con­vinc­ing from Ernest to get his wife to re­lo­cate to Taos on a per­ma­nent ba­sis. In terms of mod­ern con­ve­niences, Taos in the early 20th cen­tury was prim­i­tive. Their home was the first one in Taos to be wired for elec­tric­ity.

“Blumy was a lit­tle cranky,” Beut­ler Gins said, again re­fer­ring to Blu­men­schein by his nick­name. “Mr. Couse kind of looked like Santa Claus, and he had that per­son­al­ity. He was jolly and happy. And he was a great artist. Sharp was com­pletely deaf. He prob­a­bly had the best mind for busi­ness. The Taos So­ci­ety of Artists was a busi­ness ven­ture.” There were no for­mal gal­leries in Taos, and artists opened their stu­dios and or­ga­nized group shows in order to get their work seen. But they stood to gain lit­tle or no money from sales of art­work un­less they main­tained con­nec­tions in other cities, ship­ping works by train to venues in big cities like New York and Chicago. “For about five years, they did very well — and what I mean by ‘very well’ is that they were mak­ing a liv­ing.”

The Taos So­ci­ety of Artists may not have had the national im­pact of the Hud­son River School, but the group is no less

MARY GREENE BLU­MEN­SCHEIN WAS AC­TU­ALLY BET­TER, IN MY OPIN­ION, THAN ERNEST BLU­MEN­SCHEIN. BUT BE­CAUSE OF THE TIME AND THE WAY SO­CI­ETY WORKED, WHEN THEY FI­NALLY MOVED TO TAOS, HE IN­SISTED THAT SHE NOT PAINT. — MARGO BEUT­LER GINS

iconic, par­tic­u­larly in terms of its re­gional themes. “The Hud­son school is truly Amer­i­can,” said Beut­ler Gins. “And I be­lieve the Taos So­ci­ety of Artists is not as sig­nif­i­cant, but maybe sec­ond or third in Amer­i­can art.” Fo­cused in­ter­est by art his­to­ri­ans on 20th-cen­tury mod­ernism in New Mex­ico bears this out. The Taos So­ci­ety laid the ground­work for a se­ries of sig­nif­i­cant his­toric mo­ments that fol­lowed, in­clud­ing the ar­rival of the Taos Moderns, sev­eral of whom founded the Tran­scen­den­tal Paint­ing Group. “One of my mis­sions here is to make sure their legacy is pre­served,” Beut­ler Gins said. “They were im­por­tant to what came af­ter — which is Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe, which is Emil Bist­tram.”

Found­ing Vi­sion­ar­ies’ em­pha­sis on fam­ily life — a story told through pho­to­graphs — re­flects as­pects of Beut­ler Gins’ own fam­ily heritage and up­bring­ing. “Mary Blu­men­schein was very good friends with my grand­mother, Margo Phillips Beut­ler. I knew their daugh­ter He­len as a child. She was a good print­maker. Ev­ery one of us who grew up in Taos, we all knew how to hunt, fish, shoot a gun, ride a horse. For my gen­er­a­tion, and I was born in ’61, that was just our way of life. But what’s dear to my heart is the orig­i­nal Taos Six. My great­grand­fa­ther sat on the first board at the Har­wood Mu­seum. What I find spe­cial about this par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion is that this is where the fam­i­lies are, at least those of us who are left.”

The Taos Six, from left to right, Joseph Henry Sharp, Bert Geer Phillips, Wil­liam Her­bert “Buck” Dun­ton (seated), E. Irv­ing Couse, Os­car E. Bern­ing­haus, and Ernest L. Blu­men­schein, circa 1920, photo K.W. Couse; be­low, The ac­ci­dent that started

the Taos art colony, Ernest Blu­men­schein and Bert Phillips, 1898, photo Bert Phillips, cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Ar­chives (NMHM/DCA), Neg. No. 040377

Ernest Blu­men­schein: Ran­cho de Taos Church, 1921-29, oil paint­ing; right, Mary Greene Blu­men­schein: The Princess and the Frog, 1909, oil on panel

Ernest L. and Mary G. Blu­men­schein paint­ing in stu­dio, New York, NY, circa 1914-16, photo Paul Thompson, Neg. No. 201324; above, Ernest Blu­men­schein on the road to Taos, 1898, Neg. No. HP.2005.25.I; both pho­tos cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Ar­chives (NMHM/DCA)

THE EX­HIBIT OF­FERS A GLIMPSE OF HOW THE BLU­MEN­SCHEINS LIVED. PER­SONAL BE­LONG­INGS, PAINT­INGS, PHO­TO­GRAPHS, AND OTHER EPHEMERA THAT BE­LONGED TO THE FAM­ILY COM­POSE MUCH OF WHAT IS ON DIS­PLAY. A SE­LEC­TION OF MARY BLU­MEN­SCHEIN’S IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS BASED ON TALES FROM THE ARA­BIAN NIGHTS FILLS ONE WALL.

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