Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi 'El Delirio'

By Ann Peterpaul

SEPTEMBER 20, 1999: 

El Delirio -- The Santa Fe World of Elizabeth White by Gregor Stark and E. Catherine Rayne (School of American Research Press), paper, $28

This dry little textbook with the misleading title of El Delirio (madness), is about two philanthropical patrons of the arts, the sisters Elizabeth and Martha White. The School of American Research, which is the publisher, has its offices in the Whites' former estate, which the women named "El Delirio" after a bar in Seville -- and that's about as earthy and Hemingwayesque as this writing gets.

Stark, a freelancer, and Catherine Rayne, former official companion and friend to Elizabeth, have written a prim little Victorian style account of the upper class Santa Fe world of these sisters, from the 1920s to the 1950s. Their beautiful home is a monument to various architectural forms, including Pueblo and Moorish styles; it has an aesthetic harmony with the landscape and surroundings. The sisters, particularly Elizabeth, doggedly set about preserving everything unique to Santa Fe, from streets to buildings. Their considerable wealth came from a fortune they inherited in New York, so they had much leisure time. Elizabeth helped found the Indian Arts Fund, the Laboratory of Anthropology and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. She was a big patron of Indian art and was instrumental in getting it marketed. Elizabeth believed it had a "vitality" lacking in its European counterpart. At great odds with her upper class WASP background was the fact that she fought the U.S. government in its attempts to assimilate the Pueblos and other tribes. Indian health care was another important concern of hers. This type of public-spiritness marked her as an early community activist.

Giving lavish parties, traveling all over the world, hobnobbing with writers, artists, anthropologists, archaeologists and raising Irish wolfhounds were all part of the extraordinary lives of the privileged Whites, Elizabeth's in particular. It's to her credit that she actually used her wealth and social position to benefit native people of the region, to enhance her surroundings, and to showcase Indian art here and abroad.

The writing of this book is so staid and formal that you wonder if it wouldn't be better off classified as an encyclopedia text. The many photos scattered throughout are period pieces and in keeping with the book's decorous approach.

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