We’re here just long enough to skim the surface, and haven’t really ventured more than a few blocks from the town’s iconic plaza What I will remember are the flowers, everywhere:
And the perfect weather, bluest of blue skies:
New Mexico is, and will likely remain, a mystery to me, but it sings an irresistible siren call to many. Since we’re short on time, we decided to tag along on the coattails of two who found their muse here under the vast blue skies.
A few blocks off the plaza is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The artist made her mark in New York with her professional and then intimate relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, but was inspired to visit New Mexico in 1929 and moved to the village of Abiquiú north of Santa Fé in 1940. Perhaps she saw the same blue sky I did when she painted Sky Above Clouds IV
She also bought a slice of property at the sprawling Ghost Ranch near Abiquiú, where on her daily walks a V shape in the red hills “spoke to me quietly“. “I did a painting – just the arms of two red hills reaching out to the sky holding it.”
The museum is small, and her large-scale paintings are absent, but it is very much worth visiting O’Keeffe’s work in the context of the region she so loved.
If Georgia O’Keeffe seems an adventuress for striking out to New Mexico in 1940, Willa Cather was practically a pioneer in 1925 when she and her companion Edith Lewis visited Santa Fé in 1925.
They lodged at La Fonda, the hotel that still looms over the edge of the plaza, and Cather took inspiration for her masterwork Death Comes for the Archbishop from the adjacent Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
A statue of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy who built the cathedral between 1869 and 1886 and who served as the model for Cather’s character Jean Marie Latour, stands prominently in front of the cathedral.
Cather is memorialized on the “walk of fame” a few blocks away in front of the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Cather’s affection for New Mexico was palpable. In a letter to friend Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant she wrote “Now about Arizona: it’s good, but New Mexico is better.” And, “I don’t know what to tell you about New Mexico. It’s all so big and bright and consuming.“
Alas, we are not here long enough to be consumed, but even a few days beneath the bluest of blue skies, tagging along in the footsteps of these great artists feels like quite a blessing.