Mabel Dodge Luhan was a patron of American literature and modern art through influential salons she hosted at her apartment in Greenwich Village (1912–1917) and at her home in Taos, New Mexico (1917–1962). The cultural vanguard that congregated around her included avant-garde artists Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, and Marsden Hartley, writers D. H Lawrence and Gertrude Stein, writer and photographer Carl van Vechten, dancer Isadora Duncan, and radical journalists John Reed, Hutchins Hapgood, and Lincoln Steffens. Luhan's gatherings served as a focal point for culturally transformative artistic and literary communities in downtown Manhattan and in the Southwest.
Luhan was born in Buffalo, New York, on February 26, 1879, to a wealthy family. She was raised according the ideals of Victorian womanhood, against which she ultimately rebelled. She attended St. Margaret's Episcopal School for Girls in Buffalo, Miss Graham's School in New York City, and the Chevy Chase School in Washington, DC. Luhan went on her first tour of Europe in 1896. After the death of her first husband in a hunting accident, she moved to Paris in July 1904, where she met Edwin Dodge while staying at Hotel Meurice. She and Dodge married in October and moved to Florence, Italy, the following year. They purchased Villa Curonia, a fifteenth-century estate built by the Medicis in the Tuscan hillside overlooking the city.
At Villa Curonia, Luhan developed her first salon, entertaining actors, writers, musicians, expatriate socialites, and royalty. Guests included Italian actress Eleanor Duse, English actor and director Gordon Craig, American sculptors Janet Scudder and Jo Davidson, French writer André Gide, and Gertrude and Leo Stein. Luhan first met the Steins in 1911 when she visited them in Paris, where she was introduced to modern art through their collection of postimpressionist and Cubist paintings, including groundbreaking works by Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso.
In 1912, as her marriage to Dodge disintegrated, she returned to New York and settled into an apartment at 23 Fifth Avenue near Washington Square in Greenwich Village. The Village was a bohemian center of artistic experimentation, radical politics, and cultural experimentation. The following year, Luhan resumed her salon, attracting a rebellious group of activists and writers. She hosted political discussions between anarchist Emma Goldman and socialists Max Eastman and Bill Haywood, who was a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). She supported Eastman and John Reed's leftist magazine The Masses, contributing writing and serving on the advisory board. Luhan also hosted Margaret Sanger and the Women's Birth Control League and helped to popularize Sigmund Freud's theories.
Luhan was equally important to the development of modern art. She contributed writing to Stieglitz's pioneering photographic journal Camera Work, which, by 1912, also featured artworks by Rodin and Picasso. Influenced by Stieglitz and Stein, she became a key promoter of the 1913 Armory Show, an exhibition famous for introducing European and American modern art to New York audiences. In addition, Luhan supported the careers of sculptor and painter Maurice Sterne, whom she married in 1917, and Isadora Duncan. Her fundraising efforts enabled Duncan to found her influential dance school.
In 1917, as the United States entered World War I, Luhan left Greenwich Village for Taos, New Mexico. The following year, she purchased 12 acres of land and a modest adobe house, which by the late 1920s she expanded into her Los Gallos estate with multiple guesthouses. After her divorce from Sterne in 1922, she married Antonio Luhan, a Native American from Taos. Throughout the 1920s much of the New York avant garde visited Los Gallos. Artists including Andrew Dashburg, Marsden Harley, Anges Pelton, Rebecca and Paul Strand, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, and set designer Robert Edmund Jones were drawn to Taos as an escape from urban life. Their presence, along with poet Robinson Jeffers; writers Willa Cather, D. H. Lawrence, and Mary Austin; and social activist John Collier, helped to establish vibrant artist colonies in Taos and Santa Fe. Other visitors included Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham, and photographers John Candelario and Laura Gilpin.
Luhan died in Taos on August 13, 1962. In 1970, filmmaker Dennis Hopper, who had first visited Los Gallos while editing Easy Rider (1969), purchased the estate. Hopper brought his own circle of luminaries including Jack Nicholson, Bob Dylan, and John Wayne to Taos. The Mabel Dodge Luhan house became a landmark in 1991 and now serves as a conference center and historic inn.
Jillian E. Russo
See also: Cather, Willa (1873–1947) ; Goldman, Emma (1869–1940) ; Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) ; New Woman ; Sanger, Margaret (1879–1966)
Burke, Flannery. From Greenwich Village to Taos: Primitivism and Place at Mabel Dodge Luhan's. Wichita: University of Kansas Press, 2008.
Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Movers and Shakers. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1936.
Rudnick, Lois Palken, ed. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.
Rudnick, Lois Palken. Utopian Vistas: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.