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High Society

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Taos is celebrating 100 years on the art world map as well as the gents who put it there. Meet the women who keep the tradition alive

By Jayme Moye

Six painters who called themselves the Taos Society of Artists transformed the small New Mexico town into a celebrated art colony. Image courtesy of The Couse Foundation.
Six painters who called themselves the Taos Society of Artists transformed the small New Mexico town into a celebrated art colony. Image courtesy of The Couse Foundation.

An artist enclave doesn’t happen by accident. The Taos that we enjoy today is the result of more than 100 years of conscious choices in support of working artists (in both the best of times and the worst of times). In fact, art was a priority in Taos even before the north-central New Mexico community was officially incorporated as a town in 1934 — it had already been an artist colony for some 30 years prior.

Credit for the earliest advancement of art in Taos belongs to six well-educated painters who called themselves the Taos Society of Artists, founded in 1915. While the endeavor didn’t survive the Great Depression, these gentlemen’s efforts to expose the world to “Real American Art” — by sending their paintings of uniquely American images and Native American symbolism across the country on traveling exhibits — put Taos on the map as an art center and brought the Taos art colony international acclaim.

Founding member Oscar Berninghaus’ Glorieta.
Founding member Oscar Berninghaus’ Glorieta. Image courtesy of The Couse Foundation.

Now home to five museums and dozens of galleries, Taos, in honor of the Taos Society of Artists’ 100th anniversary, will throughout the year celebrate the contributions of the society and its followers — as well as those of the contemporary artists continuing the tradition. All of the town’s museums and many galleries will host art displays, lecture series, and events centered on this theme. The Couse-Sharp Historic Site (after Taos Society of Artists founders Joseph Henry Sharp and E. Irving Couse) held a panel discussion in June that included 12 descendants of the Taos Society of Artists members.

But perhaps nowhere is the spirit of the Taos Society of Artists more alive and well than at Taos’ modern-day art cooperatives. The members of the society were themselves working artists and formed their organization as a cooperative as opposed to a collective — a notable distinction because a cooperative actually sells art. Each member assumes a different responsibility in running the gallery, making it possible to be both an artist and a business owner (a difficult balance otherwise).

Las Comadres Women’s Cooperative member Kim Pollis and her tin artwork. Photo by Gail Russell.
Las Comadres Women’s Cooperative member Kim Pollis and her tin artwork. Photo by Gail Russell.

A charming example is Las Comadres Women’s Cooperative Gallery, located just north of the Plaza on Bent Street. The eclectic shop has been in business for 16 years, weathering multiple economic downturns. Eight female artists split the business tasks — from operating the retail store to running the website — as well as create the art that’s for sale.

“People love coming in the store and getting to meet one of the artists,” says Mari “Mud” Hawkes, co-op member and potter. “As an artist, you could be in a studio all the time and never get the direct feedback of people looking at your work. I’ve found it just so inspiring.” The Taos Society of Artists would be proud.

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