Noon, William Penhallow Henderson, 1920

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.

Spring in Santa Fe, we are not in Texas anymore!

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.

John Gaw Meem, library building for the University of New Mexico, 1938

The White sisters house “EL DELIRIO”, William Penhallow Henderson, 1928

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.

Arches, Via Strozzi, 1877

The green cloak, 1912

Costume designs for Alice In Wonderland play, 1915

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.

Illustration of the grounds by the great printmaker Gustave Baumann

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.

Sante Fe party girls–the White sisters and friends for a theme party

Revelers take part in a 1949 party at El Delirio, with a band playing from the loft. (Courtesy of School for Advanced Research)

Henderson (they think) and the sisters by the pool

The home of Amelia Elizabeth White and her sister Martha White is now the administration building for the School for Advamced Research. Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal

Spiral fountain that feeds into a pool in another part of the garden.

This view shows the courtyard of the main house of sisters Amelia Elizabeth and Martha White when they lived in Santa Fe. (Courtesy of School for Advanced Research)

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.

William Penhallow Henderson, Two Riders in the Canyon, 1919

Henderson, Detail from a historic home in town

Henderson, Design for a light fixture

Henderson, pine table and armchairs with stylized Native American motifs, 1920’s

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.

William Penhallow Henderson, Feast Day San Juan Pueblo, 1921

William Penhallow Henderson, Lucero’s Place, 1920