Naked Chicks in Chairs

Artist's home is for the birds…

Let me apologize in advance.

Normally, folks shouldn't learn anything from my column. Heck, you can read a real news story if you want facts. But today, I'm going to tell you about a guy I consider something of a local treasure, the best-known Santa Fe character you've probably never heard of.

I promise to make this as interesting as I can. If you get bored, just remember there will be buck-naked chicks and an alcoholic former prostitute.

Yeah, I figured you'd stick around for those.

Our story begins on the East Coast, a century ago. Randall Vernon Davey was a fledgling artist who was just starting to get noticed.

His mentor was a successful painter named Robert Henri, who was born Robert Cozad but changed his surname when his father gunned down a neighbor and Cozad suddenly wasn't a good thing to call yourself. Henri pronounced his new name "Hen-rye," because, well, I don't know.

Anyhow, "Hen-rye" told his promising young East Coast protégés that they should go to New Mexico to paint, because of the spectacular light and breathtaking scenery.

In 1919, Randall Davey, his wife and another artist, John French Sloan, decided to drive to Santa Fe, along with Sloan's wife, the aforementioned alcoholic former prostitute.

The cross-country drive took six weeks. If you've ever traveled with an alcoholic former prostitute, you can imagine it probably seemed a whole lot longer.

When they got to Santa Fe, Davey bought an old sawmill on a large piece of property on Upper Canyon Road and made it his home and studio.

He spent the next 40 years painting and supplemented his income by raising chickens. At times, he said he might like to forget the art and just raise the chickens. But his lifestyle of polo ponies and fast cars required more than just chickenfeed.

Davey was no Norman Rockwell, but he did okay. Today, his art hangs in dozens of major museums around the world, and people don't laugh at it. You can see one of his pieces in the Roundhouse collection.

But here's the thing that cracks me up. It appears that Davey really, really liked painting naked women sitting in chairs.

So, after driving across the country with the alcoholic former prostitute and being overwhelmed by the light and the scenery and all that stuff, apparently he went right into the house, set up an easel and started again with the nude chicks in chairs, which of course he could have done back East.

Speaking as a guy, I can understand that.

Davey painted plenty of other subjects, too, but he always seemed to come back to you-know-what. I know someone who bought a Davey pen-and-ink sketch on eBay last summer. You know what it depicted? A naked lady in a chair. What are the chances?

In 1964, Davey was killed in a car crash in California. He and his second wife are buried in a shady apple orchard near the house on his former property, which is now Santa Fe's own spectacular Randall Davey Audubon Center.

Last November, on the 50th anniversary of his death, a group of us sat around the gravestones, drank wine, watched a stunning pink sunset and told affectionate stories about the old times. The celebration brimmed with irreverent humor. Davey would have liked that.

I think it would be nice if more people here appreciated his rich legacy.

The Davey home and studio are frozen in time. You can tour them on Fridays at 2 pm and watch some pretty decent docents bring a Santa Fe legend to life. You'll see nudes sitting in chairs, nudes standing beside chairs and nudes with Sears catalogs, ordering their own chairs so they'll have someplace to sit.

Come, bring your friends and enjoy the $5 tour. It's a great place to take out-of-town visitors.

Just don't sit on any of the chairs. You know where they've been.

Robert Basler’s humor column runs twice monthly in SFR. Email the author:

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.