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The Rio Hondo, a tributary of the Rio Grande, cuts through the village at Taos Ski Valley. The tower’s mural was painted by well-known and much-loved Taos artist George Chacón (1953-2017), who created numerous murals throughout New Mexico. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
ColumnsHit the Road

Art in Taos Ski Valley also provides lift

Come for the skiing; stay for the art.

Book a room at The Blake, an 80-room boutique hotel in Northern New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley, and you’ll get a bonus: A museum-caliber art collection that immerses guests into the cultures and history of the Land of Enchantment.

The hotel’s hundreds of works of art — paintings, lithographs, historic photos, block prints, pottery, collages, textiles, early iconic ski memorabilia, animal relics, furniture, Navajo rugs and Native American tools and artifacts — blanket the corridor walls, guest rooms, lobby, restaurant, spa and yes, even the bathrooms.

Make a trip to the lobby loo and you’ll find photos of actors Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper taken during the 1968 filming of “Easy Rider.” Yup. There’s Fonda on Captain America, the heavily modified, custom-built, 1952 Harley Davidson, cruising through Taos Pueblo.

And the corridor leading to these bathrooms showcases 14 exquisite polychrome woodblock prints by German-born Gustave Baumann (1881-1971). The prints reflect pueblo life, landscapes and the architecture of New Mexico. Baumann lived and worked in New Mexico for nearly 50 years, having fallen in love, as so many artists have, with Northern New Mexico while passing through in 1918.

During our four-day stay at The Blake, Lauryn Mangat, director of hospitality who has a background in art history, led a tour throughout the five-year-old property and provided narration on many of the artworks.

Director of hospitality Lauryn Mangat provides a running narrative about the artwork throughout The Blake hotel in Taos Ski Valley in Northern New Mexico. This wooden cabinet was commissioned by the hotel owners. The artist carved a scene featuring a ski lift across the face of the cabinet. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

The Blake’s collection represents artists and artifacts from the early 20th century through recent years, she told us. “When they built the hotel, the owners wanted the interior to reflect the culture of the area.”

Hence, among the collection are works by members of the Taos Society of Artists (1915–1927), which helped established then-tiny Taos as an internationally known center for the arts. New Mexico’s most famous artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, also is represented.

“We have a complete set of her lithographs,” Mangat said. “We know there are other sets, but we don’t know how many are complete.”

O’Keeffe arrived in Taos in 1929 to heal from a broken relationship and fell in love with the land and people. She explored the area’s rugged mountains and desert, and her painting of the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Rancho de Taos has become an icon for Taos.

‘Trailing Homeward,’ a painting by German-born artist Walter Ufer (1876-1936), hangs in The Blake hotel. Ufer was a member of the elite Taos Society of Artists (1915-1927) and cultivated relationships with the Indians of Taos Pueblo who served as his models. Ufer’s studio still exists in the town of Taos. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

The hotel’s third-floor corridor exhibits rare historic photographs showing life on Taos Pueblo, one of the oldest communities in the United States, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fourth-floor photos show “Illustrious Personages” – mostly artists – who frequented Taos in the early 20th century when the town began attracting those seeking a new environment for their creativity.

Just inside the entry of 192, a restaurant within The Blake, is a buffalo skull mounted over the adobe fireplace.

“This is from Taos Pueblo,” explained Mangat. “We hosted their holiday party a few years ago. Instead of monetary payment, we set up a trade for a Taos Pueblo bison. We then were able to use the meat from that bison in dishes at 192 until it was gone. We very much value and respect our relationship with Taos Pueblo and it was great to be able to make that trade with them.”

In contrast with the cultures of the art community and the Puebloans are the skiers, whose history here reaches to 1955 when German immigrant and world citizen Ernie Blake (1913-1989), his wife, Rhoda, and their three children founded Taos Ski Valley. Others looked at the terrain and thought Blake crazy, but he proved them wrong. Their story is memorialized in street names, The Blake hotel and in numerous photos throughout the hotel.

“Taos is an amazing mountain,” says Burt Skall, director of Snow Sport Services and responsible for 250 employees. “It has lots of challenges, but also the opportunity to deliver lower-level experiences and it allows people to grow. When they figure out how to go with the flow…(and) use the energy of the mountain in a positive way, that’s when this becomes fun.”