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A Salon at the Edge of the World: Mabel Dodge Luhan in Taos

July 29, 2021

A force—there’s just no other way to describe her. How else can you account for the roster of guests Mabel Dodge Luhan drew to a remote New Mexican town in the early 1900s: Georgia O’Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Willa Cather, Dorothy Brett, Ansel Adams, Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lange?

Born an heiress in Buffalo, New York, Mabel had a flair for reinventing herself. In her thirties, after hosting *the* most storied and sensational salon of early-twentieth-century Greenwich Village, she trekked out to Northern New Mexico, which became her home for the rest of her life. In embracing the art and culture of the Taos Pueblo Indians, she transformed not just herself, but the course of art and literature. Her Taos property became a salon for progressive thinkers and artists; many of these visitors stayed for periods of time and several, like O’Keefe, remained their entire lives.

Mabel as a young woman in costume

We might wince at this tale of a wealthy white woman going native, and for good reason. We also wouldn’t be the first. In her own lifetime, some of her guests, including D.H. Lawrence, produced some mighty cruel caricatures of her.

But say what you will, she was no fool. She could write and she did, producing some terrific memoirs as well as reams of newspaper columns aimed at educating white America about Native Americans. In addition to being wholly earnest in her appreciation, she put her money into showcasing the arts and culture of the Taos Pueblo Indians as well as helping secure their lands and rights.

The House Mabel and her husband Tony Lujan built together in Taos.
Portrait of Mabel Dodge Luhan by Nicholai Fechin

In The Bohemians, Dorrie and Maynard arrive at a time when D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda are staying with Mabel in Taos. It’s an unsettling visit for lots of reasons, but it opens up the world to Dorrie in ways she will never forget. And such was Mabel Dodge Luhan’s power. She transformed writers and artists, and therefore writing and art, by bringing them to the place and people she most loved.

Mabel (second from left in the back) with guests. Frieda Lawrence is at the front on the left.

-If you want to learn more about Mabel Dodge Luhan, I recommend the PBS documentary Awakening in Taos: The Mabel Dodge Luhan Story and her 1935 memoir Winter in Taos. You can also visit the home and even rent one of its rooms for the night (or many nights!).