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2 Degrees of Writer, Artist

TAOS – Painter Georgia O’Keeffe and novelist and painter D.H. Lawrence never met, but their works and friends were interwoven.

And they were both drawn to New Mexico and Taos.

Those connections will be explored Saturday in “Spiritual Connections: Georgia O’Keeffe and D. H. Lawrence,” a lecture by professor Katherine Toy Miller at the Taos Community Auditorium.

If you go
What: “Spiritual Connections: Georgia O’Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence,” a lecture followed by a tour of the Lawrence ranch.
When: Lecture, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by the tour.
Where: Lecture is at Taos Community Auditorium, 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos. Carpooling to the ranch is recommended since parking is limited. Visitors should be prepared for high altitude, intense sun and uneven terrain. Wear sturdy walking shoes and bring a hat, sunscreen and water.
Admission: Free and open to the public.
Information: Visit the Friends of D.H. Lawrence website at www.friendsofdhlawrence.org or the Taos Public Library website at www.taoslibrary.org.

The talk will be followed by a rare tour of the Lawrence Ranch in San Cristobal, north of Taos.

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Lawrence, a world traveler, had visions of creating a Utopian society called Rananim in Taos. Various 1960s communes, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and the Rainbow Family followed in his footsteps.

It was Mabel Dodge Luhan, the wealthy Taos doyen of the arts, who invited the Lawrences to Taos in the early 1920s.

Luhan and artist Dorothy Brett, whom Lawrence recruited from his native England to join the Utopia, also had spent time with O’Keeffe and her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, in New York in the winter of 1928-29, according to Miller.

O’Keeffe accepted an invitation from Brett to visit Taos. She had traveled through New Mexico in 1917. O’Keeffe stayed at the Lawrence ranch in the summer of 1929 when Lawrence and his wife Frieda were away, and it didn’t take her long to go native.

“She spent a lot of time at the ranch. She liked laying up there in the nude,” said Miller, referencing O’Keeffe’s letters.

Some locals here credit their own decisions to settle in Taos to Lawrence’s writings evoking the spirituality of place.

“If it wasn’t for Lawrence, I wouldn’t be here,” said Bill Haller, president of the board of the Friends of D.H. Lawrence.

The nonprofit group, along with the Taos Public Library, is co-sponsoring the Saturday program.

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Miller said in an interview this week that although O’Keeffe and Lawrence never pressed the flesh, they corresponded, and both O’Keeffe and Stieglitz read widely from Lawrence’s writings.

Miller, a part-time Taos resident who teaches composition at the University of Nevada-Reno, first became interested in Frieda Lawrence before her husband piqued her academic curiosity.

She learned of an O’Keeffe painting depicting a spiraling pine tree at the Lawrence Ranch, a tree which Lawrence wrote about. “There were so many other connections (between the two), it was overwhelming,” Miller said.

It was O’Keeffe’s husband who initiated a connection between the two artists.

“Alfred Stieglitz was the bridge. Stieglitz was a real fan of Lawrence’s writing,” said Miller. “Stieglitz wrote Lawrence about how much they both enjoyed his work.”

Three Taos locations appear in both O’Keeffe paintings and Lawrence’s work: A black Penitente cross behind the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos Pueblo and the pine tree on the Lawrence ranch.

“The tree is (still) right in front of his house. … It’s a very distinctive pine tree,” Miller said.

Haller said he discovered Lawrence when he was in the Peace Corps in Africa in the 1970s.

“It was a spiritual journey for me,” said Haller. “When I was initially reading his writings – I am not a particularly religious – he took me to a place I had never been before. His writing makes my life meaningful.”

Haller likes Lawrence’s sense of place.

“He vividly described the physical environment around the places he visited,” he said. “He talked about the surroundings, not just New Mexico but all the places (including Mexico, Italy, Australia, France and Austria) he visited. He found Taos unique. This was one of the special places he enjoyed living.”

O’Keeffe was a friend of Taos journalist Spud Johnson, and Lawrence wrote an essay including the pine tree, titled “A Little Moonshine with Lemon,” for Johnson’s literary magazine “The Laughing Horse.”

The tree was also mentioned in another essay, “Pan in America.” “Pan” refers to the Greek God, not the Spanish word for bread. Pan is the God of mountain wilds, rustic music, hunting and shepherds.

Frieda Lawrence left the 160-acre ranch to the University of New Mexico after her death in 1956 (D.H. Lawrence died in 1930). The property, which sits at 8,600 feet, contains several cabins, including the one the couple lived in, several other buildings and the memorial where the writer and his wife are buried.

The property has been used for various educational and cultural pursuits in the past but needs renovations and was closed last year.

“The biggest problem to doing much up there is (no) water,” said UNM spokeswoman Carolyn Gonzales. A test well would be needed to determine future projects, she said.

Money is being raised by the provost’s office and the town of Taos for renovations at the ranch, and the property could be used for literary and cultural activities, Gonzales said. “It’s a cultural landmark,” she said.

The Taos Community Foundation has given a $30,000 grant to the Friends of D.H. Lawrence “specifically for cultural preservation” and a second grant is in the works, said foundation director Elizabeth Crittenden Palacios.

Photo Credit – JOURNAL FILE
Cutline – A tour of the D.H. Lawrence Ranch north of Taos, which includes the novelist’s final resting place, will be Saturday, after a lecture about connections between Lawrence and painter Georgia O’Keeffe.


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