Got to Taos in time for Mabel’s infamous afternoon salon at her place behind The Hotel Martin now known as the Taos Inn.
An all-star cast was there. Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Maynard Dixon, Mary Austin, Frank Waters, Paul Strand and D.H. Lawrence discussing modernism and it’s influence on the Primitivo / Taoseños and their influence on the modernists…
Dennis Hopper took his turn owning the place in the early 70’s which was my first introduction to the Luhan compound. He wanted to make his offbeat movies here but many of the Taoseños hated him… imagine that?… too many guns, LSD & wild boys for the locals to tolerate.
Actor Dennis Hooper was arrested by New Mexico police and charged with reckless driving, failure to report an accident, and leaving the scene. Hopper, 39 at the time, pleaded guilty to the charges and…
A few years after Demi Raven and Janet Galore were introduced by a mutual friend and fell in love, they starting looking for a home where they could live together. But for artists with careers in technology, it was clear that a cookie-cutter house would not suffice.
“We spent some time thinking about what kind of future space we’d like to live in,” said Mr. Raven, 53, a software engineer at Amazon. “And we were aligned pretty closely in that we wanted something atypical and creative.”
“It’s that dream a lot of artists have,” added Ms. Galore, 58, a user-experience design manager at Google. “You want to find a raw space, and something you can build into a live-work space where you can make art.”
Fortunately, the friend who introduced them, Marlow Harris, is not just a matchmaker, but also a real estate broker. And she knew of an unusual building for sale that she was sure the couple would like: a former corner grocery store from 1929 in the North Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
The building, which had a retail space on the ground floor and a three-bedroom apartment above with a separate entrance, had most recently been used as an outreach ministry for a church. But by the time Mr. Raven and Ms. Galore saw it in 2015, the ground floor had been empty for years and the upstairs was barely habitable.
Outside, the building’s red bricks were beginning to fall out, as the mortar turned to dust. Inside, there were beaten-up walk-in coolers and leftover commercial sinks.
“It was a little bit grim and creepy, to be honest,” Mr. Raven said.
The decrepit interior was so creepy, in fact, that it inspired the couple’s first art project in the space. “We made a horror movie about it,” Ms. Galore said.
But despite the off-putting elements, the building got their creative juices flowing. “It was very much the size and shape of what I had hoped to find,” Ms. Galore said. “When you walk in the main door of what was the grocery store, you come into this big, 1,200-square-foot room with 13-and-a-half-foot ceilings and big windows.”
I visited Bob Chamberlin this afternoon in Carbondale. For those of you that don’t know of him he’s a gentleman outlier. Bob had a great and interesting career as a photographer capturing iconic cultural shots, particularly the Bay Area in the 60’s and as a premier ski photographer in Aspen that spanned fifty years.
I’d spent the morning with Lou Dawson visiting the Vintage Ski World Museum with a private tour by Docent and proprietor Richard Allen who led us to the Bob Chamberlin area. After a few hours of WOW! (to be continued on rŌbert soon) the gentlemen directed me to casa de Bob.
I showed up unannounced and we spent hours examining old stories and adventures … like when he first met the Fun Hogs at Paul Ryan’s casita in the Bay area that included Dick Dorworth, Lito Tejada Flores, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins. We stayed in the Berkeley area with Anti-war protests and cultural street shots that are as unique as they are priceless. The Aspen catalogue included HST running for Sheriff, offbeat People Mag shots of the Bored and Beautiful over the years and the great history of skiing in Fat City from the early 60’s on.. And he related with a smile and a snicker a recent dinner table conversation with the local ladies that let him know “There is Only One Way and that is God’s Way!”
It was a fine afternoon spent with a great guy who I hadn’t seen in thirty years… enjoy Bob’s photos that I photographed this afternoon at Vintage Ski World.
“Now don’t you keep going on to me about introverts and extraverts and insides and outsides,” D. H. Lawrence wrote to Mabel Dodge Luhan in 1924. Instead, he continued, she should wash the dishes until she could keep up a rhythm “with a grace.” At the time, Luhan was reading up on mysticism and Jungian psychoanalysis, and she had written to Lawrence about her discoveries. He was not the right audience. Lawrence regarded Luhan alternately as a source of irritation; as an embodiment of his bête noire, the dominating woman; and as a model for some of the most cruelly portrayed heroines he would ever write. He had vowed to destroy her, and she would come to believe, at times, that he had succeeded.
A former Greenwich Village radical, Luhan considered herself divinely appointed to “save the Indians” in order to restore the spiritual and sexual life of a white American society in decay. This vocation led her to New Mexico, where she ditched husband No. 3 for Tony Lujan, a man from the Taos pueblo. In Taos, she launched an artist colony, wrote volume after volume of a tell-all memoir, and hosted a parade of famous guests, Lawrence included. Their relationship is a central subject of two new books: Frances Wilson’s “Burning Man: The Trials of D. H. Lawrence,” a biography of the author, and Rachel Cusk’s “Second Place,” a rewriting of Luhan’s memoir “Lorenzo in Taos.”
It is a strange moment for a Mabel Dodge Luhan revival. Long the butt of historians’ jokes, she resists an easy feminist reading, and even the flowering of women’s histories in the seventies and eighties produced no unbridled celebrations. But she doesn’t make for a natural villain, either. Although, by today’s standards, her racial beliefs sit somewhere on the spectrum between troubling and deranged, they led her to support a multiracial array of artists and fight doggedly, and effectively, for indigenous land rights. Even her memoirs, which are peppered with occult vernacular and accounts of unhinged behavior, are essentially harmless—a modernist sex-and-gossip log, at high pitch. All the same, plucking her out of oblivion is a fraught endeavor: to mine the archive for characters to rediscover is to engage in a kind of revisionism, casting elements of the past as contemporary fables. Sometimes, that process is a cautionary tale all its own.
Mabel Dodge Luhan was born Mabel Ganson, in 1879, to a wealthy Buffalo family. In 1900, she eloped with her first husband, who died less than three years later, leaving her a son of questionable paternity. (She had an affair with the family doctor, who, she later alleged, was also sleeping with her mother.) Widowed and extricated from the first of many love triangles, Luhan set off for Europe, where she met and married the architect Edwin Dodge. Together they lived in Florence and socialized with the likes of Gertrude and Leo Stein and André Gide.
Eventually, the couple moved to New York, where Luhan ran a legendary salon out of her Fifth Avenue apartment, hosting socialists, anarchists, suffragists, and radicals of all stripes. One of the first of her famous “evenings” was orchestrated by the writer and patron Carl Van Vechten, who invited a pair of Black performers to dance and sing. Luhan was scandalized—it “made me feel first hot and then cold, for I never had been so near this kind of thing before,” she wrote. On another occasion, she asked A. A. Brill, the first translator of Freud’s major works into English, to give a presentation. Several of the guests, “incensed at his assertions about unconscious behavior,” walked out in protest.
Luhan knew everyone and was part of everything. She helped organize the 1913 Armory Show, the exhibition that introduced European modernism to the United States, and called it “my own little revolution.” She joined the Heterodoxy Club, a society for “tabooless” women, and wrote for The Masses, Max Eastman’s socialist magazine. She liked to be around revolutionaries like Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, and her sometimes-lover John Reed, not for their politics so much as their personalities. When she got tired of them, too, she helped Isadora Duncan’s sister Elizabeth establish a dance school in Croton-on-Hudson. Around that time Luhan became acquainted with her third husband, the Jewish painter and sculptor Maurice Sterne.
Perhaps inevitably, the marriage soured, and Luhan embarked upon a series of attempts at psychoanalysis—“apparently a kind of tattletaling,” she reflected approvingly. On one analyst’s advice, she dispatched Sterne to the Southwest, where she suggested he might find a new subject for his paintings. Sterne considered the separation temporary, and in his letters home he coaxed Luhan to join him. “Do you want an object in life?” he wrote her. “Save the Indians, their art-culture—reveal it to the world!” Shortly after Sterne’s departure, Luhan had visited a medium who foresaw her surrounded by Indians. Luhan was also haunted by a dream in which Sterne’s head floated before her and morphed into a second face, “an Indian face.” The letter, the prophecy, and the dream forming a triad of signs, she resolved to travel to New Mexico.
In Santa Fe, where Sterne was staying, Luhan judged the artistic community too established—but, in the smaller, more remote Taos, she found what she was seeking. “The singular raging lust for individuality and separateness had been impelling me all my years,” she writes. Taos was different: “All of a sudden I was brought up against the Tribe, where a different instinct ruled. . . . and where virtue lay in wholeness instead of in dismemberment.” That instinct, she thought, could teach America to abandon the logic of science and individualism and revert to mysticism and communal life.
As outlandish as Luhan may sound, neither her primitivism nor her spiritualism was particularly unusual in her time. Charlotte Osgood Mason, Van Vechten’s rival for the most influential patron of the Harlem Renaissance, believed that she was using her money to achieve a “mystical vision of a great bridge reaching from Harlem to the heart of Africa.” Fellow Heterodoxy Club member Elsie Clews Parsons likewise became enthralled with the Southwest, and, declaring, “It may seem a queer taste, but Negroes and Indians for me,” began to pursue her own fieldwork. (Parsons was a student and funder of Franz Boas’s anthropology department at Columbia, which trained Margaret Mead and Zora Neale Hurston.) And, in the nineteen-tens and twenties, much of the European and American art world was oriented around what would now be called cultural appropriation. A year after the Armory Show, the gallerist Alfred Stieglitz opened an exhibition titled “Statuary in Wood by African Savages: The Root of Modern Art.” When Luhan appointed herself the savior of the Indians, she was treading a well-worn path for avant-garde transgression. Where she deviated was in a choice that, with a century’s hindsight, appears less scandalous: marrying a man whose race differed from hers.
When Mabel met Tony Lujan, he was singing on the floor of a pueblo hut. According to Sterne’s later account, the performance was for the benefit of tourists, but Mabel was entranced: Tony’s face was the one from her dream. As she fell in love, she came to believe that “my real home was in the Pueblo.” Soon rid of their respective spouses, Tony and Mabel began work on a new house—not, of course, in the pueblo. Their adobe mansion had, by the time all the extensions were completed, seventeen rooms and three stories, along with central heating, soundproofing, and plumbing. (“Mabeltown” also comprised five guesthouses, a gatehouse, barns, and stables.) Mabel continued to praise the locals for their lack of materialism, and the hypocrisy was not lost on at least one resident of the pueblo, who, in a letter to the Taos Star, suggested that she trade places with him. “You drink muddy water which came down from the mountains,” he wrote, “and my five children will drink nice clean water from your faucets.”
By then, Luhan was no stranger to newspaper coverage. Her Southwestern adventures were duly chronicled, with reports describing her as the “first lady of Taos” and a “hostess and angel to numerous writers.” Aside from Lawrence and Parsons, her guests included Willa Cather, Georgia O’Keeffe, Martha Graham, Thornton Wilder, Greta Garbo, and Jean Toomer. Ansel Adams photographed both Tony and the pueblo. John Collier, who would go on to become the Commissioner of Indian Affairs during the F.D.R. Administration, visited Luhan and stayed on to help lead the campaign against the Bursum Bill, which aimed to privatize indigenous land so that it could be bought up by white ranchers and developers.
As for Tony and Mabel’s marriage, it was both famous and famously mocked. The writer Mary Austin told Mabel that Tony was “a joke—a good natured and occasionally ribald joke, but still a joke—to most of the people who come to your house.” When Tony accompanied Van Vechten to a Harlem night club, the event was so extraordinary that it merited inclusion in the New York Daily News’s society column. But in all the sensational press coverage, as well as in Mabel’s romantic telling of the story, Tony himself remains a hazy figure. He abandoned his wife, and lost his place in his tribe, to be with Mabel, and she later admitted that they had little in common. Tony never became conversant in Mabel’s preferred topics, like psychoanalysis and modern art, and he would not tell her the secrets of his tribe, no matter how desperately she pleaded. That he had been able to largely avoid school was part of his appeal. “He was Indian,” she wrote, “whole, uninjured, and unsplit.”
This, of course, is projection. With her descriptions of Tony’s attributes, Mabel tells us less about her partner than about the qualities she feels she lacks. In current academic-adjacent parlance, we might say that she is “othering” Tony, and intend it as a condemnation. But Mabel wore the accusation proudly: “Tony is a kind of symbol of my having gone over into an ‘otherness,’ as Lawrence would say.” Applying the term without any negative connotation, she was careful to credit the person from whom she had picked it up. As Wilson notes in her new biography, its originator was none other than D. H. Lawrence himself.
If Luhan’s politics have not aged well, neither have Lawrence’s. His sex scenes—in which any motion by the female partner is tantamount to a moral failure—will baffle the contemporary reader. But they recall the advice Luhan received from her first analyst, who told her to stop trying to assume “the male role” during intercourse, and, when she mentioned wanting to cut her hair short, accused her of expressing the intent to commit castration. Both Luhan and Lawrence were profoundly influenced by theosophy, a nineteenth-century occult movement, and Lawrence shared Luhan’s faith in the tonic properties of indigenous life. “America must turn again to catch the spirit of her own dark, aboriginal continent,” he wrote in The New Republic.“They must pick up the life-thread where the mysterious Red race let it fall.”
By the time he collided with Luhan in New Mexico, Lawrence had already published several novels, including “Sons and Lovers” and “Women in Love,” and been censored multiple times over. Sex was, for him, a religion, and he had earned a reputation for risqué prose. He had also broken up a marriage, persuading an aristocratic German woman named Frieda to abandon her husband and three children. For years, the pair had lived a nomadic existence, staying in such places as Sardinia, Australia, and Sri Lanka. The glamorous women who pursued Lawrence were flummoxed by his loyalty to Frieda: stout, older than he was, decidedly ungifted with words. Much is known about their life together because, as Wilson notes, most people Lawrence spent time with wrote about the experience.
Luhan was no exception. Written in direct address to the poet Robinson Jeffers, “Lorenzo in Taos” is dedicated “To Tony and All Indians,” but Tony and the Indians are a sideshow. The memoir’s raison d’être is the arrival of Lawrence, whom Mabel has mystically “summoned” to Taos to articulate the beauty of the Indian way of life. When Lawrence is keener on depicting Mabel’s romance with Tony, she does not object, framing it in symbolic terms. “Of course it was for this I had called him from across the world,” she writes, “to give him the truth about America: the false, new, external America in the east, and the true, primordial, undiscovered America that was preserved, living, in the Indian bloodstream.” She intends Lawrence to write a parable about her escape from a fallen civilization to an American Eden.
It is Frieda who vetoes the collaboration. From Luhan’s first encounter with the Lawrences, which she reports as a “vibratory disturbance,” Luhan and Frieda are suspicious of one another. Luhan thinks she can see Frieda picturing her and Tony in bed, and Frieda’s correspondence supports the intuition that she was shocked by the mixed-race pairing. After Luhan wears a dressing gown to her first planning session with Lawrence, and listens sympathetically as he gripes about his wife (“the hateful, destroying female”), Frieda bans their one-on-one meetings, and Lawrence’s novel is dropped.
Their relationship, though, is just getting started. Over the course of “Lorenzo in Taos,” Lawrence attends Hopi ceremonies, steals some plausibly-deniable physical contact with Luhan (fingers meeting under soap suds, thighs brushing on horseback), berates Tony, pelts Frieda with stones, and sagely advises Luhan’s son to beat his new wife. He and Frieda are in and out of Taos, eventually returning with the painter Dorothy Brett, whom Luhan characterizes as an awkward hanger-on. Whenever Lawrence is absent, Luhan feels a “psychic emptiness.” She loves him, then gives him up, then can’t leave him alone. He spreads the rumor that she attempted to seduce him, and promises to “destroy” her, then assures her that she’s no longer his enemy, and that, even when she was, he “never really forsook” her. She sends him a letter ending their friendship, because “his core was treacherous.”
Some elements of “Lorenzo” are ripe for feminist finger-wagging, but Luhan depicts Lawrence’s misogyny with a light, self-mocking humor. Appalled at her laziness—she was accustomed to spending the first half of the day in bed—he instructs her to scrub her floors and bake bread, feats she attempts to comic effect. She even agrees to forgo her flowing dresses for the fitted waists and aprons of his childhood. (“My heart sank,” Luhan writes, “but I determined to be equal to this need of his to be entirely surrounded by all sorts and sizes of persons dressed like his mother.”) She is less inclined to indulge Lawrence’s substantive critiques of her character. “I am not going to think of you as a writer,” he tells her early on. “I’m not going to think of you even as a knower.” To him, she will always be “the Eve who is Voiceless like the serpent”—or, in Luhan’s words, “that greatest living abomination, the dominating American woman.”
Out of the breakdown Lawrence occasions comes a revelation: Luhan begins work on her memoirs. In what would later be titled “Intimate Memories,” she reproduces the allegorical plot she sketched out for Lawrence, and “Lorenzo” concludes with her sending him the first volumes and receiving his reply. “It’s the most serious ‘confession’ that ever came out of America,” he writes, “and perhaps the most heart-destroying revelation of the American life-process that ever has or ever will be produced.” His response is everything she’d wished for. She has written for an audience of one, she admits, and he at last thinks of her as a writer, even as a knower. In this final, self-reflexive turn, Luhan caters almost too well to a latter-day feminist readership: rather than waiting for Lawrence to tell her story, she tells it herself.
The story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe — the singer and guitarist often called the godmother of rock-and roll — was untold for so long that any attempt to bring it to life had to be seismic. An early rumbling arrived in 2007 with the release of Gayle F. Wald’s biography “Shout, Sister, Shout!” Ten years later came the tremors of a new musical by playwright Cheryl L. West (“Jar the Floor”) at the Pasadena Playhouse, based on Wald’s book. In 2019, actress Carrie Compere was cast as Tharpe in a production of “Shout Sister Shout!” at the Seattle Repertory Theater. Today, Compere is reprising the role, through May 13, at Ford’s Theatre.
Tharpe, who was buried in an unmarked grave in 1973, is experiencing something of a renaissance. She was the subject of the biographical drama “Marie and Rosetta” at Mosaic Theater in 2018, the same year the musician was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In 2019, her memory was honored at a Pyer Moss fashion show in New York. And last summer, Tharpe was name-checked by Beyoncé in her song “Break My Soul (The Queens Remix).” There is rising interest in both Tharpe’s musical style and her sexuality, with many calling her an LGBTQ icon.
“Shout” details the life and career of the Arkansas native, known in the 1930s and 1940s for crossing over from gospel to secular music while shredding on her Gibson Les Paul electric guitar — ultimately inspiring the likes of Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Johnny Cash, even duckwalking before Chuck Berry did. And yet, as Wald says in a phone interview, the trailblazer’s impact was overshadowed in the 1970s by “skinny White boys.”
“There’s a tremendous change in the public perception of where rock-and-roll comes from, and who embodies it, who a rock god is,” Wald says. “There’s a way that Rosetta Tharpe is really invisible in that narrative, particularly as a Black female artist.”
Tharpe’s defiant blend of sanctified lyrics and secular sounds in songs like “Didn’t It Rain?” and “Up Above My Head” made Tharpe an enigma in her time. West, the playwright, says she saw the potential for a show as soon as she read Wald’s book — almost from the empowering title of the book alone: “Well, imagine [‘Shout, Sister, Shout!’] on a T-shirt,” she says with a laugh.
As an actress, Compere says she rose to the challenge of capturing the indomitable spirit behind Tharpe’s voice, and what she calls the “beautiful, bumpy ride” that was Tharpe’s life, noting that Tharpe endured misogyny, racism and even shunning by her church for performing in such “sinful” venues as New York’s Cotton Club and Washington’s Griffith Stadium as she spread “love through music.” In preparing for the role, the actress says, she carried a guitar around constantly, as Tharpe did, to learn how the musician “communicated through it.” Compere’s greatest frustration? Only that it took her so long to discover Tharpe.
“After I booked the role, obviously I dove in headfirst in who this woman was and what she did,” Compere says. “It was empowering to learn about her, but also disappointing that I had not known who she was. … She’s not at the forefront of conversations when we talk about Black history, and specifically Black people’s contribution to music in the world.”
Due to the lack of recorded interviews with Tharpe, Compere says, she sought out YouTube videos of Tharpe’s old performances to find Tharpe’s voice. “There’s hundreds of videos,” she says. “You can go hear her sing. You can see her in her performative world. … But finding that — the person who’s sitting down with a drink in their hand that just did a performance and their forehead is sweating and their wig is off, you know? What are those conversations? What did she sound like in those spaces?”
Wald says she also imagined those conversations when she conducted interviews for her biography, particularly in talks with Tharpe’s singing partner of five years (and rumored love interest) Marie Knight. Although Knight rejected such gossip, according to Wald, a professor of American studies at George Washington University, the biographer says she was personally moved by the impact that the singers’ relationship has had on the LGBTQ community.
“A lot of queer-friendly artists like Lizzo and Janelle Monáe will talk about Rosetta Tharpe as a queer female foremother,” Wald says. “To me, it’s less interesting what [Rosetta and Marie] did than [the fact that] there’s a lot of people who see her and they get a lot of inspiration. They see her as a queer performer, and that’s meaningful to them.”
West singles out another formative relationship: the one between Tharpe and her “traditional gospel evangelist” mother. “One of the things that we explore in the story is the challenges for a child who wants another pattern that may go against the values of the mother,” she says. “But Rosetta was very much about bending the rules, finding her own voice. I think, as artists in the world today, that is always going to be the struggle.”
For Compere, making the walls of Ford’s Theatre echo with a joyful noise is the best way to honor her life. “Rosetta doesn’t fit in a traditional theater experience,” the actress says. “She’s going to break the fourth wall. … A part of her performance was being able to connect with people because it was gospel. … She was doing God’s work.”
West emphasizes a different kind of evangelism: the idea that African American history is American history. “I think that in this day and age, we need reminders of how important our people that were the trailblazers are, and what they had to teach us as we go on our own journey,” she says.
To Wald, whose biography has just been republished in a second edition, watching Tharpe reclaim the spotlight has been gratifying. “I really feel like putting Rosetta Tharpe in the place where she has always been — recognizing her place there — really changes the whole thing,” she says. “It not only makes her visible, but it means that the whole story has to shift because she was there.”