Prairie meets Pueblo
Posted on May 12, 2017
It’s spring in the mountains, but I wasn’t prepared for giant snowflakes and a snowstorm that covered spring flowers and dressed the budding trees in white. Santa Fe has a distinct history and a distinct style. The oldest state capitol city in the US, and the oldest city in New Mexico, it has been inhabited by people for thousands of years. Artists of all varieties are attracted to the area for the natural beauty and history, and also by the legacy left by the artists that have added to the city’s narrative over time.
The very talented architect credited with leading the “Santa Fe” style is John Gaw Meem, but before Meem was an architect named William Penhallow Henderson who was already working in what we now consider the distinctive New Mexican style.
Over my weekend visit, I visited a beautiful historic house designed by Henderson. The owner of the magnificent home told me that Henderson had traveled extensively before settling in Santa Fe, sketching in Europe and working with Frank Lloyd Wright–helping to create his unique style described as “prairie meets pueblo”. Suddenly the familiarity of the design clicked, praire architecture adapted and informed for the unique quality, history and materials of this area.
Originally born in Massachusetts, Henderson moved several times–living in Texas, Arizona and Illinois. He returned to the East coast just before the turn of the century to study painting. While studying in Chicago, he met his wife the poet Alice Corbin. Henderson was talented across many diciplines–architect, painter, furniture and costume designer. While sketching his way around Europe, he became friends with John Singer Sargent whose work clearly inspired him.
Fatefully, Hendersen’s wife Alice had tuberculosis and they moved to New Mexico for the climate. With his son-in-law, Henderson formed the Pueblo-Spanish Building Company and designed many public and private spaces, created furniture and worked on paintings and murals. One rather infamous house he designed now is home to the School for Advanced research–The White sisters Estate or “El Delirio”–the delirum.
The girls were party-centric, and it is rumored that the Henderson’s were frequent guests and users of the pool. The sisters were fond of Afghan Hounds and on the estate is a mausoleum and cemetary were 40+ dogs are buried. Many people believe the grounds, the cemetery particularly, are haunted.
One thing that I really admire about Henderson is his amazing range. It seems like artists, like many other areas of modern life, are overly specialized and defined by catagories. Henderson’s work is versatile–and yet still cohesive when viewed as a collection.
Back in the heat of Texas, I miss the snowy spring of Santa Fe. I always come away from this wonderful city with a sense of visual stories left behind. The weather and light create an ever changing kaleidoscope of visions. At my desk, I visit the landscape and light through the work of William Henderson, grateful that he left his visions of this landscape–and added his distinct voice to this iconic style.