Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mission Church at Rancho de Taos

Mission Church of Taos
oil on board

The adobe mission church made famous by Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe, among others, is an iconic symbol of New Mexico and Spanish-influenced architecture throughout the region.  Regardless of how many times I've seen this church in photos and paintings, I just dig it.   The simple, abstract forms just appeal to me, and adobe/hacienda style architecture is my favorite.

So, of course, I had to do my version.  I debated about going with a colorful palette (orange and purple, perhaps), but opted to go with local colors and a limited palette of burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre and white.  

Originally, I'd hoped to do an on-location painting of the church in pastel.  However, we discovered the dirt parking area was full and there were ladders, wheelbarrows, and a large scaffold in front of the church, indicating some construction work was happening.

It turns out that each year at this time (first two weeks of June), the San Francisco de Asis church (its formal name) gets repaired, restored and otherwise fixed up.  We spoke with one of the gentlemen helping with the construction, and he told us it is an all volunteer operation, with people coming in from around the country.  

The church facade is constructed with the simplest and oldest building material in the region:  adobe - formed from local dirt strained of rocks, water and dry straw as a binding agent.  That's it.  Unfortunately, it isn't particularly durable, and parts wash away each year from the winter and summer rains, necessitating the annual repair work.  

If neglected, this is what happens in pretty short order:  

old adobe building in the Rancho de Taos plaza, right next to the church

Here's the entrance to the front of the church, showing freshly applied adobe and the wheelbarrow full of the adobe mortar:

According to one of the shop owners in the plaza, the Rancho de Taos plaza, which is about 6 miles south of the main downtown area of Taos, is older than the historic district buildings in Taos proper.  

Some colorful peonies blooming in front of the plaza shops:

If you are visiting Taos, definitely make a trip to see the San Francisco de Asis mission church.  And if you don't come during peak tourist season or the first two weeks of June, there will probably be plenty of parking and ample opportunity to paint it on location, or at least take some better photographs.


  1. I love this church. Thanks for sharing your trip.

  2. Hi Pam - isn't it a neat church? I hope to go back in the fall and maybe paint it on location. I'm glad you enjoyed the post on it!

  3. I'm so excited, this an area I would love to explore. Thanks for sharing...

  4. Hi Jo Ann - thanks for stopping by :). I can say now that Taos is my favorite town in New Mexico, and the surrounding area is also very attractive. I hope you get a chance to visit.


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