SPUD JOHNSON & LAUGHING HORSE
Foreword to this Edition
In the 1920s, one of America’s most brilliant periods of artistic experimentation, a new awareness of the American Southwest arose. Artists and invalids had frequented New Mexico since the 1870s, in search of spectacular scenery, pure mountain air and a life of imagined bohemian simplicity. Founded around the turn of the century, the art colonies of Taos and Santa Fe were thought by many to be the most exotic places to be found within the United States--simple, inexpensive places to live, where the imagined possibility of intellectual freedom, relationships with authentic indigenous Americans, and the sun-kissed charms of pueblo and mesa beckoned. Walter Pach, conversant with both Greenwich Village and Taos, proclaimed in 1920 that “more than one voice [is] crying out in the world to-day that in the earlier forms of society values were attained that our present proud condition has lost.” The aim of recovering those values set off a new fashion among America’s most sophisticated elites for collecting and admiring the “primitive.” In uncorrupted places such as New Mexico, so the argument went, those values survived, available to seekers of sincere intent, or at least the talent to exploit the fashion for the primitive.
Yet the writers and artists inspired by the Southwest were motivated by much more than an intent to exploit its culture and traditions. And the publications that resulted, such as Spud Johnson’s "Laughing Horse," significantly influenced American taste in the arts. True, "Laughing Horse" did share the rarefied atmosphere of the little magazines, with their cults and colonies, that dotted the literary landscape of America in the 1920s. All of them examined American culture, but only "Laughing Horse" grounded itself in the soil of the Southwest, from which a harvest of essays, fiction, poems and reviews sprang. Always, its ambitions far outstripped its resources: as its quixotic editor Spud Johnson boasted, “'Laughing Horse' now has its own plant, and is edited, printed, bound, mailed from a country hut in the curve of the Rio del Pueblo, a mile outside the town of Taos, New Mexico, a village which is itself twenty-five miles from any railroad. When, we ask you, has there existed a periodical of such distinction?”
The distinction achieved by the upstart periodical arose not only from Spud Johnson’s untiring--and often humorous--efforts to produce and promote it, but from the contributions of a rare assembly of writers: D. H. Lawrence, Mary Austin, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Witter Bynner, Alice Corbin, Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson, Lincoln Steffens and Sherwood Anderson all appear on its pages. Drawings and prints from the likes of Andrew Dasburg, Ward Lockwood, Dorothy Brett, Gustave Baumann, Olive rush and Howard Cook graced its covers and caricatured the denizens of the region, including its growing numbers of tourists.
From bare-knuckled politics to exquisitely evocative poetry, Laughing Horse became a vehicle for creative expressions of all kinds. Its diversity of viewpoints, encouraged by Johnson’s efforts to publish the best of accepted and experimental forms, challenged readers of the 1920s and 30s to re-frame their fascination with the exotic, the bohemian and the vanguard against changing backdrops provided by anthropology, literature and visual art. Readers today will rediscover in "Laughing Horse" all the spirit and passion of a vibrant place and time.