Taos Plaza Courthouse Murals

Detailed Information on the Murals and the Artists
at the Taos County Courthouse on the Plaza


James Emil Bisttram was born in Hungary on April 7, 1895. His family immigrated to New York City when Emil was 11 years old. Bisttram took night classes at National Academy of Design and Cooper-Union in NYC, then the New York School of Fine and Applied art, where he would eventually teach. When he was 21, he started a commercial art business, teaching alongside his work at the Parsons School of Design, and eventually, the Master Institute where he learned about Santa Fe and Taos from the school’s founder, artist/philosopher Nicolas Roerich, who had visited in the 1920s.

Bisttram visited Taos for three months in 1930, but found the light and colors overwhelming. It planted an idea, though. Bisttram was sent to Mexico in 1931 as a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, to study mural painting with Diego Rivera. Before he left, he helped his wife Mayrion and her mother move to Taos, to settle in while he was away. When Bisttram returned, he was so inspired that he declared he wanted to create a "fresco movement in the west." He started the first commercial gallery in Taos – the Heptagon Gallery - and the avant-garde Taos School of Art in 1932, which would become accredited as the Bisttram School of Fine Art in the late 1940s.

Bisttram primarily worked in oils, painting landscapes, portraits, and abstractions.

His WPA works in the Taos County Courthouse include the following pieces:

Aspiration by Emil Bisttram (Medium)

Aspiration / Asperación

Subject: A mother holds a child in her arms while a bare-chested man reaches his hands up to the sky in a gesture of receiving. The women holding the child is sitting in a bowl of wheat, which might have been an allegorical reference to Taos being a wheat producing area until a devastating drought in the 1920s.

Notes: The piece has a slightly diagonal emphasis in the top half of the piece, from upper left to lower right. The bottom of the piece seems to be more spherical. Art historians note that the bottom half of the woman in this painting remarkably similar to his 1932 work Consolation, with exaggeratedly large legs and arms, and an exposed sole of the foot, which identified him as being “under a Mexican influence” and have been compared to those of Rivera’s work at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It has also been noted that the pose of the woman and child, including their touching hands, may be a subtle nod to the locally revered subject of Madonna and Child.

Reconciliation by Emil Bisttram (Medium)

Reconciliation / Reconciliació

Subject: In the foreground, a working man’s child, educated by a nun with her finger raised towards the heavens. A young man works in the middle ground laboring to build a masonry wall. A completed home in the upper left of the background implies life and completion of that building project. A much older man comforts a covered female in the background. Beyond them, a small homestead and fields lead to the mountains in the distance.

Notes: Smithsonian and other art archives make NO note of the content of this painting, oddly. It has a very clear fore, middle, and background.

Transgression by Emil Bisttram (Medium)

Transgression / Transgresión (no. 177)

Subject: At the base of a ruined corner of a building - which by all appearances could well be the ruins of the mission at the Pueblo that was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt (due in large part to some marauders who were not Indian but pretended to be) - in a ruined timber structure… a covered figure of either a Pueblo man or a covered woman weeps over the lifeless prone figure of a shirtless man in the foreground. In the midground, a masked and caped figure carrying a knife looks off to the left, while another man carrying a bag hides his face while also moving left behind the masked figure in the background.

Notes: This painting has been described as having “remarkable angularity, a dark subject, and overtones of violence.” There is a spiral emphasis clearly evident in the piece. Again, Bisttram has layered the painting, almost as in the layers of a complicated stage set.

Descriptions of Bisttram in the WPA archives include descriptions of an enthusiastic teacher who would “fresco the universe with Roerich philosophy or perhaps Riveria (sic).”

Bisttram was a bit of a troublesome representative for the WPA. He offered in an interview with a Denver paper that he was not at all sure that “the government’s PWA projects for the relief of artists will be of value to either… (noting that) Under government subsidy, mediocrity is bound to prevail above talent.” He assured his peers that he was framing his answer to a larger concern than just Taos, expressing that some of the artists selected may not be the right choice to represent stories in the histories of the places chosen to receive adornments, being of other places, or their art not representing the traditions of the place itself… which DOES seem to also be a post-completion reflection on the Taos murals.

Bisttram went on after the Taos Courthouse to other WPA projects, including the competitively acquired commission to create a mural in the Justice Department Building in Washington DC – a renowned project called “Contemporary Justice and Woman” that spoke directly to the benefits of the Woman’s Suffrage movement which had “unchained” women from their subjective roles and offered them the opportunity to be a sculptor, student, scholar, executive, dancer, sportswoman, voter, and scientist… all placed above a foundation of his vision of the alternative, her enslavement to man. Bisttram was becoming an advocate, giving birth to visual representations of what COULD be in a world where it most certainly was NOT. Yet. Other murals include two WPA projects completed for the Roswell courthouse.

In the late 1930’s, as Bisttram became more interested in mysticism, his paintings began to also convey more abstraction, and in 1938 he and seven other artists created the “Transcendental Painting Group” – a group of “recovering” realists that was influenced by the purity of color and form embraced by Cezanne; the appreciation of shape itself, and a personalized, emotional reaction to art as embraced by Van Gogh; combined with an exploration of the cubist and geometric tendencies of Picasso and Braque… all tied together with a neat little bow of an abstract use of nature as the source of inspiration. Bisttram was also influenced in his later years by Kandinsky and, as with his peer Victor Higgins, in the theories of Dynamic Symmetry.

Bisttram would spend 4 decades in Taos. He was known as a “dynamic conversationalist” with a clear direction. Newspapers noted that Bisttram’s favorite pastimes were drinking coffee with his beautiful and engaging wife and/or playing chess with Leon Gaspard, both at the Columbian Hotel and Bar (a precursor to the existing La Fonda hotel on the south side of the Taos Plaza.)

In the 1950’s, Bisttram founded TICO – the Taos Institute of Creative Orientation – with the intention of bringing in the top minds in art to nurture a new generation of artists, however he never secured adequate funding to make the venture a success. Regardless, Bisttram is widely acknowledged as one of, if not the, most influential teachers of the Taos artists.
Bisttram supported the building of the Taos Community Auditorium in 1972 and was active in the Taos Winter Sports Club, which purchased the first tow rope for the Aqua Piedra, an early ski area in Carson National Forest. Emil J. Bisttram Day was recognized by the governor on his birthday in April 1975. He died in 1976.


Victor Higgins was born in 1884 in Shelbyville, Indiana to a large family of Irish Catholic farmers. The artist, known for both oils and watercolors, with their “broad” “lyrical” strokes, was put on that path when he met an itinerant sign painter at age 9 that would leave him with his first instruction, his first set of paints, and a dream of a romantic art world in the big city. He turned his hands to the work, and when “grounded” to the barn for his “projects,” painted nearly every inch of the interior – at least to the extent his 9 year old height would allow. At age 15, he combined his savings along with the money his parents gave him to attend to his art education in Indianapolis, and went on to live, study, and teach in Chicago. He painted his first known mural in the Englewood Theater in Chicago in 1919.

Sponsored in his artistic efforts by former Chicago mayor Carter H. Harrison, Higgins would move to Europe, studying art at the Grand Chaumiere in Paris and Munich, and visiting Italy, England and Belgium. What he gained most from his travels seemed to be a disappointment in the maturation of art itself. He once offered the frustrated commentary that the artists of his day were essentially crafting themselves after the old masters and not invigorating the craft with new ideas.

By 1914, introspective, independent Higgins was ready to return to Chicago, and thereupon arriving, was offered an opportunity by his benefactor to venture to Taos. His new friend from Paris, Walter Ufer, followed him a short time later, also supported by Harrison.

Higgins would develop a style of painting people that reflected a bit of his own personality, with a contemplative tone that seemed to have a touch of loneliness to it. Higgins was inducted into the Taos Society of Artists in 1917, and went on to win 14 prestigious art awards in the nineteen teens, moving into a period of monumental landscapes and still lifes thereafter. This period was noted by art conservators to be a time of Higgins’ letting go of all but the most important aspects of a painting: there were fewer details, layered with an attention to capturing the essence, or Spirit, of the subject, and often, the use of an unusual angle combined with bursts of color to create a sense of “dynamic symmetry” as popularized by a period book on the subject by Jay Hambidge, and an evocative exploration of the harshness of the New Mexico climate – storms of various sorts were a favorite background subject. Higgins’ portrait of a Native American was one of the works of 13 Americans shown at the first exhibition of New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1929. Higgins’ works in the thirties, the time of the murals in the Taos courthouse, were noted as being highly abstracted, even cubist, with a distinct layering of the fore, middle, and background. Higgins was also known artistically for his elaborately shaped clouds.

Higgins work in the WPA Collection at the Taos County Courthouse is the centerpiece of the collection. It was also his first mural project. The exceptional piece is:

Moses the Law Giver by Victor Higgins DETAIL (Medium)

Moses the Law Giver / Moises El Legislador

Subject: Higgins’ 12 foot by 7 foot Moses the Law Giver represents in many ways the culmination of his work, with its dramatic sage-dotted stormy landscape in the background, a rocky cubist landscape in the mid and fore ground, and simple, humble… lonely… Moses figure, in the largest of the Taos murals, centered over what would have been the bench of the court.

Notes: Higgins prepared for the project by completing a series of preliminary drawings, a watercolor, two oil panels, and some Masonite pieces, which would serve as models for the final work. Originals of the preliminary Masonite works are held at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe. The study in oil on canvas is held by the Santa Fe Art Foundation. Watercolors of the preliminary paintings are held at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe.

Interestingly, when the courthouse was finished, it was noted that the Moses piece must be wildly successful, as every defendant for the first 12 days of trials was found “Guilty.”

It has been asserted that Higgins may well be one of the, if not Taos’ first, landscape painter. Whatever his position in that right, his final review in the WPA archives indicates he was not an effective team player, having decided that his work would be what he wanted despite the collective nature of the task. The WPA’s final report did deem the work his “masterpiece,” but noted that it had, in fact, revealed his artistic limitations. While that position may have reflected the opinion of his bosses at the WPA, in 1935 Higgins’ would have the last laugh, being inducted into the National Academy of Design.

Higgins married his wife Marion at the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1937. He ran for mayor of Taos in 1947, and lost by 12 votes. He died in 1949, after a heart attack. His funeral was held at his home on Morada Lane. His pallbearers included courthouse mural team members Phillips and Lockwood, as well as TSA members Andrew Dasburg, Tom Benrimo, Oscar Berninghaus, and John Young-Hunter. One of the many news items of interest on his death was a lovely letter written about their “most considerate” neighbor by Mabel Dodge Luhan, who extolled the virtues of Higgins’ standing up for new, young artists in the local galleries and his masterful re-telling of stories of “old Taos.”

When asked why he painted in Taos, Higgins once responded:

“Because of the light, there is the best light here to be found anywhere.
There is more color in the landscape and the people than elsewhere.
And besides, there is a constant call here to create.“


Ward Lockwood was born in Atchison, Kansas, on September 22, 1894. At age seven, Lockwood was inspired to pursue art by Miss “Fanny” Mather, his father’s bookkeeper, who would allow him to spend Sunday afternoons painting watercolors of venetian scenes in her living room.

Lockwood attended the Art Institute of Chicago as a teen, then attended the University of Kansas, followed by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
From 1917 to 1919, Lockwood served in the Eighty-ninth Division of the American Expeditionary Force. He fought in the Argonne and St. Mihiel engagements and won the Croix de Guerre.

In 1921, Lockwood returned to France to study art at the Académie Ranson in Paris and Provence, meeting Kenneth Adams, who he would befriend again in Taos some years later. He returned to Kansas City in 1922.

In 1926, Lockwood made his first visit to Taos. He must have caught a whiff of the unusual creativity that had so many artists and writers inspired in that moment, because in 1928, he moved to Taos.
Lockwood is described as having had a modernist style and a charming personality. He cultivated relationships with other TSA artists, including Kenneth Adams, Andrew Dasburg, and John Marin. They helped him to dig in to the idea of simplification of forms, and angularity, which seems to drive his work in the WPA projects.

Though it has been reported as having been a 1933 mural at the Broadmore Art Academy in Colorado Springs, in fact, Lockwood’s first mural work was a small 1926 project for the Kansas City Country Club.

Lockwood’s’ works in the WPA Collection at the Taos County Courthouse Include:

Superfluous Laws Oppress by Ward Lockwood (Medium)

Superfluous Laws Oppress / Demasiadas Leyes Oprimen

Subject: In the distance, a clearly American (Greek revival) capitol building at the base of steep, angular mountains. A blind justice, her arms missing and her scales flung, falls into the wreck of a structure composed of books and briefcases that are crushing the men and women. An elaborate hand-carved Spanish Pueblo Revival style corbel marks the top right corner of the piece.

Notes: MISLABLED IN BUILDING as Oppress, not Suppress

The mural has a lower-left to upper right diagonal emphasis with very angular features on everything but the humans depicted. The sensual, flowing bottom character in this painting is reported to be Lockwood’s wife, Clyde Bonebrake, whom he met and married in Kansas City in 1924. A local art historian suggests that the mountain and capitol building in this mural might have a hidden double meaning, in that Taos locals tend to revere a mystical type of power emanating from our local mountain, one that has a greater hold on the people than any “mere government.” It could be that this piece is making reference to the government trying to overcome the power of the place.

Justice Begets Content by Ward Lockwood 4 (Medium)

Justice Begets Content / Justicia Causa Felicidad

Subject: In the background, a man in a vine-covered hat with a yellow kerchief rides a dunn colored horse towards the far left of the frame. A woman in a blue dress stands in the mid-frame, looking slightly to the left, over a seated grandmother in a white blanket and skirt and traditional Puebloan full-height light colored leather moccasins and her hair in braids with ribbons the color of the center girl’s dress. She is sitting and her foot is resting on a Navaho chief’s blanket. The grandmother figure also looks off slightly to the left while she plays her hide drum, which, interestingly, is in the style of Cochiti Pueblo, as Taos Pueblo drums are traditionally left unpainted. It appears as if the artist took some liberties in this piece, as Navaho blankets are traditionally used to bury people at Taos Pueblo and wouldn’t be used in this way.

Notes: The mural has a lower-left to upper right diagonal emphasis, as Lockwood was known for.
This was one of the very rare occasions that Lockwood painted a Native American. He completed several studies of several models for the process.

Avarice Breeds Crime by Ward Lockwood (Medium)

Avarice Breeds Crime / Avaricia Engendra Crimen (no. 179)

Subject: The predominant figure of this unsigned piece is in the midground. A tall man bleeding from a stab wound on the left side of his rib cage holds a bundle on his right shoulder, out of reach of two bloodied men laying in the fore and background, who tear at the primary figures shirt and pants until they are ripped. The man in the foreground, who has been stabbed, holds a stick in his right hand. There’s a bloody knife behind him and to the left, just out of reach of the primary figure. There are gold coins spread all around the base of the frame, spilled from another bag which has fallen, suggesting that the bundle the primary figure holds is also full of gold. There is a vulture flying in the background in the right portion of the mural.

Notes: Companion piece to “Justice”, however this one uses a triangular vertical emphasis.

Sufficient Law Protects by Ward Lockwood (Medium)

Sufficient Law Protects / Ley Suficiente Protégé (no. 182

Subject: A man in the background applies plaster to an adobe house. A stand of aspen latillas add diagonal emphasis, from upper left to lower right. A dark loose-haired woman with child, with a Madonna and Child quality, walks from left to right across the left side of the midground, with a concerned look on her face, and wearing unpractical high-heeled shoes. The child looks directly at the viewer. Behind the woman, the walls of the compound are made of the same books as in the companion piece, Superfluous Laws Oppress, located just a few feet away. A man in the mid and foreground strips bark off a viga. His yellow jacket rests on three other vigas in the foreground at the base of the work. 4 chickens peck at the ground beneath him.

Notes: It almost appears as if the man in this is related to Bisttram’s Reconciliation figure. The painting is described in Smithsonian literature as “two men building a home for a woman and child.”
Lockwood used his experience at Taos to gain a commission in the ultra-competitive 1935 Post Office Mural competition, in which $116,000 was offered to artists to create 22 murals and 14 sculptures. He won, several times. Later murals included the post office in Wichita, Kansas (1935); the Post Office Department Building in Washington (1937); the post office and courthouse in Lexington, Kentucky (1937); the post office in Edinburg, Texas; and his painting The Texas Rangers in Camp (1941) for the post office in Hamilton, Texas.

Lockwood taught at UNM in 1936 and 1937. In 1938, he accepted a job as professor of art at the University of Texas, effectively founding that art department. He spent summers traveling in New Mexico, Colorado, and California. He returned to Taos in 1947-1948 before taking a position teaching at UC Berkeley. Even still, he would return to Taos to teach in the summers. He retired from teaching in 1961 returning to Taos, again.

Lockwood became obsessed with historical accuracy in later works, researching extensively the detail of dress or the number of spokes of the wagon’s wheel. This seems to be a reaction to the unrest of the period, and an exemplification of the American tendency to romanticize that which was as if we were once better people.

Later in his career, Lockwood became known for his winter landscapes. In fact, his last work was a series of pastel sketches and pen-and-ink landscape drawings of Taos. Lockwood died in his home at Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, on July 6, 1963.


Bert “Phil” Phillips was born in Hudson, New York, in 1868. He studied at the New York Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. After 5 years out of school painting in New York, he traveled to England, then on to Paris’ Académie Julian, where he would meet and hear about Taos from fellow artists Joseph Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein. Returning to New York in 1896, Blumenschein and Phillips would become studio-mates, eventually trekking West together in 1898.

It was Phillips, who, along with Blumenschein, on that fateful day in 1898, when a cart’s wheel broke, and one man began to explore, and other started sketching, that gave birth to the Taos Art Society. The pair outfitted for their expedition in Denver with a light wagon, a harness, and two horses. They watched, and then copied the cowboys working the Santa Fe Trail, to learn how to even hitch the wagon, according to a 1940 interview with Blumenschein. They then spent three months exploring Colorado before crossing over La Veta Pass and entering New Mexico. Summer rains had ruined the mountain roads, and it was a deep rut in one of them that claimed their (underqualified for mountain roads) wagon’s wheel. The wagon was precarious – part of it hanging over the edge of the cliff - but it was stable. They shared a can of beans and a pickle while they decided what to do. On 3 September 1898, Blumenschein would leave Phillips to watch the wagon and leave on the 20 mile journey (roughly a day’s ride away on horseback) down to Taos. Blumenschein marveled that he was “the first” to experience New Mexico’s stark beauty as an {American} artist or writer. (In fact, that distinction belongs to Worthington Whitridge who painted New Mexico in 1865.)

While he waited, a rider came upon Phillips, warning him of horse thieves known to watch the road. After some time, an edgy Phillips resorted to sketching. “Blumey” eventually returned (before thieves could take the horse), and immediately both realized they were captivated, and that Taos would be the endpoint of this journey. Blumenschein would return to New York after a few months, but Phillips would stay, becoming the first Taos Society artist to make Taos his permanent home.
Phillips and fellow traveler Lester Meyers almost accidentally started a war in Taos in 1898. Local Hispanics, incited after the Spanish-American War, were threatening to drive all of the Anglos from Taos. Unaware of this threat, Phillips and Meyers were watching the street pageant on December 12 during the fiesta of our lady Guadalupe. Being culturally ignorant, they did not know to take off their hats as the Lady passed, prompting the local Sherriff, Luciano Trujillo, a mixed Hispano-Puebloan, to intervene. Meyers, a former boxer, blackened the sheriff’s eye, causing Phillips and Meyers both to be arrested and thrown into the courthouse jail. A riot of angry hispanos waited for them outside, chanting threats against “los Americanos.” The sheriff, reportedly intoxicated now, found his way into an American saloon, and brandishing his gun, got himself shot and killed by a man named Al Gifford. The town, and the Pueblo, went wild. A crowd of Americans, fearful that the violence would result in the lynching of Phillips and Meyers, somehow got possession of the jail keys and freed the prisoners, who went into hiding in a mercantile store, armed with double patrols and sticks of dynamite, until they were freed by US Marshalls arrived from Santa Fe several days later to quell the “rebellion.” Phillip’s passion for Taos was not swayed, however, and he wrote countless letters back East inviting his artists and intellectual friends to come visit, helping to usher in the era of the Taos art colony.

Phillips met and married his wife Rose Martin (sister of Taos’ renowned T. P. “Doc” Martin) in 1899.

Known for being a lover of the west and of Native American culture, and for his murals depicting Indian and frontier life, Phillips would often have to negotiate with his models, who believed that posing for him would take their vital life essence. It was only through slow, repeated requests, and ministrations of both he and tribal medicine carriers to ill models, that he would earn the trust of the local Indians.

One of 6 founding members of TSA in 1915, Phillips was active in the organization until it disbanded in 1927. He was described by his friends as temperamental, intelligent, charitable, generous, and a visible fixture on the plaza when he was not out camping and painting. He was known to shoo the flies from his nude models by telling the flies to “Flit.” Phillips was also chair of several of the many organizations in Taos. He loved fishing and storytelling. His home, behind a shop at the northwest corner of Bent and Paseo del Pueblo Norte is a landmark itself. Check out the unique carved and painted details in the woodwork, and look at that wagon wheel window… now is that an advertisement? “Herein lies the home of the man that guarded the wagon, started sketching, and never left…”

The Taos Courthouse murals were Phillips’ first murals. He was considered the “outsider” of the group, being more conservative, traditionally, and all seemed to feel that he had been “thrown in” with the three other modernists… they were vocally skeptical of his commission. By all accounts, however, he exceeded their expectations… which may have been misplaced, as he had admitted in earlier interviews that he occasionally enjoyed painting “in the modern way.”

Phillips works in the WPA Collection at the Taos County Courthouse Include:

The Shadow of Crime by Bert Phillips (Medium)

The Shadow of Crime / La Sombra del Crimen

Subject: A mother comforts her child at the left, standing outside a home with blue trim painted doors and windows (a common evil-warding technique in NM), while a strongly built man in handcuffs walks with shoulders hunched and head hung low through a jail cell door at right. A vulture skull, like a reverse sun, casts a shadow over the scene. There is a village in the background and a mountain off in the distance.

Notes: Triangular emphasis overall with strong vertical emphasis at the left and right edges. Described by the Smithsonian: “A mother and child huddle at left while a man in handcuffs walks with shoulders hunched through a door at right. An animal skull lurks above the wall.” This piece is unsigned, however it is clearly a Phillips piece based on his distinctive cross-hatching technique of the sky and building planes.

Obedience Casts Out Fear by Bert Phillips (Medium)

Obedience Casts Out Fear / Obediencia Abondana Miedo

Subject: Two men on a hill above a small village. One, shirtless, in a white pant and woven belt, holds a double-barbed whip with his right hand. His left hand is directed towards the heavens, with two fingers extended. The other man, in a blue sarong and wrap, cowers below him.

Notes: This painting has a vertical emphasis with a triangular base. Both men are fully addressing the viewer. The piece is listed as both Phillips and Lockwood at Smithsonian, however, this piece of all three murals, most clearly illustrates Phillip’s known background hatching techniques.

Phillips was awarded two other major mural commissions after his work in Taos: the Polk County, Iowa Courthouse and the Missouri State Capitol.

His commentators would acknowledge a musical quality in his work, noting that he expertly applied “rhythms of line, form, color, harmony, and movement.”

Phillips “retired” from the artistic life when he discovered his eyes were failing him, becoming instead a park ranger for the Carson National Forest. Phillips died while visiting his son in California in 1956.

“I believe that a picture must be more than just paint on canvas.
It must express something vital, living.”


Frederico Vigil was born on May 27, 1946 in Santa Fe, in what was then a barrio along Canyon Road, before most of the locals could no longer afford the taxes to keep their properties along the as-yet unpaved lane that would become Canyon Road. The child of a barber, who was evidently also something of a tinkerer in building projects, and who made sure his children learned carpentry and masonry. Vigil’s talent was first recognized by his 6th grade teacher, who encouraged him to continue with his studies. He became a painter, and a bit of a locavore, developing a passion for telling New Mexico’s story.

Vigil learned the buon fresco (“true fresco,” from 16th century Italy) technique during an internship in 1984 with Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Pope Dimitroff, both artistic progeny of Mexican painter Diego Rivera. "By then they were in their 70s or 80s and they wanted to pass the tradition on," he says in a recent article in Sunset magazine, "I was intrigued by the mystique… and… that fresco is public art. People don't have to go into someone's home to see it."

Vigil, a master artisan of the technique and a local hero of the genre, was brought in by Taos County in 1994 to complete a restoration of the historic Taos County courthouse WPA murals. The restoration was completed for $19k. At that time, Vigil was asked to complete a new mural for an unfinished wall on the west side of the building. That mural is:

Respect Creates Harmony / Armonia Trae Respeto

Subject: In the background, a symbiotic relationship of man and nature, and based on tradition… has made the landscape beautiful, colorful, and fruitful. An orchard fruits at the base of a mountain on the upper left, a late-period traditional adobe home and fields decorate the space beyond in the upper right. An angel, a common companion in San Ysidro iconography, plows the fields using a bull, on the left. San Ysidro, in period garb, a hat, and carrying a basket of food in his right hand and a walking stick (ox goad?) moves from upper left to lower right, to intercept a money-treaded silver colored digging machine that has already plowed over a lamb, before it runs over a Madonna-and-Childesque figure.

Notes: Painted in 1994. This piece seems romantic compared to the other pieces, which all use local costumes to tell part of the story. This story seems to be more of a Spanish tale.

Vigil has prepared a mural concept on the theme of New Mexico Architecture for the blank area he prepared in 1994. Funding fell through before the project was completed.

Vigil’s masterpiece is his 4,300 square foot mural inside the Torreon at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The piece is the largest concave mural in North America and investigates 3,000 years of Hispanic culture. It took nearly 10 years to complete.

Rachel's Ultimate Taos Architecture Tour

So as the gal who most recently updated the Historic Cultural Properties Inventories of the 200+ structures listed in the Taos Historic District, and a resident of the district for many years, I've had a LOT of time on the ground around Taos. Time enough to have fallen in love with some of the things that most people miss about our fair little town. Since the current walking tours are really based on historic sites, they don't address our coolest architectural treasures. So I thought it was time to remedy that, and share some of the best little secrets of Taos with our fans and readers.

I'm basing this walking tour on the Taos Blue Trail, since that's what I see as the best current resource for visitors. Click HERE for that map

I will not be covering any of the sites listed on the Blue Trail, unless I have something to add about something you should look out for at or around the place.

I'll be posting this list as a guide, with each site linked separately so it's easier to read on mobile devices. It's my hope that someday we'll get enough money to make this an app.

But til then, here we go!!!

     My Best of Taos Architecture Tour Street by Street Guide                                           

          Taos Plaza

          Heading West on Don Fernando to Padre Martinez Lane


          Diverging from the Trail - Heading East to Kit Carson

          Kit Carson Road and Des Georges Lane

          Paseo del Pueblo Norte

          Bent Street, the John Dunn Shops, and Scheurich/Teresina Lane

          Extended Tours: Outliers

Taos Architecture Tour: Extended: Outliers

To the North

Arroyo Seco
Just go. Enjoy this awesome, tiny little village. Eat at Aceq if you are hungry and then go for Taos Cow ice cream. Check out the galleries, too. I think this is one of the sweetest villages in the state.

Taos Ski Valley
The Ski Valley resort is being redesigned under new ownership. And I suspect they'll lose some of the things I find most charming about it, so I'll pass over that til they are done. The one thing that I am willing to drive all the way there for, every time, for no reason at all, besides the gorgeous drive (especially for fall colors!!!) is The Bavarian. Real German food and real German beer. nom nom nom. And it's a gorgeous Swedish-Cope log Chalet! So worth it! Just don't go without 4wd in the winter and you'll be a-ok. It's also a great place to rest if you are taking runs at the ski valley.

To The East

El Monte Sagrado
Architects and architecturalists just HAVE to stop at El Monte Sagrado resort at 317 Kit Carson. Go enjoy an expensive glass of wine in the Anaconda Bar. And then just take a walk around the main building and check out the pool, bathrooms, spa, and casitas (not the hotel-type lodgings, they aren't all that). From the awesome landscape, to the living machine of water that fuels the place and the pool, to the amazing architectural detailing throughout.... there's just so much here that's extraordinary. 

Gaspard House
If you are heading East on Kit Carson, towards Angel Fire or on the Enchanted Circle tour, be sure to drive slow going out of town, so you can take a quick from-the-street peek at the now private Leon Gaspard Home at 615 Kit Carson. What makes this home really stand out, besides its "hot salmon" color (yes I made that up) are the unique Moorish and Russian fusion details that he implemented in this otherwise traditional Spanish Pueblo Revival style home. Definitely worth a look! 
(and if you are the owners, I'd LOVE to come by and say hi sometime!!! please let me know if you'd ever be up for a visit so I can photograph the inside and share it! LOL! )

Wheeler Gallery
Artists Thom Wheeler's amazing home and gallery is a bit further out on Kit Carson, almost as you are going into the Canyon. It's Spanish Pueblo Revival house with Victorian fusion landscape unlike anything else in Taos. It can take an hour just to take in all that's going on on the outside. Then, head in and visit Thom's amazing studio. His work is quite something, and his home, at 939 Kit Carson Road, is a very special Taos treasure.

To the South

Ranchos Plaza
Head south to the tiny village of Ranchos de Taos, just south of all the sprawl of Taos' south side. The San Francisco de Asis church has fantastic massing, made ultra-famous by being painted and photographed by Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe. And don't miss a walk around the little village with it's many old adobe ruins. It's quite special and features a couple great little shops. Be sure to stop in at Two Graces Plaza Gallery. They have a great mish-mosh of old and new items, and even a tiny little bookstore.

To the West

Definitely go check out the earthships, if you are into that. Just be sure to take a heaping helping of salt grains with you as you go so you can filter out all the "wouldn't it be nice if it was true" fluff. They aren't all they claim be. (I've written a whole book on it, but here's a place to start if you really want to know.) But, they DO offer some cool ideas and ways of looking at the world of sustainable design. It's just one of those "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is", things.

Taos Architecture Tour: Bent Street, the John Dunn Shops, and Scheurich/Teresina Lane

As we walk west on Bent Street, notice the many buildings along the north side. Most of them date from the period 1830-1870.

The first long row of attached shops has special details that you can take in if you just take the time to look. I always point out the cool murals around the windows and doors at Taos Blue and Taos Artisans' Co-Op. BTW - Stop in at La Chiripada if you are ready for a glass of wine as we wind down this tour de Taos. They have some solidly good reisling! ; )

There are great shops all along Bent, and if you are hungry, Taos favorite Lambert's is pretty decent, with a great patio. If you want to continue on to the end of the street, there are several cool buildings along the way. One of my favorites is the Parsons' Gallery, which has the last of the four zaguans we cover in this tour. The art here is second to none. Then head back to the John Dunn Shops as we wind things up.

Heading south at the John Dunn Shops (Taos Blue Trail Site #10), this folk territorial buildings have been updated, but still retain the flavor of their past. This is also one of the best garden-rich areas in Taos. I love it in the spring and summer when it is in full bloom. Its a great people watching spot as well, and I tell my guests to come here rather than the tourist-centric plaza for shopping. When you get to the dead end, turn left for an awesome lunch at the micro-lunch counter called Hero, or turn right towards two of Taos' most EPIC architecture spots of all.

In this little, nondescript corner of town, you'll find the oldest buildings on Taos Plaza. The buildings that are now Twirl and the Alley Cantina were started in 1800. The oldest remaining walls on the plaza are encased within them, and are more than 30 inches thick!

The Alley has decent food with a cool skylight in the main bar.

Twirl. Ah, Twirl. Okay so for your kids, this is the coolest place in New Mexico, I'd dare to say. Send them inside to the toystore or let them play in the epic back yard garden playground amazingness. For you architecturalists, just go in, roam around, enjoy the murals, and then head upstairs if its open and take in all the crazy details that developer Tom Worrell introduced to this epic space. It was SO controversial when it was done, as this kindof "ruined" one of the oldest, most historic homes in town. But I think the renovation, in another 40 years, will get put back on the historic register for its creative use of Asian and Near-Asian details. It really is quite an extraordinary space. I hope you enjoy it!

As you head south, towards the plaza and back to our starting point, be sure to stop in at Kimosabe. It's not that amazing of a building but the art and antiques they have are really, really lovely, and worth a look just for the sake of the "oh, wow"s.

So this concludes my walking tour of the Taos Historic District. I hope you saw some things you liked and learned a little about our little town and it's architecture. I'll put up some more stuff that's outside the main body of Taos, so if you happen to be traveling in any other direction, you might find some more to enjoy. Til next time, thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoyed yourself!
With love, Rachel

Taos Architecture Tour: Paseo del Pueblo Norte

Heading North on Paseo del Pueblo

On the east side there's kindof not much to look at on the east side except shops, til you get to the end of the long row of buildings towards the North, because most of these buildings at this end of the street are new, and not that great. Right before you cross the alley to the Taos Inn, though, things change.

On the west side of the street (no need to cross really, unless you luck out and get good lighting on the Our Lady of Guadalupe statue and painted bowls that make one of Taos' favorite photo opps) at 110 Paseo, is set of old buildings around an open courtyard. This is a great little spot, as the two story building on the north, now galleries below and private residence above, used to be one of our historic hotels. The one story building on the west of the courtyard fronts land that was once the town's stables.

Just north of this is a cool Mission Revival structure with an awesome riverrock front porch and fireplace. Obviously hand-crafted, places like this just don't get built much anymore. There was another building with similar details up the road, but they opted to cover all that up, or remove it, and turn it into a fake Craftsman house. It looks kindof crazy here in Taos. We don't DO Craftsman like that. Which is part of why this building is so special now. It's the only one of its kind left.

The last building on the long row of buildings you'll come to under a single portale (porch) is the Saavedra Building, now Starr Interiors. This building was begun in 1870 and modified in 1899, with some modifications after. It was the home/studio of Irving Couse before he bought his place on Kit Carson Road. Many of the old photographs of he an his models were taken in the inner courtyard of this hacienda style house, before the courtyard was modified to the super cute modern version it is now. Speaking of, that enclosed entry, with its beautiful gate, is another of our intact zaguans, though this one is a bit modern, like the strangely angled courtyard beyond. It's well worth a look though, as is the store inside. ; ) There's also a great carved door on the left of this courtyard.

Beyond the Alley, you come upon the Taos Inn (Taos Blue Trail Site #15). I won't get into too much about the Inn, except that it is actually an amalgam of smaller homes, and the lobby was once the interior courtyard of those homes. The fountain in the lobby used to be the well for those homes. It's pretty cool inside and definitely worth a pop-in to check out how to make the outside an inside. ; )

So here you have two options: head north on Paseo or West on Bent Street. For those that want to continue North, Kit Carson Park is a lovely place to walk in the mornings. In the northeast corner of the park, beyond a kindof sketchy gate, is the southern entrance to Taos Pueblo. You can't walk all the way, its really just for Pueblo citizens, but just beyond the gate is the main acequia channel into Taos. Once upon a time, most of the fresh running water in town, which fed our agricultural fields as well as our neighborhoods through ditches called acequias, was fed from this little stream. It's a remnant of a past that we need to remember. Because running water from streams works even when technology fails. k. off my soapbox. sorry. only not really. I want us to not need to rely on others to get what we need to stay healthy as a community. just sayin.

Futher along Paseo on the east side is the Presbyterian Church, which has an awesome labyrinth you can walk if your feet aren't dead by now.

Beyond that, by a little ways, it the Fechin House and Taos Art Museum (Taos Blue Trail Site #13). GO HERE. If you like art, architecture, fabulous spaces, woodworking, or want awesome gifts to take home. Really. Trust me on this. The former abode of artists Nicholai Fechin, this little spot of truly one of Taos' BEST KEPT ARCHITECTURAL SECRETS. Fechin’s passion for architecture and wood carving shows in every detail. The building has a flat parapet, second story setbacks with intricately detailed wood posts and brackets, a stunning west portal on the main façade, a now-enclosed entry portal at what may have once been the “back” porch, projecting viga ends, decorative columns, extraordinary tapered massing and a variety of window sizes and shapes. Its overall style is that of the Spanish Pueblo Revival but its embellishments reflect the Fechin’s European origin. Solomonite wooden columns and hand-carved corbels detail the portals. IT IS EXQUISITE, inside and out.

Shopping abounds northwards but we aren't here for shopping, so lets cross the street and head back south towards Bent Street. 

You'll come up on 222 Paseo, the Hulse-Warman Gallery. Besides being an AWESOME gallery, this little Northern New Mexico style house is one of a kind. With real earth stucco and a back courtyard and gallery that are quite wonderful. Further, they have a great boardwalk. Another of the last bastions of historic Taos that's often overlooked. If they are open, please stop in and say hi and take a look around. 

When you get past the Steakhouse at Martyr's lane, look at this corner building. How wild the lintel decorations are! And some of those details! That wagon wheel window! What's THAT about? Well, it's the former home of Taos Art Colony founder Bert Phillips (Taos Blue Trail Site #12). THAT's what. When he and Blumenschein broke that wheel and found themselves in Taos, starting an art colony, I guess he decided to mark it in time on his house. The detailing here is quite something to behold. I love it!

Just a few feet more and we start to close the loop of this tour of Taos. 

Head West on Bent Street.

Taos Architecture Tour: Kit Carson Road and Des Georges Lane

Kit Carson Road is one of the most often missed parts of Taos' Historic District. I think it's because people don't really know what they are looking at and how special it is. I'll try and help out with that here.

At 151 Kit Carson Road, at the intersection of Quesnel, is Taos' only true Queen-Anne style Victorian structure, the Miramon house, now part of the Casa Benevides Bed and Breakfast. (Which is a solidly good place to stay in the historic district, btw, if you haven't made reservations yet...) This little white house was build between 1840 and modified in 1880 and again late this past century when it was converted for lodging, but it's still pretty well intact. Victorian anything is super rare in Taos, and this award-winning preserved home is special for that reason.

Now, let me just say here that if you head east of Taos on Kit Carson, there are even more awesome buildings you might enjoy taking a look at. I'll include them on another page though. 

Back to the historic district. Head west on Kit Carson, back towards the plaza.

On the north, check out Old World Fine Art's front entrance, as well as the doors all along the north side of the street.

Many of these doors are hand carved, and quite beautiful. I love this about Taos -  there are so many amazing carved doors here! Bryans Gallery is a fun stop-in for shopping, if you need a break from all this architecture.

On the south, check out Wengert Plaza at 122 Kit Carson Road. It's another of our famous haciendas, built in stages between 1800 and 1920, with an intact but gateless zaguan. It also has nice galleries and a shaded garden court that are totally worth a peek. The oversized "cap" at the top of the exterior walls of this building is unlike anything else in Taos. It's totally random. But that's part of what makes it interesting. ; )

Back on the north, if you are into history, the 1825 Kit Carson Home and Museum at 113 Kit Carson Road (Taos Blue Trail Site #18) is worth a look. For me, my passion in this building is its totally awesome two-sided fireplace in the kitchen. I think this is my favorite historic kitchen in Taos.

The buildings at 105-109 Kit Carson are some great old buildings as well, and give us a picture of what this road used to look like, as they retain their elevated position above the street. Once upon a time, these buildings, dating from 1795-1830, had a boardwalk out front as they do now, but at street level, with steps into each structure. You can see the last original Taos boardwalk poking out from being "buried" underneath the porch at Lenny Foster's gallery. There's an awesome mural on the wall here as well.

Heading back south across the street, DO NOT MISS the El Rincon Trading Post (Taos Blue Trail Site #16). This little early 1800's trading post is great. And Estevan, who runs it, is a good guy. He MIGHT even turn on the lights for his awesome micro museum for you if you are really nice. He's got great art, jewelry, and collectibles to check out and buy as well. When you leave, poke your head around the back of the building, and check out La Dona Luz Bed and breakfast. The awesome details of the wooden lintels and columns here are VERY special. And NSFW! ; )

If you aren't into Victorian/fusion architecture, head north here along Paseo del Pueblo Norte and skip the next three buildings.

But if you like Victorian architecture and want to see Taos' version of it, head South into the parking lot beyond the Spanish Pueblo Revival shopping mall on the south near Paseo, you'll be heading towards Eske's brew pub. Some of Taos' architectural gems are hidden in plain sight back in the Eske's parking area. Walking towards Eske's, you'll come upon the green and white Victorian Walter Ufer home. Ufer was yet another of Taos' legendary artists and this was his home, back in the day. It's one of two whole true Victorian Buildings in all of Taos Historic District. In that way, it's extremely rare.


Directly north of it is a gated entrance, marked with a historic marker on the wall, to what was his studio (Taos Blue Trail Site #17). At times, this space is rented to galleries, and it may be open, if you are super lucky. If you are, be sure to go check out  Ufer's own chapel-turned studio, with it's gigantic north windows.

Behind Eskes, on the east along a wooded drive, is a tucked away office of a distinctive Territorial / Folk Victorian / Northern New Mexico vintage. It's a lovely little hidden away spot worthy of notice.

Now head back north towards the intersection of Paseo and kit Carson to resume the tour.