Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Woolf Pack in Taos-- Days 3-4

End of the Trip

After the landscape tour was over, we loaded back on the bus and headed north and east for Taos.

Entering the city from the south (see map on previous post), we stopped at the famous church of San Francisco de Asis at Ranchos de Taos, where we got out for a few minutes and took various artsy pictures.

The church's forms are so rounded, so solid, that almost every angle seems to produce an image worthy of a professional photographer.

Across the street we spotted a pawn shop with an engaging sign that we decided should be the motto of the whole trip:

We arrived at the Mable Dodge Luhan ranch in good time, but only had a chance to do a bit of exploring before dinner.

Mable bought the ranch, which borders on Tiwa tribal lands, in 1918. At that time it was only the string of rooms to the right of what is now the largest part of the house.

She had brought a flock of Italian ceramic roosters from Italy which were cemented to the roof, giving it the local name of "Los Gallos"-- the roosters (though DH Lawrence may have preferred an earthier translation).

For the next few years Mable and Tony Luhan worked together to build the large addition to the house--first the living rooms, library, spacious dining room, with bedrooms for Mable and Tony built above. Then a sun porch was glassed in as Mable's bathroom, but Lawrence was squeamish about Mable being seen bathing so he and Dorothy Brett painted over the windows with various heraldic designs including celestial objects, roosters, and a phoenix.. A new sunporch was built out, extending from Tony's room, and then finally a third floor sunroom was built atop everything.

Having stayed in the house before I requested Tony's room, because I knew it came with access both to the painted bathroom and the capacious porch. (For more photos of the house, including Mable's room and the bathroom windows, see 1st blog entry for my March trip.)

Our agreeable driver drove us all up the road to where we could conveniently walk to the restaurant where we had reservations for a group dinner. Graham's Grill in Taos proved to be the only major disappointment of the trip, as they were unprepared to serve a party of our size. We came in at 6:30 and weren't served until 8:30, which meant we didn't get back to Mable's house until about 10:00. Fortunately, the guest house atmosphere at Mable's meant that the dining room was open and the water still hot for tea, so more socializing followed.

Many people got up quite early Wednesday morning to explore the ranch before a hurried breakfast. Suzanne Bellamy shot a good deal of video, including me in my nightgown on the balcony. Here she is filming me.

On the way north out of town, Pam Evans, our resident expert on Dorothy Brett-- the Slade-school painter who followed Lawrence out to Taos in 1924 and stayed there for the rest of her life (53 more years), painting Indian ceremonials dancers and other local subjects-- had the bus pull over so we could see Brett's house. I took this picture through the bus window, which means I inadvertently got a reflection of a passing car.

A few miles up the road, we also saw the entrance to the road leading up to the Lawrence Ranch. (For pictures of the ranch and a harrowing account of my journey there in March--which should explain why we didn't try to get our large bus up the mountain-- see my March blog).

Our trip back to Denver was quick and quiet since so many days of intense sightseeing at such high altitudes had tired most of us out. We reached the airport in ample time for people's flights home, and dropped off Stuart and Stephen's luggage, so they could pick it up for their trip back to the UK on the following Friday. Stuart had been hospitalized with pneumonia for the duration of the trip-- a sobering lesson in the physical stresses of jet lag and high altitude when combined with a frenetic schedule of conference events.

Woolf Pack goes to Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch--Day 3

The Woolf Pack goes to Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch
Day 3
We left Santa Fe early Tuesday morning and headed north to Abiquiu--the site of one of OK's two homes in New Mexico. The older, more isolated home where she stayed in the summer and fall is on a parcel of land she bought at Ghost Ranch. The larger, more easily acessible home which she had totally rebuilt and lived in during the winter and spring is just off the road in Abiquiu.
You can visit the Abiquiu house--which we did.
But you must get an appointment and can only go via the official tour, which takes you up the hill in a small bus. You cannot take anything but a bottle of water--no notetaking or pictures. Last year one of the women in my workshop snuck back in her car and took these two shots.
Seeing the Abiquiu house teaches you a lot about O'Keefe's taste and lifestyle-- everthing is simple and modern, but of the finest quality. The only extraneous "stuff" are the piles of river rocks arranged in the window sills. Everywhere else a Zen-like peace reigns, especially in her bedroom, a dark charcoal grey, with white carpeting, and a low bed crisply made with white sheets. The only other furniture and decoration is a low table with two pots, a kiva fireplace in one corner, a hand of Buddah on the wall, and the spectacular view out over the road and the mesas in the distance.

After the tour of the Abiquiu house, we went on to Ghost Ranch, which these days is only about 15 minutes north. The main buildings at Ghost Ranch are nestled into a kind of horseshoe canyon, with the open end looking out towards the Pedernal, the flat-topped mountian which O'Keeffee paintied again and again and where her ashes were spread after her death
Once at Ghost Ranch, we settled down to a picnic lunch. Here's a picture of us all in good humor. Moving from right to left you can see, standing: Eleanor the trip organizer, bob our bus driver, Linda, and laughing in the green shirt, Pam Evans. Seated you can see Gill Lowe and Leslie Hankins.
Just as lunch was ending, the clouds moved in and we were treated to a sudden thunderstorm, wwhich proved to be a real boon for those of us on the afternoon landscape tour of Ghost Ranch. This bus ride around the private areas of the ranch shows you many of the sites where O'Keeffe painted. Here is a picture of our excellent guide showing us an O'keeffe painting at the site of its composition.
The brief rain shower and the accompanying clouds brought out the subtle colors of the rocks which are normally blanched white by the sun, allowing us to see even more clearly the mimetic accuracy of O'Keeffe's views. Having been on the tour before, I had though she had slightly exaggerated the colors, but now that the rocks were wetand the sky grey, I saw she had indeed painted exactly what she saw.

Woolf Pack in Santa Fe -- Days 1-2

The WoolfPack goes to Santa Fe:

Days 1-2

Sunday, June 22
We left Denver and the Woolf Conference at about 1:00, loaded into our capacious bus with cheerful Bob the driver, and distributed ourselves liberally across the many extra seats. We stopped at the local Safeway on the way out to load up on travel food—nuts and fruit, mostly -- which circulated around the bus at frequent intervals: “Here come the cherries! I’ve got the organic garbage bag now!” Our friend Stuart spent most of the trip curled up in the back as he was feeling very poorly.

We got to Santa Fe in pretty good time—checked into the Inn of the Governors: a nice hotel with big rooms and the usual amenities. We had dinner at the hotel bar, which some liked ,though I was underwhelmed. We were all pretty tired.

Monday, June 23
Next morning was an early breakfast at the hotel. Stuart was feeling even worse, so with the assistance of the hotel staff, a car was called and he and Stephen went off to the nearest Urgent Care clinic. The rest of us trooped the five or six blocks north past the Plaza to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, where the new exhibit was on Ansel Adams and O’Keeffe.

The Docent talked for a while outside in the courtyard, but there were too many people to take inside—so once in the museum we were on our own. The O’Keeffe museum currently owns about half (1,149), of the total number of O’Keeffe’s (1229 listed in the Catalogue Raisonne), so every time there is a new exhibit, they rehang the whole gallery, creating a new series of connections among pictures.

This time, the first room contrasted flowers and shells. For the first time I saw “White Sweet Peas.” (1926; CR563 )(I am only reproducing images that have already appeared on the Internet.) I knew it was a pastel, and was therefore astonished at how large and impressive it was—as big as an oil painting (25" by 19") and quite indistinguishable from one, except you can see where the paper was rolled and buckling a bit. As always, an in-person view of an O’Keeffe shows you many things you have never observed in reprints in books, chiefly the subtlety and intensity of the color. In “White Sweet Pea” what drew my attention was the one dark, s-shaped fold to the left of the center of the picture. In person it is a particularly vibrant dark green—not at all black—that seems in some strange way to be the hidden heart of the picture, the road inside to what is behind all that white frilliness. Also hung near the entrance was a later 0il “Pink and Yellow Hollyhocks,” (1952; CR 1232) whose title hardly does justice to the blending of salmons, delicate lemon and the vaguest of lime.

Juxtaposed to O'Keffe's flowers were a number of paintings of shells.
She started painting shells around the time that her relationship with Stieglitz was getting fraught. I always think of the shells as being about that--they are hard and dry and dead compared to the flowers, and sometimes have chips like this one. I also think of the HD poem, "There is a spell, for instance, in every seashell (see: which seems to me to be very much about boundaries in relationships--about the decision whether to be open or closed to people.

Another shell picture that several of us liked was CLAM AND MUSSEL (1926; CR 534) This tiny oil nestles a dark mussell shell inside a lighter grey clam shell. As someone remarked, the result looks very much like an ear and conjures up the same childhood memories of listening to the sound of the ocean in the shell as HD's poem.

The largest room of O'Keeffe paintings drew me past the comparative display of trees by O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams because it had so many of my favorites on display. Throughout the museum, if you are at all attentive you notice the care with which pictures have been chosen to echo and contrast with one another so that just looking at them educates you about O'Keeffe's methods and themes. Lots of our group were attracted to two paintings ABSTRACTION BLUE (1927; CR 573) and a later piece, IT WAS BLUE AND GREEN (1960; CR1444)

We tried looking at these on their sides and finding landscapes, and even had a talk with one of the security guards,who had his own theory about the line down the center of ABSTRACTION BLUE being a mirror, showing two side of the same image.

After a break for lunch, we gathered again at the Museum and then walked the block and a half to the Research Center. I had wanted people to know about the fellowship and study opportunties here, and also had seen the two glass boxes containing OK's painting box and pastels which I thought would thrill Suzanne. But we were all in for many thrills as the tour included being able to peer into the contents of the drawers which line one wall of the Center Library. These are filled with all sorts of materials--more tubes of paints and boxes of pastels (OK often made her own pastels, adding pigment to a base and a binder).

Perhaps the most exciting displays were the drawers which showed the meticulous planning that OK did for every painting, making color swatches of exactly which shades and hues she used.

There were drawers also displaying the rocks and bones she drew, set next to her sketches or painted renditions. And we saw her tennis shoes and several of her jackets which she had on when pictures of her were taken in later life.

Being pretty surfeited with O'Keeffe, we all split up and went our separate ways for an afternoon of shopping and/or visiting galleries. Some of the group gathered in my room after dinner where I did a presntation of My O'Keeffe and Woolf keynote speech from last summer at Ghost Ranch.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Day 4—a day spent with Marsden, Chris, and Georgia

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

After a good night’s sleep in my palatial accommodations, I got up, ate breakfast and trotted over to the O’Keeffe Museum. The current exhibition is on Marsden Hartley, and I toured that as well as the selections from their permanent collection of O’Keeffes. I overheard the docent say that that of the 2029 known works by Georgia O’Keeffe, the Museum now owns 1141, so, there are always new pieces on exhibit.

Chris Reed showed up at noon, and we walked over to his favorite new restaurant, a tiny French hole in the wall where I had some excellent quiche. We had a really delightful and I think companionable lunch. He has left his job as chair of an art history department in Chicago and joined the English Department at Penn State, where he will be a Professor of “Visual Culture,” a term which he invented to describe the mix of art and intellectual history he’s developing. He has grown tired of the tight disciplinary boundaries of the Art History world, where he was being pigeon-holed as a specialist in “20thC British decorative arts” which is not at all what he is doing.

Anyway, I think we had a real meeting of minds. He has been working on Japanisme—American reactions to Japanese culture, and has also been organizing a large exhibition on American collectors of Bloomsbury art, which happily opens at Duke next winter.

I spent the rest of the day at the O'Keeffe Research Center, making lists of things I wanted photographed and checking references.
Tomorrow both the Museum and the Research Center are closed, so I will be reading and writing in my room--with a bit of wandering about town before going to Chris's lecture.

Back in Santa Fe (3)

Monday, March 17, 2008

I am back in Santa Fe and doing just fine. Sunday and Monday were fairly quiet days. I made friends with some nice people from Albuquerque at breakfast. They were staying in Mable’s room, and had forgotten to bring their camera, so I went up there and took a bunch of pictures.

There is an adjacent bathroom—all glass windows painted by DH Lawrence. The door was open, so we were able to peek in and take some pictures.

I spent much of the day reading, sadly a rather unusual occurrence for me these days. Felt very decadent. Later in the afternoon when I could feel that I was stiffening up from sitting too long, I went down to the plaza and walked through some of the stores. Picked up some dinner and spent the rest of the night finishing my book (Mable’s account of Lawrence in Taos: I must say they seem like a pretty emotionally immature bunch—everyone jealous of everyone else and going into sulks, refusing to speak because they’ve been slighted in some ways. Makes me very thankful for my friends.) and refining the pictures I’d taken to give to my new friends.

I didn’t bother lugging my laptop to the main room until Monday morning, so was late finding out some sad news. My best friend in Seattle, Mona’s, mom had died the day before. I have been close to the family for over 40 years, so this was pretty upsetting to me. Her husband Jim had gone into the hospital last spring break and had died shortly thereafter. Bea was fairly fragile, had been on oxygen for years for her emphysema and had weathered breast cancer. At Christmas she had been still very sad over Jim’s death; she just kept slipping away, getting small colds, and finally a pneumonia that put her into the hospital.

I drove out of Taos, stopping at the famous (and very beautiful) Los Rancheros Church, in the shadow of whose tranquil bulk, I called Mona on my cell and got the full story on her mom. I drove back to Santa Fe on the “River Road,” with spectacular views of the Rio Grande River Gorge.

Came back to Adobe Abode to a fabulously luxurious room. They’ve got a group of families with 13-year old boys staying in the main house, so gave me a free upgrade to “Cactus”—my own little adobe cottage. It is all done in shades of aqua, and is huge and roomy, with a sofa, fireplace, and shower big enough for several people.

I kind of took the rest of the day off, but did do a lot of catching up on e-mails. The Woolf conference does want me to docent the tour to Santa Fe after the conference, and my Australian friend Suzanne is definitely coming—which will make the whole excursion a wild adventure. Suzanne would have immediately bonded with Jamaica Kincaid, for instance… Considering all the crazy karmic stuff that always happens around here, I am anticipating some real fireworks. And she will keep the bus amused on the six-hour road trip from Denver.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Adventures in Ice and Mud--Taos Day 2

Taos, Day 2—the Search for D.H. Lawrence

Today was much better than yesterday—I mean, I felt so much better, verging on normal.

I type this sitting in Spud’s room, looking straight out the windows at the mountains. Somewhere up there is supposed to be a cross which Georgia painted, but for the life of me, I can’t see it. I always seem to forget to bring my binoculars. Spuds was Mable’s secretary, a cowboy writer and printer in his own right, with a press of his own in town, called Laughing Pony.

Today (Saturday) started out bright and sunny, with much less wind than yesterday. I took the road north to find the D.H. Lawrence cabin (ranch). It was much farther away from Mable’s house than I had anticipated, almost 20 miles, the last five of which were on a dirt road that got increasingly smaller as the snow banks encroached, and muddier as they melted. The road winds back and forth through pinon forests, switch backing across gullies and cattle guards, with sudden bright vistas of the Taos Valley miles in the distance.

I met only one car as I drove up the mountain side. As the ruts got deeper and icier, I was certainly glad I’d rented something with high clearance and 4-wheel drive; I’d never dared try to get up there otherwise. Or, if I’d tried, I’d still be up there --since my guess is even Verizon doesn’t reach that far.

Once I arrived at the property, I was dismayed to find it utterly deserted. The snow was almost two feet deep around and on top of all of the buildings, and I guess they thought nobody would be stupid enough to drive up there under those conditions. Very little was marked, so I took a bunch of pictures of various buildings, hoping that I could use the books I have to identify them later. It was eerily silent, the only sounds an occasional crow calling, and one little calico cat who stepped delicately across the snow and looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. In my long skirt and low shoes, I was not exactly dressed for climbing around snow banks.

I tried to make it up the concrete path to the memorial chapel, but that was even icier than the gravel paths. I slipped once and only saved myself from falling by plunging my arms (and camera) into a snow bank up to my elbows. Cold, wet, and not a little freaked out, I decided it was about time I used my better judgement , and so I picked my way through the frozen patches of slush to my car.

I do have a sense of how beautiful it is up there, but wonder how in the world they ever got in there with supplies etc. Talk about living primitive! Only one step up from camping. Of course, they mostly didn’t live there in the winter—still, Brett’s cabin (which is marked) is a tiny square, just big enough to fit a single bed across one wall. I would guess 8’ by 6’. There’s a stove in there, but the cabin is so small that the door bangs on it.

Having fulfilled my main agenda item for the day, I came back down to Taos, stopping at the Millicent Rogers Museum on the north side of town. This is a neat little place, full of odd stuff collected by this society woman who settled here. She was a great collector and designer of jewelry; my favorites are the “running star” designs she adapted from Native American pottery —there is a nice collection of pots and textiles as well. One of my favorite parts of the museum was a whole room devoted to the art of local children.

Apparently I have pretty good taste in museums because Jamaica Kinkaid was also there. I am sorry—I am not as good as Mark about going up to famous people and talking to them. I wanted to tell her about the twins, but never found a convenient moment. I think they (the famous) deserve their privacy, for one thing. The woman at museum reception gave me one of my favorite compliments—she asked me if I was from the area, and when I said no, she said I was dressed like a local. I packed pretty much all aqua, and that seems to be THE color of about everything here that isn’t that distinctive red-brown ochre color: Santa Fe rosy-orange. Of course everyone around here dresses like an old hippie, so I fit right in.

Spent the rest of the afternoon puttering in stores and galleries. Had a nice lunch and some pleasant chats with gallery owners, but found little I was moved to buy, other than some handmade paper. Can you believe I went in and out of a very nice bookstore without buying a thing?

However, I did find a WONDERFUL yarn store for Sue.. .
I‘ve opened the window in my room and it is starting to get chilly. Better run down to the wood pile while it is still light… Ah, the perks of being up in the main house: a wood pile by my door.

Apropos of nothing…. I think I may have found my totem. I’ve always liked the idea of magpies, and often describe my research methodology as a magpie-like gathering of shiny objects. But, if I’d ever seen one before, it didn’t register. They are all around the back of the house here, foraging for stems and bits of fruit tossed out in the compost pile. They are just gorgeous. As big as crows but starkly contrasting black and white, with a flash of deep cobalt blue when they open their wings. I’ve tried talking to them, but they seem rather skittish. Now want to find out all I can about them.
Well, I promised last time I’d only write every other day because it was so inconvenient (that was supposed to be the last word of yesterday’s blog). But I had so much to set down about today. I’ve also read about half a book—a memoir of Taos. Amazing how much one can get done when there is no TV, radio, or telephone, and limited Internet access. (Of course I do have my cell. Has the weather been particularly bad in Clemson? I’ve gotten about 4 or 5 lightening advisories on my phone today.)
Almost 7:00. I am going to run out and find some dinner. Then I think I will start my fire and curl up and finish my book. Tomorrow is Sunday. I’d planned it to be a quietty, mostly reading day. There are a number of resources here—books and articles etc. –which I want to take notes on. I am also planning to go to the famous Taos Church tomorrow, and see the exhibit of Lawrence paintings at La Fonda, the big (relatively speaking) hotel on the Plaza.
Hope you are all doing well.
Mom and Dad, I will call you Sunday as usual: 11:00 your time is noon here.
PS: I now have mud splashed up to the top of my bumpers—getting a little more authentic every day!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Santa Fe and Taos--Day 1

Dear Ones—
Well, I am sitting in a brick-red suede couch in the main sitting room of the Mable Dodge Luhan House, typing away. I can only access the internet from this area because the old adobe walls are so thick, the signal cannot travel far. The walls are hung with old pictures; I peer into them, trying to sight familiar faces: O’Keeffe, Lawrence, Jung etc. Dennis Hopper owned the house for a while in the 70’s, so there are also Easy Rider emanations from Dylan and the like.

AH, that’s better—I’ve moved into the dining room—there really was no place comfortable to type. The atmosphere is very homey and relaxed. When I asked for ice –as always—they took me back into the kitchen and showed me the ice-maker tucked into a corner. I can’t wait to get in there tomorrow when the light is better to take pictures—it’s gorgeous; very old and much as it used to be. The whole place is adobe, covered with stucco—with the diagonal sticks across the ceiling—in here they are black and red and white—an interesting mix of pueblo and Italian. All the doors are tiny—Jerry would constantly be stooping.

My trip has been going very nicely so far. I got to Albuquerque in good time and picked up my car. Not only do they have small SUV’s for rent, they even let you pick the one you want—so I have a nice little forest green KIA which amuses me by matching most of what I am wearing.
It took just about an hour to drive north to Santa Fe, watching the sunset stain the clouds behind me and getting used again to the immense reach of the horizon; space seems so much bigger here, even though there are mountains at the edge of things. The weather is pretty nice, clouds and sun, but terrific winds. It has still been snowing in the mountains, and as I wound my way up the “high road” to Taos, I passed many pine forests, still blanketed with white under the shadows of the trees. Apparently there is some chance I may get my wish for a snowy Sunday. I just really want to be able to take pictures of all this curved adobe outlined in snow.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I spent last night in Santa Fe at my B&B, the Adobe Abode. Was pleased that I had no problem navigating straight to it, except that when parts of Guadalupe were shut down for re-surfacing I had to go around via various back streets. They checked me in to a different room at the Adobe Inn—“Cabin in the Woods” is painted red and festooned with antlers and plaid, but quite comfortable. They do have nice hard beds!!

Slept very soundly, got up, repacked, had leisurely breakfast with a mom taking her daughter to interviews to go to acupuncture school. Then went over to Museum and the print gallery next door and had a brief look round. Got in touch via e-mail with Chris Reed, who seems pleased I am in town. We’ll get together for lunch next week. He’s been a Fellow at the O’Keeffe Institute all year; I think I may have told him about the fellowships back in 2004. Anyway, I am eager to hear how his research is going. His book Bloomsbury Room was fabulous and won several important prizes in the art history world. He is speaking Wednesday at the Foundation.

Haven’t gotten a lot done today. Have been listening while driving to the new teen vampire book that’s supposedly sweeping the high schools, Twilight; Mark Charney loaned it to me. I must say that it is captivating—and set on the Olympic Peninsula, which is fun as I can visualize the places. I have lots of good things with me to read, but spent much of the afternoon kind of half-napping.

The altitude does get to me for the first day or two. You feel rather out of breath, definitely spacey; I keep checking my pulse to see if my heart is racing—though so far it really isn’t. I got kind of woozy driving all those curvy roads coming up here—when I go back to Santa Fe, I think I will take the straight shot highway instead. So I dozed for a while, checking out the little book on flowers in the work of O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol I had bought at the museum. I got up about 5:00 PM and went around taking pictures of the house and outbuildings. It really is a photographer’s dream.. It really is a photographer’s dream. There are all kinds of lovely little vignettes – Sue, you’d love the fact that the main patio roof is studded with chickens.

When I came in about 2:30 downtown was just a zoo—tiny narrow, twisty streets packed bumper to bumper with people and cars (clearly it is a local badge of authenticity to have your car spattered in mud up to the door handles). I waited until after 6:00 when the shops were all closed to take a little walking tour. It’s pretty tiny but seems to have almost as many stores and galleries packed in as Santa Fe.

So now I am going to go back to my room and build a little fire (they give you a starter kit and directions to the wood pile), and take a luxurious hot bath and read myself to sleep. No TV’s or phoneshere, but fortunately I have lots of books and music on my computer, so it keeps me company.