Kate Chapman

Kate Chapman fully Santa Fe-ized, 1936; courtesy Catherine Colby

"Hardly anyone knows about her, " Catherine Colby said of Kate Chapman (1887-1944), the subject of her new book. Chapman was one of those independent women who broke away from their stilted traditional surroundings elsewhere in the country to forge a home and career in Santa Fe in the early 20th century. In Kate Chapman: Adobe Builder in 1930s Santa Fe, published by Sunstone Press, Colby describes the woman as lively and irreverent and notes that she "seems to have been equally at ease among the unorthodox, spontaneous artists, the more academic archaeologists, and the activist women."

Chapman first came to Santa Fe as a child in 1899, and attended Loretto Academy for a short time. Eleven years later, she left her Philadelphia home to move to Santa Fe as a 24-year-old adult. She participated in a summer archaeology program with the Museum of New Mexico's Edgar Lee Hewett and soon found herself witnessing the birth of what would become the city's vaunted architectural style.

"She ended up at the museum just at the right moment, right when Hewett and Jesse Nusbaum were figuring out what the new style was going to be, " Colby told Pasatiempo. "Soon after that, Jesse Nusbaum was working on the face change of the Palace of the Governors, and she got to see how adobes were built and how they were redoing the old building."

To arrive at the synthetic regional style that city fathers and museum staffers hoped would make Santa Fe famous as "the City Different, " Nusbaum photographed the historic buildings around Santa Fe as well as on the neighboring pueblos. "Santa Fe was one-story and really simple, but then they got the massing from the pueblos, and they combined those and made up this new style." It's known colloquially as Santa Fe Style and more formally as Spanish-Pueblo Revival Style.

The results of the process of coming up with a signature city style were featured in the museum's 1912 New-Old Santa Fe exhibition. Chapman contributed to the exhibition. "She was renting on the north side of the Boyle House on De Vargas Street, and the owner allowed her to do work on it in lieu of rent. She found an intact portal, I don't know where, and she added it on to the house, but before that it was inside the Palace, part of that exhibition, " Colby said.

The Pueblo element of the new style can be seen, for example, in the 1917 New Mexico Museum of Art."Chris Wilson [author and professor of cultural landscape studies at the University of New Mexico architecture school] was my advisor in graduate school, and he was already on to that, that idea of massing as multistory, sculptural, and rounded. Spanish buildings were closer to being symmetrical. With Pueblo massing, the architectural form is more irregular but balanced. Chris Wilson calls it picturesque. It's romanticized, and it works. But it's not revival.

"I'm kind of anti-revival, " Colby asserted. "My own personal taste is more what's real and pure, and I like the backs more than the fronts. Like the Oliver P. Hovey House [at 136 Griffin St.]. You can see the evolution of the building by looking at the back." In her book she shows and discusses the back of the Rafael Borrego House. "You see the typical piecemeal additions; that's what Santa Fe was all about, adding on when you get more kids." Now home of Geronimo restaurant, the Borrego House is one of her favorite buildings in town. Another is the red house at 221 Otero St. Built in about 1900, it's also classified by the city as historically significant.

By the 1920s, Chapman was using what she had learned, designing and building adobe houses, such as in Plaza Balentine, which is on the north side of Acequia Madre, between Delgado Street and Camino Corvo. She was also involved in many remodels of 18th- and 19th-century adobe houses -- the Borrego House and El Zaguán on Canyon Road are two examples, respectively -- and is esteemed for the care she took to preserve their historic character while updating and expanding them.

"The respect she so strongly felt for the local historic building traditions did not come from idle nostalgia, but from her firsthand experience with local people and their building methods, " Colby writes.

Chapman did a lot of work at El Zaguán, the James L. Johnson House at 545 Canyon Road, but Colby thinks the Juan José Prada House next door and the Delgado-Hare House at the corner of Acequia Madre and Delgado streets are the best examples of her rehabs.

She had a strong activist side, and Colby presents details of her involvement in the defeat of the Bursum Bill that would have taken sovereign lands from Pueblo peoples and in the nixing of plans by a group of Texas women to establish a chautauqua or culture colony on a Santa Fe site. Chapman and her friend, artist Dorothy N. Stewart, quietly purchased that land as the proposal was being brought forward.

Those two women "were adventurous characters who traveled around the Southwest in a 1920s precursor to a van that resembled a pioneer covered wagon." They also produced a wonderful booklet titled Adobe Notes or How to Keep the Weather Out With Just Plain Mud, which was disseminated by Spud Johnson's Laughing Horse Press. Colby thought it deserved to be republished, and it is incorporated into this new book. Adobe Notes is a font of practical advice about adobe architecture, offered in a delightfully informal style. One of the booklet's little gems: "Re-plastering an adobe house with adobe means, simply, taking from the dooryard the dirt that has washed down from the walls, and putting it back on top of the walls again, every third year."

It is interesting to note the change in Chapman's appearance from the early 1910s, when a photograph shows her with a bun and long skirt, to 1936, when she is seen fully Santa Fe-ized, with a cowboy hat, scarf, and tall boots. Chapman's Santa Fe path "is representative of the freedom and acceptance women found here in the 1920s and 1930s, " Colby writes. "Combining being a mother, poet, adventurer, and social activist may have been typical among artists and others in Santa Fe at the time, but to also venture into the predominantly male field of adobe construction sets her apart." Others who would follow her in that avocation in the years to come included Katherine Stinson Otero, Myrtle Stedman, and Betty Stewart.

Colby has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's in architecture. During her career with the National Park Service, she researched and documented historic properties throughout the Southwest. Her Santa Fe consulting business prepares reports on historic properties and prepares nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Her reports for the Historic Santa Fe Foundation focus on the William Penhallow Henderson House, the Jane and Gustave Baumann House, the Donaciano Vigil House, and, most recently, the Felipe B. Delgado House. She also prepared a National Register nomination on Felipe B. Delgado House for the HSFF. Her participation in the conservation of the Bishop Everett Jones property won her a New Mexico Heritage Preservation Award.

Colby started out wanting to do a book about both Chapman and Stinson Otero, a pioneering American aviatrix who had a second career in Santa Fe designing and building homes. "I got a grant. It was a fellowship from the State Historian Scholars Program. I proposed to research her 'second career' in architecture, " Colby said, "but the early history is so much more interesting. Then I couldn't find anything to connect her with Kate, even if they lived a block from each other."

Colby plans to do her next book on Stinson Otero, then another about residential compounds developed by several Santa Fe women. One is Ann Webster, who did a compound on Garcia Street, near the School for Advanced Research. "She wanted to provide a place for women who needed housing, which was a big deal then, for women to break out from their families and live on their own." The other most likely candidates for the compounds book are the Eva Fenyes and Leonora Curtin Paloheimo homes on San Antonio Street; the Lois Field Compound on Cerro Gordo Road; and the Dorothy Curtis compound "Plaza Fatima" on Delgado Street.   ◀


     ▼  Catherine Colby, author of Kate Chapman: Adobe Builder in 1930s Santa Fe, presentation & booksigning

     ▼  2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27

     ▼  Garcia Street Books, 376 Garcia St.