Taos, New Mexico can best be understood through its artists and their treasured adobe homes. Now a local B&B, the Mabel Dodge Luhan House and its adjacent property, owned by sculptor Kevin Cannon, tell the story of a continued legacy of why and how artists have found their way to this storied terrain.
Mabel Dodge was an heiress and an New York City art world Grand Dame, a pivotal member of the avant-garde that bubbled forth from Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery. In 1918, Mabel Dodge moved with her husband, architect Edwin Dodge, to Taos, where she visited the pueblo (home to the oldest continuously inhabited building in the U.S.) and fell in love with a Native American man named Tony. Unhindered by the threat of scandal, Dodge initiated her second divorce and married the man with whom she would purchase an imposing cobb house with views of the nearby sacred mountain.
But Mabel was not one to settle into isolation in such a rugged landscape. Instead, she would bring New York to her and create a little bohemia on her very own property. She built an annex next door that would serve as her own private artist residency. New Mexico’s most haloed artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, lived in this outpost for years, and D.H. Lawrence painted a still life that remains on the closet door. This property would become a destination for some of the best writers, photographers and painters of their time.
But the legacy did not stop with Mabel. In the early 70’s Dennis Hopper bought the home and christened the building “The Mud Palace.” Only the lunatic Hopper could out do Mrs. Luhan, hosting art-world ragers that made him infamous in an otherwise contemplative town. While the main structure at The Mabel Dodge Luhan House is now run as a sleepy guesthouse and a shrine to its own provenance, artist Kevin Cannon keeps the bohemian legacy aflame in the two buildings that once housed Mabel’s artist residency. Kevin invited me over for a tour of his nest, at once a crumbling and a meticulously universe. It is as if this pale pink gem of an abode is an extension of Kevin himself; it’s impossible to imagine him living anywhere else really. Kevin tells me, “this house is the best thing that ever happened to me,” and while the mud walls are in a constant state of turning to dust, Kevin keeps his home and own personal gallery space in meticulous order, pants color-coded, his sculptures draped in protective cloaks.
We ate our simple meal of Japanese yams, and looked through Kevin’s deep archives of pencil drawings and twisted, tangled leather sculpture, some of them made from 6 or 7 pieces of leather laminated together and carved. Kevin’s leather sculpting technique stems from his early fascination with cobblering and saddle-making. He even owned and operated a Roman-style sandal boutique in New York’s West Village in the late 1960s, making custom sandals to-order. He showed us the very first riding saddle he ever made, and it was impossible to fathom how anyone could achieve such perfection with their own two hands. The leather was taught like a drum, but smooth and buttery — precious yet ready for wear. We sat and ate by the dim light of the fire, only then realizing that the sun had set on what had been a marathon salad session. As the day came to a close, my eye was drawn to a little sketch of a Japanese yam and single marrow bone. When I admired the work of art, Kevin insisted I take it with me. The piece is now in my Brooklyn kitchen, a reminder that for so many of us, our homes, and specifically our kitchens, are the kernal of our creative universe.