The Mabel Dodge Luhan House: still a living, breathing artistic hub

Mabel Dodge Luhan House

Originally published in Taos News

Photo: Katharine Egli

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1991, the Mabel Dodge Luhan House is more than a historical place: it is a living, breathing haven for all creative types. Inspiration is everywhere, from memories of famous guests like Willa Cather, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Thornton Wilder, to the soothing sounds of the acequia that runs through the property under cottonwood trees. Workshops and educational conferences take place year round, and the property lives up to its reputation as a hotbed of visual and literary arts.

The many names of a house

The sprawling hacienda began as one big house named “Los Gallos.”

Mabel Dodge Luhan and her fourth husband, Tony Luhan, started building it in 1918 and finished the first living quarters in 1920. It originally had six rooms, but a sunporch and more rooms were added over the years. There she lived, sometimes in the company of famous guests like D. H. Lawrence and Georgia O’Keeffe and hosted salons with prominent intellectuals of the time until her death in 1962.

When Dennis Hopper purchased the house in 1970, after he filmed “Easy Rider,” he renamed it “Mud Palace.”

“I used to come by in the seventies and traded gemstones with the jewelers who stayed here with Dennis Hopper,” said Charles Franchina, also known as Taos Trader Chuck, who currently works in the Mabel Dodge Luhan House kitchen. “The place was always full of people—filmmakers, hippies, and musicians among them.”

In 1977 the property was bought by George and Kitty Otero, who did massive renovations of the place and renamed it “Las Palomas de Taos,” a nonprofit organization that offered workshops all throughout the eighties and nineties.

Lois Palken Rudnick writes in “Utopian Vistas: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture” that Las Palomas was recontextualized as a “psycho spiritual center” where Jungian dream analysts Pat and Larry Sargeant offered workshops on self-integration and Natalie Goldberg’s writing workshops attracted people from all over the country and beyond.

Currently owned by The Attiyeh Foundation, based in California, the property was renamed once more, becoming The Mabel Dodge Luhan House. It has retained nonprofit status and functions as a historic inn and retreat center, where more than twenty workshops are offered every year.

The workshops

Bonnie McManus, the Program Manager and workshop coordinator, speaks enthusiastically about the mission of the center.

“With our retreat-style meetings and literary and artistic workshops, we continue to carry out Mabel’s legacy to keep her home as a hotbed for the arts,” she said.

They host around three workshops every month.

“Our most popular ones are those focused on writing, mixed media art or yoga,” said McManus.

The Annual Taos Writing Retreat for Health Professionals is now going on. Started by writer, filmmaker, and teacher Julie Reichert, Ph.D., in 2000, the workshop has been taking place steadily for the last sixteen years at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.

“I started it with writer David Morris as a writing workshop for medical practitioners,” Reichert said. “It’s not only for doctors and nurses, but for anybody who works in health care and wants to explore the power of narrative writing.”

“This retreat has been like the meals we have eaten here every day,” said Dr. Catherine Brandon, a participant from Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Very nourishing, plenty of it, and great variety. They will be in my heart and my hips for the rest of my life!”

Chef Melody Sayre, author of “From Taos with Love: Recipes from the Land of Enchantment,” uses mostly local products to prepare tasty, nutritious menus for the retreat participants.

“We serve three meals a day,” she said. “So I incorporate many salads, soups and healthy dishes that give them energy to create.”

Strong women in charge

Noreen Perrin is the Financial Manager of the organization.

“Something very interesting about the House is that the people who are running it are very strong women, just like Mabel, and that has been the case for quite a few years,” she said.

Julie Keefe came to the Mabel Dodge House for the first time to take Amy Bogard’s workshop, “Creating the Illuminated Travel Journal” in 2011. She returned later as Bogard’s assistant and, in April 2015, she left her job as a management/ program analyst for the federal government and became the General Manager of the House.

“This is my dream job,” she said. “I love working here and supporting the mission of the house, which is to educate people while taking good care of them in a beautiful environment.”

New building and new blog

Despite the fact that it is almost a century old, the Mabel Dodge Luhan House keeps growing. A new space called “The Meditation and Yoga Building” is currently under construction.

“Many people who come here want to practice yoga,” said McManus, “so we plan to set up a permanent space equipped with yoga mats always ready for them. We will have yoga instructors available as well.”

Writer and editor Liz Cunningham, in charge of Community Engagement, has just started a new blog in the organization’s website.

An invitation to Taoseños

As an educational institution, the Mabel Dodge Luhan House welcomes local literary organizations that can get a discount when they rent their space.

“We have also hosted activities organized by SOMOS, Holy Cross Hospital, the Fire Department, and other associations,” Keefe said. “They can use our ‘log cabin,’ a smaller meeting place in the Historic House, or the Juniper House classroom, which can accommodate up to sixty people.”

“This is not a museum, but an active learning center,” McManus said. “People are welcome to come and visit us. We have self guided tours where they can learn about the history of the place and its impact on Taos’ literary and artistic life.”

Coffee and homemade cookies are always available in the dining room.

“Come by and try them,” she said.

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House is located at 240 Morada Ln, Taos, NM 87571

(575) 751-9686

Sas Colby and friends

Photo takenfrom