Friday, June 19, 2015

Hudson and Taos

Back in May, Gossips shared the information, which appeared in a report from the Regional Alliance for a Creative Economy, that only two counties in the country have a higher concentration of independent artists than Columbia County: Kings County, New York (Brooklyn), and Taos County, New Mexico. What many readers may not realize is that the connection between Columbia County--Hudson, in particular--and Taos County goes beyond mere statistics. The Taos Society of Artists, which drew many artists to Taos in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was founded by a native son of Hudson: Bert Geer Phillips.

Phillips was born in Hudson in 1868, the son of William J. Phillips, a bookkeeper. One biography of Phillips reports that, by his own recollection, he spent the better part of his childhood with a brush in his hand. He was also an avid reader, preferring stories of adventure, such as James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, and the exploits of the famous frontiersman Kit Carson.

Phillips studied art briefly in Hudson, with George McKinstry, who opened an art studio around 1884. (McKinstry gave up his career as an artist and became a druggist in 1889, when Allen Rossman, his father's partner in the Rossman & McKinstry drugstore, died.) His tutelage with McKinstry didn't last long, and when he was sixteen, Phillips left home for New York City, where he studied at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design.    

In 1894, Phillips went first to London and then on to Paris to study at the Academie Julian, where he met and became friends with Ernest Blumenschein. When they returned to New York in 1896, Phillips and Blumenschein rented a studio together. In the summer of 1898, Blumenschein convinced Phillips to take a journey to the Southwest. They traveled to Denver, "where they outfitted themselves with horses, a wagon, camping and art supplies, and a large Navy revolver," and then headed for Mexico.

It was on the way to Mexico that a fateful accident occurred. Traveling in the rough terrain of northern New Mexico, they broke a wagon wheel. Blumenschein set out on horseback, with the wheel, for nearby Taos, to have the wheel repaired; Phillips stayed behind with the gear. When Blumenschein returned with the wheel three days later, the two of them went back to Taos, sold the wagon, harness, and one of the horses, and "pitched into work with unknown enthusiasm." Thus the Taos Society of Artists began.

Blumenschein went back to New York three months later, but Phillips stayed in Taos permanently. 

In 1917, Phillips returned to Hudson for a prolonged visit, during which there was an exhibition of his work at Rowles Studio at 441 Warren Street. The Hudson Evening Register for March 15, 1917, reported on the exhibition, and what follows are excerpts from that report:
Persons desirous of an intellectual treat and who adore symphony of color and picturesque scenes should take advantage of the opportunity that awaits them in Rowles' photographic studio on Warren street where is displayed an exhibition of Indian and landscape painting, considered among the country's best, and which are the work of a former resident of Hudson, Bert Phillips. Mr. Phillips is considered by many widely known critics as the country's foremost painter of pictures depicting life in the southwestern part of the United States.
When a mere boy Mr. Phillips displayed an inclination toward landscape painting. Later he studied in a famous art school, and completed his course in Europe. Indian life appealed strongly to him, and in order to study the life and customs of the Indians and to labor in a proper atmosphere, he left here about eighteen years ago for Taos, New Mexico. There he found a splendid variety of Indian characters; the inhabitants were intelligent and congenial, and their surroundings were beautiful and picturesque. The flowers and the colors of the landscape harmonized excellently, and the golden rays of the sun gave the whole surrounding an added appearance. A more beautiful spot could not be found by an artist who wished to delineate Indian character and picturesqueness on the canvass. . . . 
Springtime in Taos Pueblo
Exhibited in the Rowles studio is a pretty creation called "The Boy Hunter," which is typical of the Indian life in New Mexico. This was painted for the purpose of being placed in exhibitions where competition was in order. "Spring in Taos" is another gem of art, as is "The Indian and His Pony." The former is a joyous symphony of vernal season. Another attractive picture is "The Indian's Charm." There are dozens of others, all of which emphatically depict rare artistic ability. 
Each picture carries with it a legend, and Mr. Phillips delights in informing visitors regarding them. He is ever anxious to point out to persons various things which tend to make the pictures appeal to the artistic eye as well as the ordinary layman's sense of beauty. He expects to remain at the Rowles establishment a few more days, and those who haven't as yet dropped in, should not fail to do so to-morrow.
In making a special study of the Indians, Mr. Phillips, his wife and family visit with them in their villages, and camp with them in the mountains. Both Mr. and Mrs. Phillips tell quaint and wondrous tales of these people, of their customs, hospitality, peacefulness and their work. Mr. Phillips expects to return to Taos in the near future, and his family, which is now in Hudson, will go to New Mexico in June.
Mr. Phillips was called here early in January on account of his mother's serious illness. As the children have completed their work in the schools in Taos it is the intention of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips to have them finish their High school course in Hudson, and he remarked that Hudson has an excellent High school curriculum. . . .
In 1917, Phillips' father and mother lived at 19 South Sixth Street.


Gratitude to City Historian Pat Fenoff for her help with this post


  1. I love Blumenschein! Occasionally you see his paintings on rotation at the Met. His connection to Hudson, however indirect, is most gratifying.

  2. Hello, My name is Margo Beutler Gins. I am the Great Grandaughter of Bert Geer Phillips. My Grandmother Margo Phillips Beutler was a member of the first Graduating class from Taos High School in 1921.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Maggie Gins! It seems even a hundred years ago our local newspaper didn't get things quite right.

  3. My Mother lived here for over 30 years. We shared a lot of wonderful memories here. My Mother purchased the house in 1978. My Pop passed in 2005 and my Mother recently passed in 2015. Very interesting history. Thank you for sharing.