Taos’ reputation for being an art community, consisting of many artists who have arrived here over the years. This is further enhanced by it being an incubator for many artists who have grown up here, where rubbing shoulders with working artists is an everyday event and where being a creative artist oneself is as natural as the sunrise in the “The Land of Enchantment.”
Emily Mingenbach Henry, furniture designer-artist and the daughter of an artist and an architect — Jane and Bill Mingenbach, both highly regarded, longtime members of the Taos arts community — was born and raised in Taos. Her sister, Louise Mingenbach, is a high-end Hollywood costume designer for many films such as “Insurgent,” “X-Men,” and “The Hangover, Parts 1-3.”
Her youth was spent in the company of artists and artisans in and around the byways and pathways of Taos’ unique adobe buildings and close-lying neighborhoods including the Mabel Dodge Luhan compound and the Nicolai Fechin House.
“My upbringing was intensely creative and free-styling”, Henry said, “Uninhibited and full of adventure … gathering arrowheads and potsherds and exploring the haunted and mysterious back roads of Taos,” adding, “On the one hand, there was almost unlimited freedom to explore and create. On the other, there was a heavy responsibility to fend for one’s self.”
During the many years she worked as an interior designer for firms in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Santa Fe she found the Taos aesthetic “difficult to explain and translate,” therefore, she “left it alone.”
Then, seven years ago, “Taos’ gravitational pull became too strong to resist,” she said, and thus Millicent furniture was born: “Visions that honor Taos’ past with designs that are undoubtedly old school but curiously forward thinking. Millicent celebrates the extraordinary spirit of Taos with elevated handcraft, unique style and plenty of good humor.”
All of the works in the Millicent collection are hand-carved pieces either from heirloom-quality pine, poplar or walnut and are representative of her desire to blend art and function. Included in the collection are credenzas, end tables, desks, and custom build-ins hand carved by artisans in Taos — each a result of over 200 hours of drawing, carving and fine-tuning.
The furniture motifs, distilled from original drawings by Henry, incorporate details from New Mexican topography, agriculture and fabric design. Taos craftsman carve these intricate relief patterns into the wood, the interior of which is painted a turquoise hue, reflective of the clear blue skies of Taos.
One beautiful, delightful and whimsical relief work found on a Henry credenza enchantingly mirrors the Taos aesthetic — a school of birds chatting on telephone lines; wooden polls still holding ancient electricals; and an open cabinet door creating the illusion of a traditional Taos-blue door.
Of her work Henry says: “I was exposed to some original pieces and custom interpretations made popular in the 1930s during FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)’s WPA (Works Progress Administration) programs. The furniture was so different, but extremely functional and breathed this noticeable life into any space,” adding, “I started Millicent to not only pursue my design passions, but to hopefully continue to revitalize some of these past traditions of bespoke American manufacturing.”
The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) known as “North America’s platform for global design” and for “what’s best and what’s next” invited Henry to exhibit her Millicent collection at its 27th annual exhibit of high-end furniture at the Javits Center from May16-19 in New York City.
When contacted at the Javits Center, and asked “How does the work of early New Mexican artisan-craftsman show up in your work?” Henry replied: “The whole idea behind Millicent is to take the traditional craft and techniques that have been so popular in Northern New Mexico and use them in a new vernacular. We are trying to take that same subject matter and expand it from how we hand carve our pieces to the focus on handcraft. It keeps the flavor of Northern New Mexico alive, while also making it contemporary.”
Emily Henry Studio is located at 227 East Palace Ave in Santa Fe. Millicent furniture is available for viewing and purchase at the John Brooks Incorporated Showrooms in Scottsdale, Arizona, (480) 675-8828; and Denver, Colorado, (303) 698-9977. Also, contact JLH Media at (413) 374-7655.