Sis­ters do­ing it for them­selves — and the rest of us

The Whites in Santa Fe

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Ellen Ziesel­man

For most of the decade im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing World War I, the U.S. econ­omy was

boom­ing. Women had gained the right to vote. Many up­per-mid­dle-class women had suc­cess­fully held im­por­tant jobs dur­ing the war, and the post­war pe­riod was rich with op­por­tu­nity for these women. The cities of the East Coast and Mid­west were crowded, most of the jobs there hav­ing re­verted to men re­turn­ing from war. Women of means flocked to the South­west in the late 1910s and ’20s to seek ad­ven­ture and new cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences; among them were Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe, Mary Cabot Wheel­wright, Dorothy Ste­wart, Mary Austin, Ma­bel Dodge Luhan, and two sis­ters, Amelia El­iz­a­beth and Martha Root White.

Af­ter they had grad­u­ated from Bryn Mawr Col­lege and vol­un­teered for the Red Cross as nurses dur­ing the war, the White sis­ters were on an au­to­mo­bile trip across Amer­ica in 1921 when — ac­cord­ing to lo­cal lore — they stopped in Santa Fe to get their hair done. As these sto­ries usu­ally go, they were en­chanted by the small town, pur­chased a par­cel of land, and never left. Ar­chi­tect and neigh­bor Wil­liam Pen­hal­low Hen­der­son de­signed their com­pound, which they called “El Delirio” (The Mad­ness). It in­cluded a swim­ming pool, ten­nis courts, and a large ken­nel for their Ir­ish wolfhounds and Afghan hounds. They were well re­garded for their phi­lan­thropy, and by all ac­counts, they threw ex­cel­lent par­ties.

The White sis­ters are a fas­ci­nat­ing lens through which to ex­am­ine the Santa Fe of the 1920s and be­yond. New Mex­ico Women in the Arts pre­sents a lec­ture by Nancy Owen Lewis en­ti­tled “The Artistry of El Delirio: The White Sis­ters’ Re­mark­able Legacy” on Wed­nes­day, Oct. 10, at 3 p.m. at the School for Ad­vanced Re­search (SAR). Lewis, scholar in res­i­dence at SAR, said the talk will fo­cus on “five in­sti­tu­tions that Santa Feans en­joy to­day, all made pos­si­ble by the gen­eros­ity of the White sis­ters: Mu­seum Hill, the [Santa Fe] An­i­mal Shel­ter, the School for Ad­vanced Re­search, Gar­cia Street Club, and Sena Plaza.”

The Whites cre­ated the De Var­gas De­vel­op­ment Com­pany to pre­serve tracts of land, do­nat­ing a par­cel for the Lab­o­ra­tory of An­thro­pol­ogy and one for the Wheel­wright Mu­seum. The Whites thereby de facto de­vised Mu­seum Hill. The sis­ters col­lected Na­tive Amer­i­can art and helped to or­ga­nize the Ex­po­si­tion of In­dian Tribal Arts, which opened at the Grand Cen­tral Art Gal­leries in New York City in 1931. Amelia El­iz­a­beth ran the Ishauu Gallery on Madi­son Av­enue as a means to ex­hibit and sell Na­tive Amer­i­can art on a wider scale.

The sis­ters are per­haps best known for their work in sup­port of Na­tive Amer­i­can is­sues. Lewis said, “They were in­volved in ef­forts to pro­tect Pue­blo land, pro­mote In­dian health, and pre­serve In­dian art. They con­trib­uted to the In­dian Arts Fund, pro­moted Pue­blo paint­ing as fine art, and or­ga­nized na­tional ex­hibits.” Their spec­tac­u­lar es­tate and the bulk of their ex­traor­di­nary col­lec­tion were deeded in 1972 to the School for Amer­i­can Re­search (now called the School for Ad­vanced Re­search), at 660 Gar­cia Street upon Amelia El­iz­a­beth White’s death at age ninety-four.

Martha died of can­cer in 1937, but Amelia El­iz­a­beth had con­tin­ued to be a phil­an­thropic and iconic force in the life of Santa Fe un­til her death. The School of Amer­i­can Ar­chae­ol­ogy had been founded by Edgar Lee Hewett in 1907, and was housed in the Palace of the Gov­er­nors — Hewett was also, at the time, the direc­tor of the fledg­ling Mu­seum of New Mex­ico there. Ac­cord­ing to the SAR web­site, “In 1917, the School [of Amer­i­can Ar­chae­ol­ogy] changed its name to the School of Amer­i­can Re­search to re­flect the broad­en­ing scope of its mis­sion.” In 2007, as part of its cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tion, the name was changed to the School for Ad­vanced Re­search.

The New Mex­ico Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Mu­seum of Women in the Arts was es­tab­lished in 1997 as part of the Na­tional Mu­seum of Women in the Arts in Washington. They sup­port lo­cal women artists through schol­ar­ships, pro­grams, and ex­hi­bi­tions. The lec­ture is a fundraiser for the com­mit­tee and in­cludes a re­cep­tion with Lewis.

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