Keeper of the flame

Millicent Rogers Museum preserves Taos history and culture

By Rick Romancito

The origins of the Southwest’s most storied cultural institutions are often as interesting as the objects preserved within…

Take the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, for instance. Before it became one of the must-see cultural institutions of the Southwest, located on the mesa just north of Taos, its namesake was considered a very-well-known fashionista, an heiress to the Standard Oil fortune through her grandfather, the legendary tycoon Henry Huddleston Rogers.

Courtesy Photo/Millicent Roger Black & White Portrait

But Millicent Rogers was known more for her iconoclastic character. While often seen in newspaper society pages and magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, or on the arms of movie stars and celebrities such as Clark Gable, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming and various members of royalty, she flaunted convention by taking three husbands — the first at age 21. In her lifetime, she became mother to Peter Salm, and Paul and Arturo Peralta-Ramos Jr. 

She was also a lover of great art, and even made some of her own. This interest became more focused when she began exploring the American Southwest and fell in love with Native American art, which she began collecting from her small adobe home in Taos called “Turtle Walk,” where she settled in 1947.

Although quite active in her day, her health suffered greatly as the result of having contracted rheumatic fever as a child. She died Jan. 1, 1953 at the age of 50.

File Photo/ inside the Millicent Rogers Museum

In tribute to his mother, her son Paul Peralta-Ramos founded the Millicent Rogers Museum in 1956, using her collection of Southwest art as the basis. First located on Ledoux Street, the museum moved to the Manby-Thorne House where it operated until 1968 — when the home of Claude J.K. and Elizabeth Anderson was donated. 

File Photo

It was in this location — with its sweeping panorama of the Taos Valley — that the museum blossomed, especially after its renovation and expansion in the mid-1980s by famed architect Nathaniel A. Owings.

The museum has since grown by leaps and bounds. Although founded as a way to show Rogers’ personal collection, it has become a professionally-operated cultural institution dedicated to the preservation, exhibition and study of Southwestern art and historic objects. Paul Peralta-Ramos was instrumental in providing important stewardship for the museum’s early years and, through his friendship with Maria Martinez, the famed potter of San Ildefonso Pueblo, “ultimately led to her family donating what is the largest publicly-held collection 

file Photo