I came here to get away from a whole lot of stuff that could have turned me into a person that I wouldn't have been comfortable with as I got older. I think that's true of many, in particular women, in New Mexico. I know many, many, many of them who have almost reinvented themselves, maybe not in the dramatic self-conscious way that Mabel Dodge Luhan did, but we all know that there's a bunch of stuff that has to get shucked.
Ali MacGraw first visited Santa Fe to study elements of Southwest art and architecture for a restaurant she was designing in Malibu. When a wildfire destroyed her rented house in Malibu in 1994, Ali escaped California and found a place for herself, her dogs and her cats to live in Tesuque, near Santa Fe. Although stricken with wanderlust and the action of big city life which feeds her “speedy side”—she needs to get away and frequently visits New York and New England where she lived for decades, or sojourns to see friends in other places of the world—she loves coming back to her home.
When asked why she lives in northern New Mexico, Ali states the more obvious reasons: “beautiful clean air, extraordinary endless sky, and the sense that nature is still in command.” Involvement in the Santa Fe community, and the “unbelievable cultural smorgasbord” that it offers, also tugs on her: seeing paintings, listening to a world-class concert or hearing an amazing speaker from another country. On a deeper level, it has thrilled Ali to discover the people who have lived for generations in northern New Mexico. She cites a friend who lives in Velarde whose family “has lived here forever.” Surrounded now by her mother and father, children and grandchildren, this woman is at once “amazing pioneer, superb horsewoman, huge presence.” Ali finds this “matriarchal energy” (rare outside her own experience in the other places she has lived) one of the “heavyweight qualities” a woman can have: to care for and nurture her family and prepare them for the future while simultaneously being cognizant of the lives and traditions of her ancestors.
Reflecting on why Taos has attracted so many remarkable women, Ali’s first thought is of the physicality of the Taos Valley, dominated by “The Mountain” that rises above Taos Pueblo: “Driving in from anywhere, it possesses its community. I’ve often thought it would be an astounding place to live because it feels connected to its earth and to its sky.” When it comes to the extraordinary women who are drawn here, Ali thinks of Mabel Dodge Luhan as “the poster person” for women reinventing their lives. In the 17 years that she has lived in northern New Mexico, Ali has watched several women she knows create new lives for themselves. For Ali, her own reinvention meant stripping away all vestiges of artifice to arrive at her authentic self.
The word “authenticity” also struck a chord with the remarkable Taos women featured here on this website. Authenticity seems to be the common thread that binds these women’s stories, the attribute that most defines them. May you find inspiration in their lives and words. May you see yourself and parallels with your own lives. May they serve as beacons, mentors and role models.
Special thanks to Mark Gordon, filmmaker and his forthcoming production “Awakening in Taos: The Mabel Dodge and Tony Luhan Story” for connecting Ali MacGraw with the 2012 Year of the Remarkable Women of Taos. Learn more at www.awakeningintaos.com.
By Elizabeth Cunningham, October 2011
Blog host, “Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Remarkable Women of Taos”