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.