Couse-Sharp Historic Site & the Artists of Taos as Recounted by Artist’s Granddaughter
A granddaughter gives tour of Couse-Sharp Historic Site and recounts tales of her grandfather and other artists who frequented Taos to paint visions of Native American culture.
One of the most rewarding experiences of my visit to Taos this year was meeting Virginia Couse Leavitt, granddaughter to the late Eanger Irving Couse. E. I. Couse was one of six professional artists who formed the “Taos Society of Artists” in 1915. All six artists were born in America, trained in Europe and migrated to Taos to paint. From the moment they arrived here, these men were fascinated with the relatively untouched beauty of the landscape, Native American culture and the natural light. They decided to form an artists colony in Taos, recruiting other artists to join them in depicting their new discovery. Wanting to capture what remained of the Old West before it disappeared altogether, they reproduced it on canvas. They soon held exhibitions of their work across the country thereby exposing others to this new frontier. It was these paintings by the Taos Society of Artists that made Taos the mecca for art and tourism that it is today.
On a bright, sunny day our group was met by Virginia outside the Luna Chapel, also known as J.H. Sharp’s first studio, for a private tour. I have to say it was pretty special being led on this tour by the granddaughter of E. I. Couse, a famous painter of Native Americans in Taos. During his life, Mr. Couse was honored with many awards for his prized paintings of Native American life. His works are now on permanent display at many museums across the country.
After touring the Luna Chapel, we were shown the beautiful expansive garden designed by Eanger’s wife, Virginia, behind the house. Coming by gardening naturally, thanks to her uncle and mother, she was able to grow an abundance of vegetables and flowers here. She collected seeds and plant clippings from wherever she could find them but was also generous in giving to friends. Whether it was seeds, cuttings or bouquets for weddings and dinner tables, she was always sharing her love.
Upon entering the house, we were walked through each room with Virginia sharing stories of her childhood and her family. Although many changes have been made to the house and studio over the years, much still remains as it was when Couse lived here. The house still has much of the original furniture and household items including a collection of santos, Blue Willow china in the dining room, brass lamps.and other cherished possessions. Also throughout the house were painting done during various periods of Couse’s life, even some when he was studying art while living in Paris and attending the Académie Julian.
One of the favorite places to view is the artist’s studio. Walking into the studio, it seemed like Couse had just left for a moment and would soon be back in front of his easel sketching away. Here Virginia showed us Native American pottery, costumes, beadwork and artifacts used in her grandfather’s paintings. Many of the paintings were positioned by the clothing and artifacts for corroboration. Virginia talked fondly about her grandfather’s favorite models, Ben and Jerry, who were more like a part of the family. In fact, Ben Lujan from the Taos Pueblo helped her grandmother Virginia build an irrigation system for her garden.
We also were given a tour a the hidden playhouse built for Elizabeth, Virginia’s older sister. Virginia recounted fond times playing with her sister and brother (Irving) in this tiny space appointed with small furniture, a picture of the family dog and toys. There was even a small slide by which they could exit into the garden. This almost seemed like a hiding place for hobbits, filled with wonderful memories of days long ago.
The house tour also included E. I. Couse’s only child Kibbey’s garage converted machine shop. This shop was a treasure trove of machines, tools and signs for anyone wanting to step back in time. The shop is pretty much the way Kibbey left it in 1936.
A short walk from the Couse house took us to the neighboring house of Joseph Henry Sharp, fellow painter, TSA member and good friend of Couse and his family. As earlier mentioned, Sharp’s first studio was housed in the Spanish Luna Chapel. After several years, Sharp built a larger studio on the property. He used the smaller studio for storage and housing his paintings in an old bank vault (still in the Chapel) he had purchased. Sharp had an outhouse (named Little Egypt) next to the larger studio which he modeled after an Egyptian mastaba after a trip to Egypt. Wanting to return the structure to its original state, the outhouse was under construction while we were there.
Sharp’s studio has undergone major reconstruction and was just re-opened to the public in June of this year. The studio will house a permanent interpretive exhibition dedicated to the life and work of J.H. Sharp. It will be on view the first Saturday of each month, June through October, and by appointment.
The exhibit in the Luna Chapel will focus on aspects of the extensive archive of materials that will be housed at the Site. This will become the heart of the major research facility for scholarships relating to the Taos Society of Artists.
The Site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties, and is a National Trust Historic Artist’s Home and Studio.
Take the Tour
Admission is free for individuals and small groups, with donations welcome. Groups of 10 or more are $10 per person.
All tours guided & by appointment only:
May through October, Mon-Fri 10-5
The Sharp studio only will be open November through April, Fridays.
First Saturday of each month
Location: 146 Kit Carson Road, Taos, NM
For other things to do and see in and around Taos, visit www.taos.org