Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Las Cruces: Eclectic salon capital of the world

LAS CRUCES — When I think about salons, places where the great minds and creative talents of an era gather to share ideas, I think about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, whose Paris abode was a magnet for early 20th century up-and-coming artists like Matisse and Picasso and literary lions Ernest Hemingway and Thorton Wilder.
Some noted salons were held in public places rather than private homes, like the Algonquin Round Table, where a group of writers, critics, actors, journalists and assorted other witty souls gathered in the 1920s at New York’s Algonquin Hotel. Mainstays included Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman and Heywood Brown, with frequent appearances by Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Edna Ferber and other luminaries of the time.
Sometimes, a salon is a fortuitous combination of outstanding people and places. Mabel Dodge Luhan’s exotic two-story adobe in Taos attracted noted poets and authors, societal movers and shakers like Margaret Sanger, John Reed and Emma Goldman, as well as artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” author D.H. Lawrence, who in a surprising fit of modesty, painted scenes on all the windows of her second floor bathroom, reportedly in a quest for privacy. In the 1960s, the house passed to Dennis Hopper, who established a counterculture salon of his own there.
The salon tradition is far from dead, especially in New Mexico. I have fond memories of Santa Fe gatherings of interesting minds and souls in the various Canyon Road adobe galleries and abodes of artist Carole La Roche, from the 1980s to the present, where visitors and amigos could range from the likes of actors Robert Redford and Christopher Walken to Liz Taylor’s son, writers, poets, journalists, psychics, assorted soon-to-famous artists, philosophers, arts aficionados, and always, a few surprises. During a recent visit, a small group of us were pondering the mysteries of the universe, when a neatly-dressed man in his 30s appeared at her door, dressed in what looked like a Brooks Brothers shirt and a toga made from a designer sheet.
If I remember right, he was a former stockbroker or investment banker who’d taken a vow of poverty and was on a spiritual quest of some sort. He held out a lovely little copper bowl and Carole quickly put together a ham and cheese sandwich, plunked it in his bowl and sent him on his way, about the time another artist showed up to talk about his newly animated Earth Day website for kids.
That’s the kind of serendipity that makes for a great salon.
When I was pondering the prospects of salons in Las Cruces, I realized we already have several.
I’ve heard tales of the founding of a great theatrical salon-Algonquin club hybrid launched here in the 1970s and nurtured by Mark and Stephanie Medoff, the Herschel Zohns, Bruce and Mary Streett and others.
Last Sunday’s profile of Jewell and her MyPlace at 140-A Wyatt Drive reminded me that that Las Cruces public access salon concept is thriving here. Jewell’s a founder of our burgeoning local dance, drum and belly dancing communities, and from our brief, fun interview, struck me as a welcoming host for anyone interested in the arts, fashion, alternative healthcare or just about anything new and colorful, ethnic, traditional and spiritual.
Award-winning author and Border Book Festival Denise Chávez hosts another salon success story.
Visit her at Border Book Foundation headquarters next to the Mesilla Post Office, and you’re almost guaranteed to pick up some new ideas, a great book or maybe even a new best friend.
And that’s just the start of great Las Cruces salons, past, present and future.
Many of us are missing philosophy sessions at Corie Lane’s Pure Energy Juice Bar and are hoping she emerges with another salon soon.
At the home of the late New York magazine wine columnist and best-selling wine expert Alexis Bespaloff and his wife, Cecilia Lewis, who’s since moved back to New York, I met everyone from renowned Chinese scholars to soap opera stars.
Salon stars still here and shining include Charlotte Lipson. At her stylish suburban loft home and pool, I’ve encountered economic gurus, TV stars and political movers and shakers.
I’ve had some fascinating discussions about the future of the visual and performing arts and the evolution of city life at Warren and Heather Pollard’s elegant abode.
Gatherings at Irene Oliver-Lewis’ home or office (at Alma d’arte Charter High School) could mean great talks with songwriters, filmmakers, educators and Japanese philosophers and maybe even a limousine ride with Edward James Olmos.
In fact, Las Cruces could be the new millennium’s eclectic salon capital of the world.
If space permitted, I could list a dozen public and private salons where great minds are gathering to make poetic and practical sense of the universe and its component parts. And I’ll bet you could suggest a dozen more.

Share comments about your favorite salon. S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

1 comment:

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