[An abstract of a presentation delivered at the July 1995 Symposium in Sante Fe, New Mexico, on the occasion of the world premiere of David Lang and Manuela Holterhof's opera about Ruskin, Modern Painters.]

Decorative Initial Today Sante Fe and all New Mexico boast many examples of the characteristic vernacular adobe style of the American Southwest, but until the early decades of this century, Matthew Gallegos shows, such architecture represented only the primitive and decadent to Anglo-American culture. For example, when in 1880 General William Tecumseh Sherman delivered a speech in Santa Fe that advocated "the inevitable triumph of Anglo-American culture over New Mexico's ancient but supposedly inept Spanish Colonial and Native-American cultures," he cited the local style of building as the embodiment of backwardness: "'I hope that ten years hence there won't be an adobe house in the Territory I want to see you learn to make them of brick with slanting roofs. Yankees don't like flat roofs, or roofs of dirt.' How did a previously despised aesthetic and the culture that it embodies become the basis for not only a successful tourist industry, but for a vital contemporary lifestyle?"

According to Gallegos, "This dramatic development was intimately linked to the widespread cultural changes initiated by the Arts and Crafts movement, the most complete fulfillment of which took place not in nineteenth-century England, where it originated, but in New Mexico in the early twentieth century." Ruskin's ideas of architecture had different implications for American readers than for English ones. His emphasis on an architecture and design that placed the individual worker's imagination at the center of things demanded the revival not of European gothic but of adobe structures. After tracing the roots of the Arts and Movement to the moral and political aesthetic of Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture, Gallegos surveys its American heirs. A concluding section looks at the Anglo designers who recognized in New Mexico vernacular architecture a truly American style. [GPL]


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