Sunday, September 14, 2014

Weekend in Taos at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site

Taos, New Mexico is famous as a ski resort but it is also part the state’s history since it is where the famous tracker, Kit Carson lived, and it has been an artists’ colony since the early 20th century .  E. Irving Couse (1866-1936) was a founding member and the first president of the Taos Society of Artists.   They included Ernest Blumenshein, Victor Higgens, Joseph H. Sharp and E. Martin Hennings among others.  The Taos Society  lasted from 1915 to 1927.  Couse’s home and studio and Sharp’s adjacent studio are located on Kit Carson Road.  The Couse Foundation was established in 2001 and the Couse-Sharp Historic Site was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

"The Couse House" by Couse

We visited on a recent weekend because our old friend, May Brawley Hill, was on her way there to lecture and stopped by to visit us in Santa Fe.  It is a beautiful drive up to Taos.   The Foundation arranged for us to stay at a lovely Bed & Breakfast, The Casa Benavides, right opposite the Couse Foundation.   That day there was an open house and it was also a book signing opportunity for May for her book, Grandmother's Garden: The Old-Fashioned American Garden 1865-1915.

That evening Virginia Couse Leavitt, the artist’s surviving granddaughter, and her husband, Ernie Leavitt, hosted a cocktail and dinner for May.   Virginia made a fabulous home cooked meal and we ate in the dining room in which Irving Couse and his family must have eaten in the early 20th century.

After spending a decade studying painting in Paris as so many of his generation had, Couse moved back to the states and in 1909 came to Taos and built his home there.   When his wife, Virginia, whom he had met abroad, died, their son, Kibbey, came home to take care of him and live there with his family.  The house has stayed in the family for three  generations.  Couse’s granddaughters, Elizabeth and Virginia, with the help of the community, have restored the estate beautifully including the famous garden created by their grandmother. This was known in Taos as “The Mother Garden” since it was the first Anglo garden to be established there.  (2 Image of the garden through the trees (photo credit: Penelope Hunter-Stiebel) Video cropped at the beginning and end)

Photo credit: Penelope Hunter-Stiebel


Kibbey turned the garage into a machine shop  where he worked on an automatic car transmission in the 1920's which never made it into production.  He did, however, create a mobile machine shop which was widely used since it could driven to fix equipment where it  broke down. It was part of our arsenal during World War II to fix tanks and other equipment without moving them. Large scale production could not be done in his converted garage so he opened a factory in Newark, New Jersey.

Kibbey’s Machine Shop in the Garage

The painter, Joseph H. Sharp had bought the Luna Chapel right behind the Couse house and turned it into a studio which he eventually grew out of and built a bigger one.  After he died in 1953 the Couses acquired that property as well.  Since the Taos Artists often used the Indians as models, at the moment there is a small exhibition of Indian artifacts there.

Couse’s studio in the main house has been preserved intact. There is a painting in process on the easel beside the platform where the artist posed his models, and also many of the objects that he used as props in the paintings that hang on the walls in originals and reproductions.

 This is just one of the early Taos painters’ houses that are open to the public and give a vivid picture of their time.

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