by Elizabeth Cunningham
Hot off the press! The Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company: American Moderns and the West book is now available. Beautifully designed with numerous color illustrations, the 220-page book reads like a work of fiction. Except that it’s not.
Between the covers, art historians Wanda M. Corn and MaLin Wilson-Powell introduce Mabel and discuss her impact on American modernism and culture. Americanist Lois Rudnick tackles the arts patroness as catalyst. And journalist Carmella Padilla scrutinizes Anglo patronage through the lens of Hispano art and culture.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Harwood Museum of Art staff nears the finish line. Last details – the wall and panel text, gallery guide, and installation – will wind up preparations for the May 22, 2016 opening of the Mabel & Company exhibition. For over four years Director of Development Juniper Manley has worked tirelessly on fundraising and programming. Please check out exhibition enhancing events on the Harwood’s Mabel website. Interesting to note programs inspired by Mabel. Here’s a brushstroke. Awakening in Taos documents her life and times on film drawing on still photos , many never seeing daylight, from the collection she donated to Yale’s Beinecke Library. The Passions of Mabel Dodge Luhan, a newly reworked full-length play, incorporates Mabel’s own words in a poignant, sometimes humorous, synopsis – a most insightful and sensitive treatment.
In my work with Mabel & Co’s co-curators, MaLin Wilson-Powell and Dr. Lois Rudnick, I learned how the two joined forces. I also discovered the exhibition’s origins. In 1979 MaLin, sponsored by the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, wrote a successful exhibition planning grant titled “Mabel & Co.” to the National Endowment for the Humanities. She proposed documenting the artists Mabel brought to New Mexico. MaLin was living in New Mexico at the time. Lois Rudnick, then resident in Boston, began her research on Mabel in 1974. Ten years later she published Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds.
The two women’s lives conjoined in Santa Fe. They both presented at a 1985 seminar titled “Artists of Taos and Santa Fe.” Over the years MaLin and Lois participated in a number of the same symposia. They became friends. In 2011 after the Harwood Museum of Art expressed interest in organizing Mabel & Co., MaLin asked Lois if she would like to co-curate. “As Mabel’s scholarly biographer and post-academic resident, I needed Lois to see this project through, and I knew we could be complimentary.”
These are two powerhouse women. I know and admire them both. I first met MaLin at the 1986 Southwest Art History Conference in Taos. She was then curator of the University of New Mexico’s Jonson Gallery. She presented on Horace Towner Pierce, member of the Transcendental Painting Group, co-founded by Raymond Jonson. In 1996 Lois was in town when the granddaughters of Eanger Irving Couse (Taos Society of Artists) hosted a dinner party that we both attended. She had just published Utopian Vistas, her second book Mabel book, investigating American counterculture with the Luhan House as springboard.
By way of introduction, MaLin is an arts writer, curator, editor, and lecturer. Since 1972 she has alternated between independent projects and curatorial work. She served as curator at The New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe and the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas, among other posts. MaLin has published twenty-five museum catalogs and more than 350 articles on art which have appeared in magazines such as ARTFORUM and Art Issues, and newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Albuquerque Journal. She has contributed to numerous books on New Mexico and the Southwest, including From the Faraway Nearby: Georgia O’Keeffe as Icon and To Form from Air: Music and the Art of Raymond Jonson.
Now an independent scholar, Lois Rudnick is Professor Emerita of American Studies, University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she served as Department Chair for twenty-six years. During her tenure she worked with middle and secondary school teachers to develop innovative multicultural and interdisciplinary curricula. Lois has written and edited several books, book chapters, and essays on American modern art and culture. Besides three books concerning Mabel, her interests in early 20th century writers and artists in Taos and Santa Fe led to publications and exhibitions on topics ranging from contemporary cross-cultural art of the Southwest to the art of modernist painter Cady Wells.
Excitement is on the rise at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Four staff members and I are embarking on docent training with Lois and MaLin this week. We get to experience Mabel’s life in the context of objects created by the luminaries she hosted from 1918 to the mid-1940s. Scholarship present in the Mabel & Company book and exhibition will make a lasting impression. Lois and MaLin’s efforts provide new ways of looking at the “New Woman” as well as the “New World” she and her contemporaries helped create. Altogether impressive!
Book details: Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company: American Moderns and the West measures 9 x 11.5 inches, 220 pages with 120 color and 50 black-and-white illustrations, hardcover $45.00. The book is available at the Harwood’s Museum Store, members receive a 10% discount. For more information, contact Glory Ann Penington, Director Visitor Services/Museum Store Manager at 575.758.9826 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the Harwood Museum’s Mabel & Co. site for more information, including lodging. (A few rooms are still available at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House for the exhibition’s opening weekend May 20, 21, & 22, and for the symposium weekend June 17, 18, & 19. Book now as rooms are limited.)