Find Southwest History in Taos, New Mexico
By Victor Block
Countless art galleries line many streets of the tiny town. Reminders of its past as a Spanish colonial outpost and frontier settlement are everywhere. Trendy shops attract discriminating buyers. The brooding remnants of pueblos offer evidence of the lasting influence of Native American culture.
Taos, New Mexico, would be worth a visit for its setting alone. It's surrounded by high-country plains interrupted by towering peaks. The Rio Grande River cuts a jugged gash through the desertlike terrain.
While the population of Taos is only about 6,000, it makes up in appeal and attractions what it lacks in size. Let's pick up the story in 1540, when a Spanish expedition arrived in the area to find magnificent pueblo structures in which the Tiwa Indians lived.
The Spanish established Taos around 1615. Its heart was a fortified walled square enclosed by adobe buildings. Today the Plaza, like the rest of Taos, reveals the blending of Native American, Spanish and Anglo-American cultures that have created a rich tapestry. Other colorful threads were added by fur traders, mountain men and later by artists.
If you prefer modern structures sheathed in glass, you won't find them here. Instead the scene is soft, and the ochre color of the Pueblo-style architecture blends naturally with that of the surrounding desert. The Plaza continues to serve as the core of town and is the logical place to begin an exploration.
Four rooms in the Ernest L. Blumenschein Home and Museum formed part of the defensive walls that surrounded the original settlement. Later they were incorporated into a home where the artist and his painter wife lived and worked during the first decades of the 20th century. In addition to paintings by its former occupants, the collection includes works by members of the Taos Society of Artists. In the early 20th century they earned the town worldwide recognition as a major art colony.
Paintings by Taos Society members also hang in the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, named for the Russian emigre who came to town in 1927 and evolved into a leading portraitist. Other museums, some located in homes of former residents, also relate chapters of the intriguing history of Taos. The Harwood Museum displays works by outstanding 18th- to 21st-century painters.
The story of the Millicent Rogers Museum involves the high-society scion of a wealthy industrialist who came to Taos to recover from a failed romantic affair with Hollywood actor Clark Gable. Her collection includes textiles, pottery and other arts and crafts endemic to the area.
Along with its claim to fame as a center for a fascinating fusion of artistic genres, Taos is a shopping mecca. The challenge becomes how to narrow down an overwhelming selection of cowboy and cowgirl paraphernalia, Native American items and a long list of other goods.