by Elizabeth Cunningham
March 2017 marked both the completion and this announcement of the WomenofTaos.org archival website – an independent resurrection of the original Remarkable Women of Taos 2012 website. In tandem, the old Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Remarkable Women of Taos (2010-2012) blog–archived on this website–makes its renewed debut.
How did these websites evolve? What is their significance? Their history?
THE BLOG: Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Remarkable Women of Taos — The Beginning, 2010
It all started with the question: “Why are there so many remarkable women in Taos?” Several Taos residents associated with the Mabel Dodge Luhan House posed this question in the summer of 2009, but it was director Karen Young who suggested creating a blog to explore it. The following year, I accepted Karen’s invitation to host the blog. We named it “Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Remarkable Women of Taos.”
Other questions quickly followed:
Why has Taos attracted so many strong women?
What invites women who live and work in Taos to become remarkable?
Formulating the blog’s mission, Karen and I thought that some answers to these questions might come from the lives of the women themselves. We decided to profile Mabel, along with some women in her circle—like Georgia O’Keeffe and Frieda Lawrence—and Taos women past and present.
How I remember that hot August day as I prepared to post my first blog piece. I said to my husband Skip Miller: “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I sense it’s going to be something big … and all I have to do is stay in the saddle.”
Well, two years later, the blog exploded into The Remarkable Women of Taos, the Town of Taos’ year-long 2012 creative community traveler education theme. It celebrated the roles women from all walks of life—across centuries and cultures—played in shaping the Taos community.
THE CELEBRATION: The Remarkable Women of Taos, 2012
What other town in the United States has dedicated an entire year to honoring its women? —Karen Young, Mabel Dodge Luhan House
On March 22, 2012—the 100th birthday of modernist painter Agnes Martin—the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico, hosted the official media kickoff for the yearlong theme and celebration of “Remarkable Women of Taos and Northern New Mexico.” Associated Press newswoman Susan Montoya Bryan’s article, “Taos Embarks on Yearlong Celebration,” appeared in The New York Times. The story spread to California’s Bay Area News Group. In Texas it ran in Fort Worth’s Star-Telegram and in the Houston Chronicle, and on the East Coast in Connecticut’s Stamford Advocate. Friends and relatives reported seeing the article in newspapers in Oregon and Hawaii.
At home, just in time for the media conference, The Taos News issued a 60-page special section on the Remarkable Women of Taos, featuring more than 200 women. Asking what about Taos that had allowed women to thrive for so long, one answer posited: “Maybe it has something to do with the relative isolation of Taos, and the fact that if women weren’t allowed to be creative and productive members of society, the fabric of the community would collapse.”
Preparations had been underway since 2011. That year the Museum Association of Taos created a roster of exhibitions to showcase women. Invitations to participate in the Remarkable Women of Taos (RWoT) project went out to other cultural institutions, the community, and individuals. Together we defined the mission: “To celebrate and recognize outstanding women—past and present—who are worthy of notice.”
Press releases trotted out the most illustrious historic Taos women: Taos modernists Agnes Martin and Beatrice Mandelman, arts patron and salon hostess Mabel Dodge Luhan, and the drop-dead-gorgeous high-society model, designer, and Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers.
Commissioned to write 30 profiles for the RWoT website, I found the stories of other past women equally compelling. Some brought me to my knees. I sobbed while writing about the Jaramillo sisters: Ignacia, wife of trader William Bent, New Mexico’s first territorial governor; and Josefa, married to Kit Carson. Their story exemplified the courage, resiliency and fortitude of 18th- and 19th-century Hispanic women. I stood in awe learning about the lives of potter Virginia T. Romero, and artist and Women’s Army Corps cartoonist Eva Mirabal, which opened me to the world of Taos Pueblo women.
As I wrote various pieces on Mabel Dodge Luhan, her life continued to engage me with its complexity and the intellectual component she provided by bringing writers Willa Cather and D.H. Lawrence, artists Georgia O’Keeffe and John Marin, and photographer Ansel Adams (among others) to Taos. Mabel left a written legacy recording her experience of Taos. So did Cleofas Jaramillo, who spoke for age-old Hispanic traditions, and Peggy Pond Church, who spoke for the land.
As for women of the present, if one word were to describe them it would be “authentic.” Authenticity seems to be the common thread, the attribute that most defines them and makes them so appealing. Their numbers are legion, their biographical portraits outnumber historic women five to one. A total of 137 contemporary women were profiled; over 400 participated in the more than 60 exhibitions and events that took place through December 2012.
As 2012 drew to a close, the opportunity and need for a more lasting document arose. I proposed a project to Remarkable Women web maestra Janet Webb. She suggested making the website into a “year-end report.” Janet referred me to Rebecca Lenzini, publisher of Nighthawk Press. Together we three resolved to turn the Remarkable Women of Taos’ profiles, exhibitions and events, and auxiliary material into a book.
THE BOOK: Remarkable Women of Taos, 2013
Before the book could be published, it needed editing. With so many different authors, lending uniformity to various styles—as well as copy editing—became my job. There were also a few gaps that needed to be filled. I spent the next several months soliciting and/or writing up new profiles for the book. Two other talented writers joined in. Lyn Bleiler-Strong wrote the book’s introduction; Bonnie Lee Black contributed book jacket copy. That work completed, Janet and her talented designer, Burrell Brenneman, prepared copy for publication. Editor Barbara Scott of Final Eyes gave the text a final polish and uploaded the final version for publication under Rebecca Lenzini’s Nighthawk Press.
In July the women profiled in the book were invited to attend and sign books at the launch of the Remarkable Women of Taos. What a joy to see these women meet and interact with each other!
NOTE: Since the publication of the Remarkable Women of Taos book in 2013, The Taos News has issued a yearly Special Section called Taos Woman. Starting in 2014, the newspaper has added more women’s stories to the roster. The 2017 edition of Taos Woman appeared this past month.
THE ARCHIVES: Websites New and Redux, 2017
Last year the Town of Taos opted for a new website. There was no longer room for the on-line 175 pages dedicated to the Remarkable Women of Taos. It became apparent that the web version of the RWoT would disappear. To preserve the material that many researchers, institutions, and individuals found the invaluable, Janet Webb proposed a stand-alone archive. Rebecca Lenzini and I agreed. Partnering with Taos Community Foundation and the Town of Taos provided the necessary funding. The result? The stand-alone archive Remarkable Women of Taos, documenting the 2012 celebration.
Inspired by the Remarkable Women of Taos archive, the Mabel Dodge Luhan House also made the original blog pieces from Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Remarkable Women of Taos (2010-2012) into an archive for reference purposes. That reference tool includes coverage of the 2012 Remarkable Women of Taos events and exhibitions as well as documentation on women like Rebecca Salsbury Strand, who became Rebecca Salsbury James.
Some years back an archeologist friend remarked on how valuable the Remarkable Women of Taos project would prove 100 years from now. The original hope was to provide role models for young women. One dream was that the book would be used for Women’s Studies classes. That has already happened. May these sites continue to inspire and inform.