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Taos, NM
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Although the famed Taos Society of Artists lasted only from 1915 to 1927, the art and artists associated with it continue to elevate and inspire Taos’s international reputation as an art colony. Today, the Taos Society of Artists lives on at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site in the heart of downtown Taos.

Foundations of the Taos Society of Artists

Ernest Blumenschein and a broken wagon

By 1893, Joseph Henry Sharp had decided to make painting Native Americans his life work. When he visited Taos on a trip through New Mexico that year, he was immediately captivated by the people of the Taos Pueblo and the landscape they lived in. 

Ernest Blumenschein, who shared Sharp’s obsession with Native American culture, decided to visit the territory himself in 1898 with fellow artist Bert Phillips. Although they planned only a short visit, they were soon enthralled by Taos and its people and decided to stay longer. (The decision was helped by the fact that their wagon had broken down). The seeds for a Taos art colony had been sown.

“The month was September, and the fertile valley a beautiful sight, and inspiration for those who ply the brush for happiness,” Blumenschein wrote about his first sight of Taos. “There a peace-loving, democratic society has maintained, and continues to maintain, its history, culture, dress and way of life over centuries.”

On July 19, 1915, Sharp, Blumenschein, and Phillips, along with E. Irving Couse, Oscar E. Berninghaus, and W. Herbert Dunton, formed the Taos Society of Artists, later known as the “Taos Six.” Although many were refused membership, the group eventually grew to include 12 active members and several more associate and honorary members.

Visiting the Couse-Sharp Historic Site in Taos

Along with the Blumenschein Museum (and Doc Martin’s Restaurant at the Historic Taos Inn where the six drew up their criteria for the Society of Artists), the mission of the Taos Society of Artists lives on at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site today. 

The Couse-Sharp Historic Site invites visitors to experience Couse’s home and his original studio, converted from an atmospheric 1835 chapel. Visitors can also see his later studio, which was built in 1915 and completely restored in early 2017. It now contains a permanent rotating exhibition of his artwork, personal effects, and Native art he collected and used in his paintings. You can even step into his darkroom, which looks just like it did upon his death in 1936. 

Continue your walk through history in the Couse-Sharp Historic Site’s lush gardens, designed by Couse’s wife, Virginia, the workshops of their inventor son, Kibbey, and the two studios of neighbor and fellow artist, Sharp. 

The site also highlights Native artists whose work was collected by both artists and the contributions of people from Taos Pueblo and other tribes who sat for the artists’ paintings.

In 2019, The Lunder Foundation of Portland, Maine, announced a grant of $600,000 to help the Taos Society of Artists live on at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site. The Lunder Research Center serves as a research center and library for scholars and a repository for documents, photographs, and scholarly materials relating to the group. It also holds personal correspondence, photographic prints and negatives, and sketchbooks as well as original works of art and Native American ethnographic items.

With the help of The Lunder Foundation, The Taos Society of Artists lives on at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, affirming and enhancing Taos’ reputation as an artistic community of international importance and renown.

The Couse-Sharp Historic Site courtyard
Couse-Sharp Historic Site – Image courtesy of the Couse Foundation.