Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein were utterly dejected. Sitting silently at the side of a badly rutted road, the two tenderfoots stared at the object of their mutual consternation as they passed a can of cold baked beans back and forth between them, nibbling half-heartedly at the contents. The light horse-drawn wagon they had bought in Denver three months earlier had reached the end of its trail.
Teetering on the edge of a steep mountain road, the wagon balanced on the brink of doom, one of its wheels smashed beyond repair. In the three months since the artists had been camping and sketching the wilds of southern Colorado, they had been called on to jerry-rig countless on-the-spot repairs to their buckboard, but mending a broken wheel was beyond their ken.
After splitting a pickle, the pair decided that one of them would have to take the wheel to the nearest blacksmith while the other guarded the wagon. They tossed a coin. Blumenschein, then 24 and six years younger than Phillips, lost. Reluctantly, he mounted one of the horses and, balancing the broken wheel on his foot, began his two-day journey to the nearest town—a place called Taos.
"Never shall I forget the first powerful impression," he later wrote about his entrance to the Taos plain. "The great naked anatomy of a majestic landscape once tortured, now calm…all in beauty of color, vigorous form, ever-changing light."
That broken wheel turned out to be the happiest accident of Blumenschein's life. He had stumbled across what he and his partner had been looking for: unhackneyed subject matter. After an obliging blacksmith fizzes the wheel, Blumenschein hurried back to tell Phillips of his wonderful discovery.
With their wagon repaired, the two artists proceeded to Taos. There they set up housekeeping and began painting what was to them and the rest of the art art world in 1898 exotic subject matter: Indians in their own environment. So began the Taos art colony.
As word about Taos spread, more artists were attracted to this land of light and color. Santa Fe, too, began to attract its share of those with an artistic bent. Warren Rollins, a friend of Blumenschein and Phillips who was also painting in Taos, decided to set off for Santa Fe in search of something a little different.
Disregarding the advice of his friends, who all warned him, "Don't go to Santa Fe; they have no appreciation of art and never will have," Rollins came to town and set up shop in the Palace of the Governors…and shortly thereafter an art colony was thriving in the City of St. Francis.
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