The Couse-Sharp Historical Site — much more than a museum
By Kika Vargas
If you’re planning to go only as far as Santa Fe in your exploration of the Southwest, break boundaries — as Ernest Couse and Joseph Sharp did over a century ago — and head to Taos. Let this be your own life-changing journey as you head up Taos Canyon past the Rio Grande’s flowing waters to the wildness of Taos.
Autumn will have bid summer farewell in a riotous splendor of golden yellow and red, imbuing the entire landscape with the mystical quality that defines El Norté. Untouched by time, the sacred Sierra del Pueblo (as the locals refer to it) radiates across Taos and the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, which consists of the museum, home, gardens and studio of painter E.I. Couse and his neighbor and fellow artist, Joseph H. Sharp, both founding members of the Taos Society of Artists.
Although the museum has undergone many changes that have brought it up to the 21st century, the changes have mostly occurred in the buildings where the offices are located and where archival materials are safe guarded for posterity. The archives provide extensive research possibilities for the historian, scholar and fine art aficionado.
The rest of the historic site remains unchanged; the distinct aura of old Taos still emanates from the sprawling edifices of the rest of the estate. The walls of the residence are decorated with E.I. Couse’s original paintings along with those of other famous Taos and international artists. Centuries-old artifacts fill the rooms of the residence, hand-carved old Spanish design furniture, retablos (tributes to saints), santos (carved cedar or pine carvings), weavings, pottery, sculptures, metal works and jewelry decorate every room, attesting to the enduring richness of Northern New Mexico’s Spanish and Native American cultures.
The landmark exhibit of Spanish Colonial and Contemporary Hispanic Art, “Aun Aqui,” which is on display through the end of November, preserves the authenticity of the experience of visiting the Couse-Sharp Historic Site. The exhibit features artists from Taos, the surrounding area, and Albuquerque, and is housed within the sanctity of the Luna Chapel, whose interior has also remained unchanged since it was constructed in the early 1800s. The original vigas (beams), thick adobe (mud and straw) walls, hand-hewn pine floors and doors, hand-made metal door hinges and handles, and the hand-hammered bronze bell that sits above the entrance are all perfectly-preserved reminders of the past surviving in the present.
Tours are conducted daily of the entire estate, which includes the Couse residence, a main tourist attraction by itself. The original rooms of the residence have remained unchanged; household items and old Spanish furniture arranged as they must have been during the years the Couse family resided there. The vast historical and contemporary art collection of the finest paintings, sculptures, weavings, ceramics, beadwork and other art from around the world is unrivalled, its entirety not only prized as a living treasure of inestimable value, but as an enduring tribute to great art throughout the world and especially to the contributions made by Taos Pueblo and Taos artists and artisans.
There is no access to the interiors of the historic buildings without a docent-led tour, so book one in advance. Appointments are available online Monday through Friday, and some Saturdays (except for federal holidays). Plan on spending approximately two hours being immersed in the history, art and culture of Taos.
As you meander through this incredible display, you may even be inspired to gift yourself or a loved one with one or more of the one-of-a- kind artistic treasures by local artists. The gift that you take home with you will always reawaken wonderful memories of your visit to Taos.
Couse-Sharp Historic Site 146 Kit Carson Rd, Taos 575-751-0369 couse-sharp.org