Sep
19

The Couse-Sharp Historic Site in Taos

INTRODUCTION
As part of our vacation to northern New Mexico, in September of 2017, we stayed a couple of nights in Taos.  I had reserved a tour at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, not knowing very much about these two men, their work, or the historic site in general.  This attraction was a very good rating on the TripAdvisor website and other rating agencies and looked much less like a tourist trap than some of the others.  On this trip we had decided to focus more on the artistic attractions of the area so this place seemed to fit the bill.

We arrived about 20 minutes early for our tour appointment.  Rather than sit in the small room that served as a lobby, we walked around the beautiful garden area that was created by Irving Couse’s wife Virginia on a barren hillside over a hundred years ago.  The flowers and other plants were beautiful and the view of the surrounding area was stunning.  The time passed very quickly.

01 Garden

The garden looking Southwest.

 

The Garden and Couse Home

The garden and Couse home looking Northwest.

After the other 8 or 10 guests arrived, we started the tour as the volunteer guide led the way.  The site consists of an adobe home and studio that Eanger Irving Couse and his wife Virginia lived in during the early to mid-1900’s.  Also part of the site are the garden, a chapel, the workshops of Couse’s son Kibbey, and the studio of Couse’s neighbor and good friend, Joseph Henry Sharp.

THE CHAPEL
We first toured the small chapel, built in 1836 by Juan de Luna.  A few years later Pedro Luna built a small home against the chapel’s south wall.  This home, eventually to belong to the Couse’s, was expanded, little by little, over the years.  By 1909 when the Couses bought the property, the adobe home had seven rooms.  By that time, the chapel was owned by and used initially as a studio by Sharp.  Quickly, Sharp determined that the chapel did not have the light that he needed for his painting, so he built a larger studio on the lot just West of the Couse home.  Sharp also had a home on that property, but it no longer exists.

The Chapel Entryway

The Chapel Entryway

The chapel contained several paintings done by Sharp along with some display cases containing artifacts and props that he used in his paintings. The lady that was the tour guide told us about each painting and the artifacts along with some interesting stories about Joseph Sharp with respect to his use of the chapel as his first studio in Taos.

Moccasins, Leggings and Photograph of the Subject Posing for a Painting

Moccasins, leggings and photograph of the subject posing for a painting.

 

04 Native American Painting

Painting of a young subject wearing the leggings and moccasins that were in the display case.

THE DINING ROOM AND KITCHEN
From the garden porch we entered the dining room through the screen door.  The walls were decorated with paintings by Couse.  Some of the paintings were done early in Couse’s career as a student in Paris.  Against one wall was a hutch made of walnut where a set of beautiful Blue Willow China owned by the Couses was displayed.  In the middle of the dining room there was a large dining table with chairs specially made for the Couses.  There was a small fireplace in the corner of the room.  The mantle was decorated as the Couses had decorated it when they lived in the house with brass candle holders and other items made of brass and copper.  From the dining room we went into the kitchen.  It showed what a typical kitchen looked like in the early 1900’s.  This kitchen was added to the structure in 1912 after Virginia determined that she needed a larger kitchen.  One special item of interest in the kitchen was the kitchen table which was bright orange in color.  It was previously used as a poker table at a local saloon and even had an ante drawer that could be pulled out from under the table that the dealer could use during the course of a game.

Walnut hutch with Blue Willow China.

Walnut hutch with Blue Willow China.

 

Fireplace in the dining room.

Fireplace in the dining room.

LIVING ROOM AND COUSE STUDIO
After the kitchen we moved through the living room where there were more beautiful paintings the tour guide told us the story behind each one.  Then we proceeded into the the art studio where Couse did most of his painting in his later years.  Again there were many of his paintings.  Also on display were his painting palette and his easel and a couple of display cases.  One case had several of the cameras he used to photograph his models as part of the painting development process.  Another contained some decorative moccasins that were worn by one of his models for a painting along with some pouches.

Corn Ceremony painting.

Corn Ceremony painting.

 

09 Indian Artist

Painting named Indian Artist.

 

Irving Couse's Painting Palette.

Irving Couse’s Painting Palette.

 

Cameras that Irving Couse used in his work.

Cameras that Irving Couse used in his work.

 

Decorative moccasins and other items used by Couse's model for a painting.

Decorative moccasins and other items used by Couse’s model for a painting.

PHOTO LAB
From the studio you could walk through a door to his chemistry lab where he did his photographic development.  It contained chemicals, flasks, bottles, trays, Bunsen burners and other items used in the photographic development process and possibly for other uses.  As I looked at this room, I mused at how many disciplines a person had to master just 100 years ago to be an artist.  I wondered what we gain and what we are giving up in these fast paced days of computerization and specialization and it gave me an uncomfortable feeling to be sure along with feeling of thankfulness to those that had the foresight to preserve this important place in Taos art history.

Couse's Photo processing lab.

Couse’s Photo processing lab.

MACHINE SHOP
From the photo lab, we walked down to one of the more interesting rooms at the site.  Kibbey Couse, who was Irving and Virginia’s only son, moved his family to Taos after his mother died so he could take care of his father.  This room was added in the late 1920’s by converting the garage into a machine shop.  It contained all the tools required to create metal objects and tools.  Included were many tools including a huge metal lathe, anvils, large tongs, hammers, drill presses, files, and all the tools that make up a forge.   Kibbey was a talented engineer/inventor and the main goal of the shop was to develop a prototype of a mobile machine shop that could be used to repair heavy mechanical equipment in the field.  The final design was used to repair oil field machinery as well as military tanks and airplanes among other purposes.  The design emphasized the ability to easily customize the mobile device for a specific purpose.  After his father died in 1936, Kibbey determined that the machine shop was too small and moved the machine shop to New Jersey.

Kibbey Couse's machine shop.

Kibbey Couse’s machine shop.

 

Custom homemade decorative door hinges in the Couse home.

Custom homemade decorative door hinges in the Couse home.

THE SHARP ART STUDIO
After browsing through the machine shop we walked over to the Sharp Art Studio which was about 30 yards to the Northwest of the Couse home.  It is on the property that Joseph Henry Sharp lived and worked. As we walked from the Couse home to the Sharp Gallery we saw a Teepee that was donated to the historic site about a year ago.  It is a mock up of a Teepee that was put up by Mr. Couse on the same spot which was used in some of his paintings.  The Sharp Art Studio was opened in June of 2017 and displays some of Sharps best work inside the beautiful art studio that he designed, built and used.  The Studio is large and had excellent lighting for painting.  It had a loft which could be used to store supplies, to display more artwork and to paint.

Teepee between the Couse home and the Sharp Art Gallery.

 

Inside the Sharp Art Gallery.

Inside the Sharp Art Gallery showing the loft.

 

Painting named Old War Chief's Son.

Painting named Old War Chief’s Son.

 

Two among many more excellent paintings in the gallery.

Two among many more excellent paintings in the gallery.

CONCLUSION
There was no fee for this excellent tour, nor was there any big sell job with regard to contributions.  There was just a jar in the small lobby room where you could place a donation if you enjoyed the tour.  Needless to say we were very pleased with the tour and made a donation.  If you are in Taos and you have about 2 1/2 free hours and you want to see something a little different that will lift your spirits and inspire you, I would highly recommend that you schedule a tour.  You will not regret it!   I have included a few links below that you can visit to find out more information.

LINKS

Couse-Sharp Historical Site website  – This is the official website for the Couse-Sharp Historical Site.

Couse-Sharp Historical Site overview video.  – This is a very nice video giving an overview of the Couse-Sharp Historical Site.  Just under 2 minutes long.

Irving Couse Paintings  – This displays the results of a Google Image search for Eanger Irving Couse Paintings.

Joseph Henry Sharp Paintings  – The results of a Google Image search for Joseph Henry Sharp.

The Kibbey Couse Machine Shop  – A page from the Couse-Sharp Historical Site website with information about the machine shop.

Couse Laboratories  – A webpage with photos and information about the company that Kibbey Couse founded.

     Copyright © 2011-2012 by Danny and Sandra Ringo.  All rights reserved.  Articles may not be reproduced without permission.