Editor's note: The following text is excerpted from pages 54-58 of Canyon Road Arts, Volume 1, 2005, published by Medicine Man Gallery, Inc. The text was reprinted, without illustrations, in Resource Library on October 31, 2005 with the permission of Mark Sublette. Dr. Sublette is the owner of Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson, AZ and Santa Fe, NM. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of Canyon Road Arts, please contact Medicine Man Gallery directly through either this phone number or web address:


Canyon Road and the Santa Fe Art Colony

by Michael Ettema


Professional artists had visited Santa Fe on painting excursions since the 1880s. The region's natural scenic beauty, Native Pueblo cultures, and old Spanish villages provided abundant and exotic subject matter for painting and sculpture. Yet many of the artists who first chose Santa Fe as their permanent residence did so because its dry, clean air was a life-saving tonic for respiratory diseases. Carlos Vierra, generally credited as the first professional artist to settle in Santa Fe, arrived in 1904 to be treated at Sunmount Sanitorium which was located high on a hill above Canyon Road.

The first artist to reside permanently in the Canyon Road neighborhood was Gerald Cassidy who bought the house at 550 Canyon Road in 1915. Cassidy had become familiar with the Native peoples of northern New Mexico in 1890 when he entered a sanatorium in Albuquerque with severe pneumonia and six months to live. In 1912, fully recovered and newly married, Cassidy decided to relocate in Santa Fe with the intention of giving up his career as a commercial artist and devoting himself to painting full-time.

Sheldon Parsons, a successful portrait painter in New York, arrived in Santa Fe in 1913 suffering a relapse of tuberculosis. Recently widowed, Parsons and his young daughter first took a small apartment near the Plaza, but later moved into the Cassidy's house on Canyon Road while the Cassidys were traveling abroad. In 1924, Parsons bought a tract of land at the foot of Upper Canyon Road where he built an adobe home and studio in the Spanish-Pueblo style

In 1916 Santa Fe's fledgling art community received a major boost with the arrival of William Penhallow Henderson, a successful painter and teacher, and Alice Corbin Henderson, a poet and associate editor of the influential Poetry magazine. The Hendersons came to Santa Fe so that Alice could be treated at Sunmount for advanced tuberculosis.

W.P. Henderson converted his original house into his painting studio and the office for his construction business. Begun in 1926, The Pueblo Spanish Building Company was devoted to creating Spanish-Pueblo revival or "Santa Fe Style" architecture and furniture. A modern combination of Pueblo Indian and Spanish colonial adobe building styles, this look was being promoted by Santa Fe's town fathers as a tourist draw as early as 1910. The members of Santa Fe's art colony became early and enthusiastic promoters of the movement, usually building their own homes in the style. Indeed, the region's indigenous adobe architecture was a major part of the aesthetic that had drawn them to live and paint in Santa Fe. Henderson was one of the most skilled of the artist/builders and was responsible for such surviving gems as the restoration of the historic Sena Plaza on Palace Avenue, Fremont Ellis' last home on Canyon Road, and the Wheelwright Museum.

By 1919, Santa Fe's growing reputation among east coast artists induced two friends from New York, John Sloan and Randall Davey, to take their wives on a cross-country excursion in a 1912 Simplex touring car. They carried a letter of introduction from their friend and mentor Robert Henri. Sloan spent more than 30 summers in Santa Fe, living and painting in a studio on Garcia Street in the Canyon Road neighborhood.

Davey decided to make Santa Fe his permanent home, returning in 1920 to purchase a large tract of land at the end of Upper Canyon Road. Included on the property was the old sawmill built by the US Army 1847. With his wife and son, Davey restored and enlarged the building to use as their home. Davey also converted an old stone storage shed into the studio where he painted portraits, landscapes, and horse racing scenes until his death in 1964.

In a few short years, the presence of nationally known artists such as Henri, Sloan, and Davey had permanently established Santa Fe's reputation as an important art colony. Their presence also made it inevitable that other artists soon would settle in to join them. The 22-year old Fremont Ellis moved to Santa Fe in 1919 "because of the interesting and important artists who were there." The next year, Ellis joined with four other newly arrived artists, Josef Bakos, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash, and Will Shuster, to form the Cinco Pintores or Five Painters. All five artists were under 30 years of age when they arrived, and their work was strongly influenced by the Independent Movement led by Henri and Sloan, which sought to escape the conventions and limitations of academic art.

As young "independent" artists in the early 1920s, the Cinco Pintores were enthralled with the artistic energy of Santa Fe, but still had a difficult time making a living. Consequently, the five friends resolved to build their own homes with their own hands despite that fact that none (except Bakos, who knew carpentry) had any building experience, especially with adobe. Securing land near W.P. Henderson's studio, they started building small houses all in a row leading up the east side of Camino del Monte Sol. Will Shuster later recalled that he and Fremont Ellis were out building one day when Shuster noticed that Ellis' wall was leaning precariously. Shuster ran to warn Ellis, only to turn around to see his own wall crumble into a pile of adobe bricks. In time, the five completed and occupied their homes, though some Santa Feans started referring to the friends as "five little nuts in five mud huts."

Will Shuster, who probably suggested the move to the Camino, likely did so because his friend Frank Applegate had built a house there in 1922 and eagerly welcomed the Pintores as new neighbors. A sculpture and ceramics teacher from Trenton, New Jersey, Applegate first visited Santa Fe in 1921 on a tour to study native clays. After a week of camping in the Cassidys' orchard, he and his family decided to make Santa Fe their permanent home. Unlike the Cinco Pintores, Applegate had studied architecture and was well equipped to design his own home. In fact, Applegate quickly became one of the leaders of the Spanish-Pueblo revival movement in architecture. Along with the writer Mary Austin, he formed an organization which provided funds for the preservation of historic adobe churches at Chimayo, Trampas, Acoma, Laguna, and Zia.

About the time Frank Applegate was building his first house, the cubist painter, Andrew Dasburg, moved into a new house on the Camino and became Applegate's neighbor. Already established in New York art and literary circles (he, too, exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show) Dasburg first traveled to New Mexico in 1917 at the invitation of Mabel Dodge Luhan, legendary patroness of the arts and hostess of radical salons in New York and Taos. Dasburg preferred Santa Fe to Taos, however, and moved there permanently in 1922.

Olive Rush, an illustrator who studied with the master, Howard Pyle, had been spending time in Paris when her father asked her to accompany him on a western trip in 1914. In 1920 she returned to live permanently in Santa Fe. Rush settled on Canyon Road, buying the Rodriguez house, already a century old, and decorated it with Native and Spanish artifacts as well as her own art work. Rush developed an interest in fresco painting and completed murals in Santa Fe Post Office, Library, and Indian School, in addition to her home. A life-long Quaker, Rush donated the house to the Society of Friends who still hold their meetings among Rush's art.

Artist Datus Myers and architect Alice Clark Myers first arrived in Santa Fe in 1923 on a painting trip. Like so many other artists, the Myers found Santa Fe irresistible, and in 1925 they moved into the Canyon Road neighborhood where they remodeled an old adobe on the Camino. Datus Myers had studied painting and sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute where he met Alice Clark, one of the first female graduates in architecture. In the 1930s, Datus served as coordinator for the Federal Public Works of Art Project for New Mexico, and later taught at the Arsuna School of Fine Arts which occupied Mary Austin's home on the Camino after her death in 1934. 

In the late 1930s, the Canyon Road neighborhood retained much of its rural character. Many descendants of the original Spanish farmers still lived in the gracefully aging adobe homes and some still farmed the small plots by the acequia and river. But now, this centuries old neighborhood and its local culture existed side by side with a new-even avant garde -culture of fine artists, writers and musicians, many of whom were trained in Europe and most of whom were notable figures in the New York art world.

Slowly, but inevitably, the presence of these nationally-known artists would help to transform Canyon Road into one of the most famous art districts in the world. In 1947 as the American economy emerged from World War II, Santa Fe supported only two art galleries. By 1964, three-fourths of the city's twelve galleries were located on Canyon Road. Today, Canyon Road contains more than 100 galleries, studios and specialty shops, still making it the center of Santa Fe's ever-growing art community. Its importance to the arts was recognized as early as 1962, when the city designated Canyon Road a "residential arts and crafts zone." This unusual legal status was created to honor Canyon Road's uniquely beautiful combination of galleries, studios, and residences tucked into the quiet, old neighborhood of historic adobes.

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