Awakening in Taos — The Mabel Dodge Luhan Story

Mabel Dodge Luhan

Mabel Dodge Luhan poses at gate near the Manby House shortly after her arrival in 1917. Photo courtesy of Awakening In Taos

by Annabel Ascher ~

“What is needed is more, more, and always more consciousness in art and life.”
— Mabel Dodge Luhan

Over a decade in the making, “Awakening in Taos” is a biographical documentary about famed writer, salon hostess, political activist, and patroness of the arts, Mabel Dodge Luhan. Containing never-before-seen photographs, archival footage, and personal correspondence pertaining both to Mabel’s early background and her life in New Mexico beginning in 1917, this long-awaited retrospective focuses on Mabel’s personal struggles, her contact with “movers and shakers” of the day (a phrase she coined), and her influence upon Taos’s art colony. Among many others, Mabel invited D. H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keefe, Willa Cather, and Ansel Adams to explore New Mexico’s unique landscape and cultures through artistic expression—be it painting, writing, photography, or even dance—at her beloved and destined home: Taos, New Mexico.

Mabel, a powerful example of early modern sensibility, arrived in Taos on the heels of publicity generated by the Taos Society of Artists. She became the next great advocate for the unique culture of Taos. New York’s Modern Art critic, Henry McBride, credits her with bringing Taos to the east-coast Modernists’ attention. She also wrote the first book on the Taos artists, “Taos and Its Artists” (1947).

When she arrived in Taos she soon met the man who would be her fourth and last husband, Tony Lujan, a member of the Taos Pueblo. Together they built the house now known as the Los Gallos, today a conference center and historic bed and breakfast inn.

Tony Luhan Taos Pueblo

Photo of Tony Luhan courtesy Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

During her lifetime Mabel made many contributions, both private and public. She and lent money and support to community members in the Town of Taos and at the Pueblo. They participated in a campaign to defeat the Bursum Bill, legislation in 1924 that would have taken away hundreds of thousands of acres belonging to the 19 New Mexico Pueblos. This campaign put into motion events and actions that eventually led to the return of 45,000 acres belonging to Taos Pueblo, including the sacred Blue Lake. In addition, Mabel donated a home she had built for her son, which became Taos’s first hospital: Holy Cross.

Heading this project are producers Katie Peters, Pat Hall, and Jill Drinkwater and writer-director Mark J. Gordon. The film is supported by a unique consortium of creative and independent women: actors, film professionals, and volunteers who believe in this story about one of New Mexico’s most remarkable women. Through its producers and actors, script consultants, and advisors, “Awakening in Taos” is produced by strong women working in close collaboration. Peters says about working with Gordon, “Mark has given this whole project a backbone, and visualized it into a reality. The women involved with the project have all contributed to his understanding of Mabel’s character, defining her themes and personal development. We’ve all become a family—passionate and committed to seeing this project to completion.”

Jill Drinkwater, a producer with the project since its inception, has been a financial advisor for 36 years. She is particularly aware of how relevant Mabel’s story is for women today. “One hundred years later, we’re still dealing with the same issues! The old paradigm was about having control over someone or something. The new paradigm is about owning your personal power and being open to collaboration. It’s about co-creation, going with the flow, and creating win-win scenarios.”

Ali MacGraw and Mark Gordon

Narrator Ali MacGraw with Writer/Director Mark Gordon at the world premiere of Awakening in Taos

Gordon emphasizes that this project would not be possible without the support, collaboration, and commitment of a team of creative, independent women (and men). After all, he says, “Awakening in Taos” is the story of a woman whose personal growth and evolution intersects with important artistic and progressive events. Mabel was a visionary, seeing beyond the limitations of conventional thinking and mores. She envisioned a world without racism and sexism, where one could be transformed by the beauty of a landscape or the creation of art.”

The film is narrated by actor Ali McGraw and features Leslie Harrell Dillen as the voice of Mabel. Taos actor and photographer Zoe Zimmerman portrays young Mabel’s character in historic reenactment sequences.

There will be a reception for the film on April 29 at 5:30 PM at Parsons Gallery of the West, followed by a premiere at 7:00 PM at the Taos Center for the Arts. Tickets—$10 for the reception and $15 for the TCA premiere screening—may be purchased at tcataos.org or call (575) 758-2052, Monday-Friday, 10 AM-5 PM.

If you are unable to attend the premiere, the Harwood Museum will be screening the film as part of an exhibit, “Mabel Dodge Lujan & Company: American Moderns and the West.” These showings will be Friday, May 27, 7:00 PM, and Saturday May 28, 2:00 PM.


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