Photography
© Ely Abrums and Laura Walker

Ralph Meyers (1885 -1948)

Ralph Meyers’ name does not typically appear in books about the Taos Society of Artists. That’s because he wasn’t a member. Yet the success of this artist is inextricably linked to those revered artists –– because Meyers watched and learned from them. And in the process, created his own body of masterful paintings.  He had no training in art and only a third-grade education. Yet he watched the academically trained artists in the society and taught himself to paint.  As an amateur, he was never admitted to membership, but was invited to exhibit six of his paintings in the Society’s first show in 1915.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Meyers settled in Taos in 1909 and opened the Mission Shop, the first Indian curio shop in Taos. That store still stands today as El Rincón at 114 Kit Carson Road and is run by his grandson.  As a merchant and a trader, Meyers was in the middle of it all. He had professional connections and personal friendships with people from all over: Taos Pueblo, Hispanic ranchers, tourists, and townspeople.   Through his trading post, he worked with Native people to market their jewelry and crafts at fair prices. In the process, he became a force of preservation for the Native cultural traditions of woodcarving, silversmithing, beading, weaving and leatherworking.

Meyers guided members of the Taos Society of Artists into the mountains on sketching, fishing, hunting and camping trips. He also built several of their studios.  In David Clemmer’s book, “Serenading the Light,” it is noted that “art supplies were among the goods that Meyers sold in his store,” and he became acquainted with the town’s notable artists, “a number of whom held him in high regard as a painter.”  For example, Leon Gaspard called Meyers “one of the finest colorists in Taos.”

In keeping with the pulse of Taos society at that time, Meyers was friends with socialite-arts patron Mabel Dodge Luhan and Frank Waters made him into a main character for his classic novel, “The Man Who Killed the Deer.”

“Serenading the Light” notes that Meyers’ work is scarce and most of it is a modest size. “Meyers’‘small gem’ paintings are actively sought out and highly appreciated by aficionados of the Taos school,” Clemmer writes.  Meyers few paintings could be the result of his great number of successes elsewhere as a merchant, craftsman, and trader –– and he even created woodwork in the Spanish Colonial style. In fact, he furnished and decorated the Philmont Ranch in Cimmaron for oilman Waite Phillips.

Meyers’ lifelong dream was to be a painter.  He famously identified his profession as ‘artist’ on his World War I draft card.

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