The artist in residence
The Gustave Baumann house
Eleven years before Gustave Baumann built his house on East Buena Vista Avenue, the City of Santa Fe decided to standardize a building form based on the old adobes in town, prioritizing historic architecture to increase tourism. Residents subsequently built houses and commercial structures in what came to be known as Spanish-Pueblo Revival style, or simply Santa Fe Style. These structures had portales either inset in the front or extending all along the building — but Baumann, instead, plopped a tiny projecting porch over his front door.
While he chose to subvert the new dominant paradigm in that regard, he greatly amplified another quality of many of the older houses, and one that the city fathers neglected to include in their Santa Fe Style codification: decoration. Baumann elaborately carved the wooden posts supporting his little porch, carved just one of the lintels over the front windows (one of the instances in which we understand that he was not overly anxious about symmetry), and emblazoned the front-door lintel with painted decorations and the lettered “G.B.” and “MCMXXIII.”
On Nov. 15, 1923, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that “the bachelor artist” Gustave Baumann had finished his house: “It is unique and worthy of an artist. Built of adobe it contains no vegas [sic] or wooden ceilings; heated by hot water, the radiators are concealed behind gilded screens in the walls; the hall conspicuously absent from the old time adobe house is there with this addition: daylight from a roof window and electric light at night shining through the roof; there is a big room but at the back of the house; there are Indian fireplaces; there is a sleeping porch with canvas windows which do not rattle during a storm. It is the house extraordinary. In the center is a vault where Mr. Baumann stores his wood cuts.”
The New Mexico History Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art offer tours of the historic house on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 29, as part of their “A Gathering for Gus” symposium, which celebrates the centennial of Baumann’s arrival in Santa Fe.
Baumann had lived for the past several years in an old Methodist church on lower San Francisco Street and in an apartment on Canyon Road before he found the site for the house. With a design in mind, he hired architect Tjalke Charles Gaastra to prepare professional drawings, according to an architecture study on the house authored by Catherine Colby in 2009. Gaastra’s other Santa Fe designs include the 1920 Cassell Building on the Santa Fe Plaza (which was remodeled by John Gaw Meem in 1954 as the First National Bank), and the
1928 Bishop’s Lodge. The architect’s brother, George Gaastra, served as builder on the Baumann project.
The house at 409 Camino de las Animas (as the street was at some point renamed) has changed very little since Baumann’s time. The parapets still sport the Territorial-style brick coping, and the artist’s cement sombrero birdbath remains in the front yard. Distinctive elements confront the visitor immediately upon entering the abode. You first find yourself in an octagonal room with a large octagonal skylight. On either side of the door are built-in radiator covers fronted with carved wood blocks that were once used by the German-born artist to make prints. Above the corner fireplace is a print of the deer-hunt pictographs that he documented in Frijoles Canyon. High on the walls, Baumann painted a band around the perimeter of the room with stylized shapes based on Pueblo motifs. Within that band, he painted a tight series of silver discs. In the middle of each one, he set a nail: a practically invisible solution for hanging prints.
This room was Baumann’s gallery, intended to display prints and paintings for his customers. The center of the house has his fireproof wood-block safe. Beyond that is a large room with a bank of northfacing windows that, for the first few years of the house’s existence, served as his studio. A year after his 1925 marriage to Jane Devereux Henderson of Denver, Baumann added a detached studio building in the backyard so they could have an actual living room.
Baumann lived in the house until his death in 1971. His artistic legacy, besides his formal artworks and his famous marionettes, resides in this house. He painted thousands of marks around doors and windows and moldings. A wonderful wooden tie rack, made in the form of a woman holding an umbrella with one leg and one arm outstretched, swings out from the wall behind the bedroom door.
The palette of colors Baumann employed on the walls and his decorative marks represent another contrast with what was favored in 1920s Santa Fe — a house’s white walls and dark woodwork. The home has “a very Art Deco quality to it,” said Tim Rodgers, who curated the 2009 New Mexico Museum of Art exhibition Pulling Strings: The Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann, in a 2010 interview with the Historic Santa Fe Foundation. “His earlier prints from Indiana have some Arts and Crafts ideas, but by the time he’s in that house, he’s embellishing with silver leaf and using an octagon and has that orange-green color palette, all of which remind me of the Art Deco styling.”
In 1991, historian Corinne P. Sze interviewed Anne Albrink, who owned the Baumann house for 33 years beginning in 1976, for one of the foundation’s Bulletin publications. Ann Baumann, Gustave and Jane’s daughter, told Albrink that the walls used to be washed annually with mild Ivory Snow soap and warm water. “But I’ve never done it since I moved in because I’m afraid to do it,” Albrink told Sze. She confessed that her stewardship of the house was basically “a very expensive hobby.” The house, to her, was “like a beautiful jewel,” she said, but it was also a significant responsibility.
Baumann lived in the house from 1923 until his death in 1971. His artistic legacy resides there.
Albrink loved the design of the house, including its small kitchen and its unusual shape with that concrete room in the middle. “People don’t know exactly what to expect,” she said. “I love it when little kids discover that they can run a total circle around inside the house.”
Baumann did two more additions in the decade or so after his marriage. In 1927, the year that Ann Baumann was born, he added a bedroom and a sunroom to the east side of the house. Ten years later, he built a woodworking shop onto the studio. That enlarged building, and a shed to the west, sport unusual aluminum “dashed” moldings nailed around in patterns onto certain doors and windows. “He painted these things,” said Alan “Mac” Watson, principal of the building-restoration company Watson Conserves. “One of his favorite paints was this aluminum pigmented paint. He loved these glittering surfaces. He used it on lots of picture frames, as well. We got the last gallon of silver-colored radiator paint left in Santa Fe to do the rehab.
“Some people see these decorative things and say, ‘That’s so awful,’ but it’s just authentic. We’re not going to disagree with his aesthetic.”
Watson is board chairman of the nonprofit Historic Santa Fe Foundation, which acquired the Baumann House in March 2009 and performed comprehensive rehabilitation work. A new boiler was purchased and the heating system switched to hot-water heat. The original Arcola boiler is now used as a radiator, and doubles as a steampunk-looking artifact in the living room.
A report by conservator Bettina Raphael, who analyzed the house’s painted surfaces, says, “Both bedrooms and the dining room have decorative effects above doorways, on cabinetry and high on the walls that look like they were made by trailing a finger through the wet paint to expose the lower, lighter colored layer.” All of Baumann’s creative marks, and indeed the very paint on the walls, have been preserved, even with a coating of nearly a century’s worth of fireplace smoke and cooking vapors. “I don’t think they’re showing their true beauty,” Rodgers said in 2010. “In our minds, the tone of the house may have been a little closer to the tone of his prints, more brilliant. Right now it feels smoky and washed-out.”
When the restoration work was complete, the Historic Santa Fe Foundation put the house on the market, with a comprehensive historic-preservation easement added to the deed. It was subsequently purchased by Nancy Meem Wirth. “In the easement, the foundation allowed an expansion on the west side for another bedroom and a kitchen extension,” Watson said. “One of the reasons Nancy wanted to acquire it is that she disapproved of the idea of somebody adding more to the Baumann house.”
Watson, architect Beverley Spears, and veteran restoration carpenter Grey Howell spent a year and a half working on improvements to the house for the new owner. They focused especially on updating the kitchen and bathroom, but also replaced exterior brick walkways and rehabilitated Baumann’s gates. The fences around those gates are simple and ingenious, made up of rows of short latillas capped by three boards in an upside-down trough form. “There are other fences like this on the east side. Somebody did one and it spread,” Watson said.
Watson told the story behind a peculiar dog door cut into the bottom of a human door. The dog door is quite small and has a rounded cutout below it, in the bottom rail of the door. “Ann Baumann had a dachshund named Till, after the German trickster figure Till Eulenspiegel. She realized at one point that Till’s genitals were unusually tender, so Baumann customized that dog door so he [Till] could get in and out without bruising his penis.” This was undoubtedly one of the most useful and thoughtful customizations of the artist’s unique residence.
Baumann house detail photos Paul Weideman Opposite page, photo of Jane and Gustave Baumann House courtesy Historic Santa Fe Foundation; bottom, Baumann: A Geographical Treatise Together with Greetings From Jane and Gustave Baumann, 1927, color woodcut, collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art