August 24, 2016

Women of the Southwest - Millicent Rogers

A few miles north of the town of Taos, and just to the west of the Taos Pueblo, is a museum devoted to one of the area's more colorful characters, Millicent Rogers.  Though a resident for only six years, she left a lasting impact both for her own personal style and for her support of the arts and culture of the Southwest.

Mary Millicent Abigail Rogers (1902-1953) was the grand daughter of the co-founder of Standard Oil and grew up in high society with all the trappings of great wealth.  Despite a glamorous lifestyle with no financial worries, Millicent Rogers did not lead a carefree life.  A bout of rheumatic fever as a child left her prone to illness throughout her life but also taught her how to benefit from the periods of bed rest by drawing and designing.  Her quest for the "perfect man" resulted in three brief marriages but gave her three sons whom she adored.  And in 1947, a broken heart after an affair with Clark Gable ended badly, drove her west to Taos, New Mexico, where she found her own nirvana.

Which brings me back to the present and my recent visit to the Millicent Rogers Museum.  Situated in the former hacienda of Claude and Elizabeth Anderson, great friends of Millicent Rogers and a place she visited often, is a museum showcasing the artistic heritage of the native population as collected by Ms Rogers, as well as an homage to this remarkable lady and her vision.

Visitors to this remote site enter the private realm of one of the Southwest culture's earliest proponents.  Though Millicent Rogers may have rejected many of the trappings of her fashionable upbringing, she did apply her cultivated eye and substantial resources to collecting and promoting the great arts and crafts tradition of local Hispanic and Indian people.  An avid collector of woven blankets, like the Navajo examples seen above, and a patron of potters, especially Maria Martinez whose work is seen below, Millicent Rogers amassed over 7,000 objects that were donated to the museum by her son Paulie shortly after her death.

Not surprisingly, Millicent Rogers' main obsession was jewelry which she collected passionately and also designed.  The Museum offers a magnificent selection of silver and turquoise bracelets, belts, necklaces and other adornments most of which were owned and worn by Millicent Rogers herself.

There are further galleries devoted to other traditional arts such as Kachina dolls, woven baskets and tinwork, and still more that are closer to installations than museum displays.  The individual collections and the wide variety of items accumulated leave no doubt that Millicent Rogers was devoted to protecting and promoting indigenous culture long before it was considered "real art".

While it must have been curious that a jet setter like Millicent Rogers would finish her days as champion of an overlooked population in the middle of no where, in retrospect it seems perfectly natural.  Millicent Rogers wrote to her son Paulie shortly before she died that being in Taos made her feel "part of the earth".  I can only say that in my own experience, re-visiting the area after a decade long absence, I wish I could have been there then too.

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