Mabel’s 2016 Big Birthday Tribute

by Elizabeth Cunningham

This February 26th marks the 137th anniversary of Mabel’s birth. In past years the Mabel Dodge Luhan House has thrown her memorial dinners and hosted special events. This year she gets the biggest birthday party ever.

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Opening in May at the Harwood Museum of Art, the Mabel and Company: American Modernism and the West exhibition examines art works created by the modernist movers and shakers who were Mabel’s guests in Taos. The landscape, the brilliant light, and the traditional lifeways of the Hispanic and Pueblo people made an indelible impression. In every case, these American luminaries found inspiration. When they departed Mabel’s they returned home revived and transformed, with new artistic expressions.

Not only does this exhibition portray Taos as catalyst, it is a snapshot in time. American modernism from the 1920s through the 1940s with a northern New Mexico filter. Taos as a Paris of the American West. And Mabel instigated it all.


She received a different kind of gift on this birthday. Today the Harwood Museum of Art finalized the Mabel and Company enhancement events. These will appear next week on a designated website: On the calendar you’ll find detailed listings of the June symposium, showings of the film Awakening in Taos: the Mabel Dodge Luhan Story, the play ”The Passions of Mabel Dodge Luhan,” docent tours of the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, freshly minted opera and musical performances inspired by Mabel, and many other events. Also listed are booking opportunities with the Mabel Dodge Luhan House and hotels offering Mabel packages.


All this brought to mind Mabel’s many accomplishments. I touch on them here because many people aren’t aware of her activism and generosity. Before moving to Taos she hosted two salons – one in Italy, and one in New York. The latter is considered one of the most famous in 20th-century America. She drew many modernists from her salon to Taos. Mabel also served as Vice President of the 1913 Armory show, the exhibition that first introduced modernist art to American audiences. She was an advocate of workers and women’s rights. For some years she wrote a column for Hearst newspapers.

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In Taos, besides hosting and supporting various creatives, she gifted one of her homes to the Town of Taos. Providing space for the town’s first hospital, she installed the first professional medical team–Dr. Ashley Pond and his wife Lucille, both trained at Yale.

Mabel funded the bandstand on Taos Plaza. She donated thousands of books to the Harwood Library (the town’s first library, now the Taos Public Library). Mabel provided employment for staff drawn from Taos Pueblo and the Hispanic communities. She helped defend native rights, and supported Taos Pueblo’s early attempts for the return of the tribe’s sacred Blue Lake.


Upcoming posts will elaborate on these achievements and what they meant in American cultural and Taos history. One thing for certain: in her time Mabel achieved her goal of putting Taos on the map. An advocate for all the arts, she would appreciate all the programming built around the Mabel and Company exhibition. It may have surprised her to know that her life story and accomplishments continue to inspire creatives across the arts spectrum.

Happy Birthday, Mabel! And thank you.