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A woman of profound contradictions

I gathered information for the next column on a lady who was described as a woman of profound contradictions: generous, petty, domineering and endearing. Amazing how a thought, idea, or a person can pass by, even at a great distance, and spark a simple idea that changes your history.

In the early ’80s, while Al and I were visiting Taos, N.M., I heard of a woman who opened her home to artists, influencing some of the greatest minds of the 20th century: Georgia O’Keefe, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham, Carl Jung, Alfred Stieglitz, John Reed and others of the political and artistic avant-garde. D.H. Lawrence even wrote about the days in the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.

The idea inspired me to have a retreat center for artists and writers to stay, paint, and write. Over 23 years ago, on a much smaller scale and with different motives, we began holding our Blanco Dove Retreats, having artists and writers in our home.

One evening not too long ago I was enjoying a good friend who has known me for years and seen me fumbling around in the arts, said to me, “I see with all your talent, diligence, determination and drive, you have wasted your potential. You could have run a large company or been a CEO.” Wow! That was a sting.

Caught totally off guard, I said, how does the song go? “It’s a little too late to do the right thing now.”

His reply was, “It is never too late.”

I thought my good friend had read my life wrong. Up until then I was feeling pretty great about my accomplishments. I am living in peace and contentment, writing a weekly column hopefully encouraging artists, teaching a couple of Bible classes a week and thought that I had done some amazing things.

Is this how it feels to be a woman of profound contradictions? Mabel Dodge Lujan was a salon hostess, art patroness, writer, and self-appointed savior of humanity. Mabel was born in a wealthy family in New York, a prominent figure in the arts and society of New York City and Europe. She moved to Taos, met and married a full-blooded Taos Pueblo man by the name of Tony Luhan. You can imagine the profound contradiction and gossip surrounding her while the whole world was watching. In the 1930s, New Yorker Magazine cartoons quipped about Mabel in Taos.

Yes, she was a contradiction, but Mabel Dodge didn’t bother herself with that, she was too busy entertaining people from all over the world. Having informal gatherings, people joined to dine and to discuss important things of the day and artists were invited to stay and paint there.

This is a quote from the Mabel Dodge Luhan House Web site: “Carl Jung’s visits to the Taos Pueblo would influence mainstream conceptions of the ‘native mind,’ while political wheels, set in motion by certain of Mabel’s friends like John Collier, would affect legislation to benefit Native American communities for generations to come. All of these events and many more can be traced at some point to Mabel and Tony’s commitment to one another and to the life they built in Taos.”

Author Lois Rudnick in Utopian Vistas writes, “Many who came to the Luhan House were at a critical point in their lives, physically, psychologically, or vocationally. For them the house functioned as a kind of life-crisis center breaking down and healing, making — and sometimes unmaking — love affairs and marriages. Because several visitors often stayed with the Luhans simultaneously, the opportunities for mentoring, cross fertilization, and feuding were enormously rich …”

Back to the evening with my friend, the conversation ended on a low note. I felt that I had disappointed the host and I wanted to say something to defend myself, but I said laughingly, “Well, we solved the world’s problems tonight.”

He quickly said, “No, we didn’t, nothing is going to change.”

Oh me, he was speaking out of his own need. We all have the “shoulda’s and coulda’s” Are we all living out of some kind of contradiction?

That evening, I resolved that if we live our lives with conviction we will go against the grain and what society calls success. It’s not about being contrary to how people think we should be but what is right for us.

Final brushstroke: Dare to live your convictions and be willing to be misunderstood. You might be influencing someone to take courage and be who they are meant to be.

Comments from Readers

Hi Betty: 

“Feeding us Candy, Telling us Lies” was an interesting article. As far as art being in reality, I agree that it comes from within.  That is where the excitement and the fulfillment is, the satisfaction and the joy where we get totally lost on the left side of our brain.   Unfortunately we do want others to see the value and recognize our work. Finally it’s only the work and the journey that matters.  If we pay our dues sometimes we receive the accolades but not always.  Just look at history. 

Sharri Lou Casey

Fernley, Nev.

Betty:

Thank you for including me in the critique club. Or perhaps I should say the encouragement club.  And certainly the Candy Club. I mentioned Stan Englehart.  His life seemed filled with joy and purpose, generosity and prolific works.  He probably questioned his art, as we all do, but not at all to the extent of Van Gogh or the artists who seemed to suffer.  Just as in life, some suffer and some do not.  A matter of personality or circumstance?

 Anyway, I like your thought, “when you are still in love creating art in your old age, it will be your constant companion.”  I struggle with this, as sometimes my part time companions can be contrary.  And the older I get, the more contrary I get!  I am speaking of my writing.  My lovely art is still in my heart, pulsing through my fingers, and stopping just short of pencil and paper.  I look forward to my old age, when I no longer work and will begin anew.  Remember left brain and right brain?  Right now my left has taken over my life and I am at a dead stop in my writing.  How in the world would I have time for art?  I put aside my sewing, which I considered art, when I got my job.  I put aside gardening, another artistic expression.  Now I struggle day to day to rev up the right brain to write this! 

 I applaud your opportunity to write and create art publicly.  Keep expressing in both!  Perhaps one day I’ll join the ranks of you with candy in your mouths and ignore the lies which often come from our own minds.

Kathy Gibson

Michigan

Artist’s quote

“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.” — Pablo Picasso.