Entry courtyard to Mabel Dodge Luhan House.
This past March Marian and I had the good fortune to spend the weekend in Taos and had the further great fortune of staying at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s house known as the Big House. This house completed one hundred years ago, as is attested to by the date having been carved into the front door until her death in 1962 one of the most important artistic rendezvous locations in the United States. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of D.H. Lawrence’s arrival in Taos as Mabel’s guest.
As a piece of architecture the house is a powerful collection of prismatic forms that pile up to the solarium (where we stayed). The house, like the Taos Pueblo, is a man-made mountain – that speaks to the natural mountains beyond.
The house was originally part of a larger compound, is a 20+ room adobe construction. Stylistically it is an early example of what is now recognized as the Pueblo revival style, blending elements of traditional Native American Pueblo elements with those of the Spanish colonial revival period.
It was built between 1917 and 1922, using largely traditional Puebloan construction methods and incorporates into its structure two older buildings, the work was overseen by Tony Luhan, a native American who Mabel Dodge later married. The house is graced with many integral works of art including the native painter Awa Tsireh whose gorgeous rainbow compositions are a signature of his work.
View of the Big House from entry courtyard. The courtyard is paved with large cobble stones and contains a conifer surrounded by low bushes in the center. The house is construed out of adobe with wooden pergolas covering the walkways and patios.
Wall image by Awa Tsireh in the Big House. The painting depicts a spotted person crouched down on all fours on top of an abstract mound, with what appears to be an oversized candle in their hands. The mound is gold at the top and fades to blue.
Mabel Dodge Luhan, was born Mabel Ganson in Buffalo, New York on February 26th, 1879. She was the heiress of Charles Ganson, a wealthy banker from Buffalo.
In 1904, Luhan married her second husband Edwin Dodge. Between 1905 and 1912 they lived at the Medici Villa, the Villa Curonia in Arcetri where she entertained local artists in addition to Gertrude Stein, her brother Leo, Alice B Toklas, and other visitors from Paris including Andre Gide.
Edwin Sherrill Dodge (1874-1938) was born into a wealthy family of Newburyport, Massachusetts the son of manufacturer Elisha Perkins Dodge. He trained as an architect at MIT, graduating in 1897. In 1902, he graduated from the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
1911 Dodge returned to the US and established architectural offices in New York and Boston. In 1914 partnered with John Worthington Ames and founded the firm of Ames & Dodge.
In mid-1912 the Dodges (by this time increasingly estranged) returned to American where Dodge set herself up as a patron of the arts, holding a weekly salon in her new apartment at 23 fifth avenue in Greenwich village.
She was involved in mounting the Armory Show of new European Modern Art in 1913 and published in pamphlet-form a piece entitled “Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia”
In June 1913 she sailed to Europe where she became John Reed’s lover. They socialized with Pablo Picasso, they returned to the US that fall and Reed went to Mexico to report on the Mexican revolution.
Between 1914 and 1916 a strong connection developed between the intelligentsia of Greenwich village and Provincetown and in 1915 Dodge arrived there with painter Maurice Sterne.
In 1916 Dodge became a nationally syndicated columnist for the Hearst organization, relocating to Finney farm, a large Croton estate. Dodge and Sterne married later that year.
During this period Dodge also began spending long periods of time in Santa Barbara where her friend Lincoln Steffens had relatives.
A black and white picture of Mabel Dodge Luhan sat outside beneath a tree.
The front door to the Big House is mostly painted white, with a green panel with circular cutouts. The central cutout is lined with ribs carved into the door and contains the year 1922 painted in red.
In 1917 Dodge and Sterne moved to Taos where she began a literary colony.
On the advice of Tony Luhan, a Native of the Taos Pueblo. She purchased a 12 acre property outside of town and adjacent to Pueblo lands.
D.H. Lawrence, the English author accepted an invitation to stay in Taos, arriving with his wife Frieda in early September 1922. He had a fraught relationship with his hostess; later writing about it in his fiction.
Also completed in 1922 was the Saint Theresa house. It was built concurrently with the Mabel Dodge Luhan house and was designed by Mabel and Tony and built like the main house by men from the Taos Pueblo under direction of Tony. It was the first of five guest houses built by Mabel.
The oldest portion of the Big House dated to the 19th century and may have originally been a morada the remainder of the house was added to this pre-existing one room structure. The two houses share an entry court and continue the linear geometry of structure along the property line with the Pueblo lands.
In New Mexico, Dodge and Luhan hosted influential artists and poets, including Marsden Hartley, Arnold Rönnebeck, Louise Emerson Rönnebeck, Willa Cather, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Robinson Jeffers and his wife Una, Florence McClung, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nicolai Fechin, Mary Hunter Austin, Mary Foote, Frank Waters, Jamie De Angulo, Aldous Huxley, Ernie O’Malley, and others.
Entry to Mabel Dodge Luhan House compound. A thick adobe wall marks the perimeter and an adobe gable a bell within frames the entry gate. The gate itself is a thick, rustic wooden gate.
View from the Solarium towards the St. Teresa house. A light dusting of snow covers the roof level seen below.
A wonderful sketch of the Big House by Arnold Rönnebeck mentioned in the text above (1925).
Dodge died in 1962, after occupying the big house for 40 years. It was subsequently purchased by Dennis Hopper who first experienced its allure during the filming of Easy Rider. Hopper and his wife at the time used the house as a countercultural commune known as the Mud Palace.
After falling into disrepair Hopper sold the house to George Otero in 1977. He took on the massive rehabilitation process from years of neglect and hard use.
In 1966, the Attiyeh foundation purchased the house and begins the current operation of the hotel and conference center.