Santa Fe Institute

SFI Tesuque: A Tranquil, Contemplative Place

The Santa Fe Institute’s collaborative character has been evident since the Institute’s founding in 1984, but never more so than when SFI moved to its Cowan Campus on Hyde Park Road in 1994. The Cowan Campus, occupying the former residence of Patrick Hurley, who had once been the U.S. Secretary of War and the U.S. Ambassador to China, offers plenty of open work space for collaboration and discussion and houses a mixture of faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers, and visitors. While the freewheeling interactivity of the Cowan Campus aligns perfectly with the SFI approach to science, it makes for a busy environment. Some work requires a quieter place where SFI’s people can be more focused and reflective.

In December 2012 Clare and Eugene Thaw more than doubled the size of the Institute with the gift of their 36-acre estate in Tesuque, New Mexico, a short 4.5 miles northwest of the Institute’s main campus. Now called SFI Tesuque, this transformative gift offers the most precious of resources for scholars — uninterrupted time. The new space for quiet contemplation, focused work, and small-group collaboration is intended to enhance the productivity and scholarly output of SFI researchers and visitors.

When Eugene Thaw presented the estate to SFI, he imagined it would be a quiet setting. “I’d like it to be a place where they can have gatherings of all sorts, and where individuals, visiting scholars, and people of interest can come and simply spend time and have a very pleasant and physically inspiring place to do their work,” he says. “I think work of that sort is often done in that kind of seclusion. It’s different than [the Cowan Campus], which is more of a busy place. I think of this property as being more of a contemplative area. It might be useful for the Institute to have both.”

“It can easily be imagined that we could use the property as a working location for our faculty and postdocs to focus on their research. Wonderful prospect and donor events can take advantage of the openness and views of the meadow in the summer or provide warm and inviting receptions in the larger guest house during the cooler months.” -- SFI President Jeremy Sabloff

The Tesuque Campus

The new campus offers three large houses, three smaller guest houses, a large meadow with a pond and waterfall, 2.5 miles of hiking trails along the Tesuque River and nearby foothills, and spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The houses provide 12,500 square feet of total indoor space, plus a garage and a workshop. Thanks to conservation easements established by the Thaws with the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, the open space on the property is preserved for the enjoyment of the community.

SFI Tesuque integrates meeting space with residential space, offering an ideal combination for both focused collaboration and individual research. The campus will be used for short-term retreats for writers, visiting faculty sabbaticals, working groups, mini retreats for SFI researchers, and occasional events for the Institute’s donor community. 

A researcher might stay overnight in one of the 12 guest rooms and wake up to the sounds of birds singing in the piñon trees. After a quiet morning of uninterrupted work, other SFI faculty members or postdocs might gather in one of the beautifully furnished living rooms, or, if the weather is nice, meet at the gazebo next to the pond. 

Since this property is used to house our research guests and their families, no tours of the property are available.

Land with a Rich and Colorful History

"[We went on] drives in the mountains and we fell in love with it and bought a house the next year." -- Eugene Thaw

SFI Tesuque lies equidistant between the Santa Fe Plaza to the south and the Tesuque Pueblo to the north. Situated between the Spanish government of Santa Fe, the Tesuque Pueblo, and later Anglo-American settlements, the Tesuque Valley area has had a long and sometimes tumultuous history. The 1680 Pueblo Revolt began nearby, and after Spanish rule was reestablished, much of the Valley was given as an agricultural land grant to Spanish settler Juan de Gabaldon. In 1909, two and a half years before New Mexico became a state, Ramon Jimenez filed a homestead claim with the U.S. Government to 134 unsettled acres in the Tesuque Valley. By January 1910, the first six-acre parcel of that claim was sold to Olivia Duval for $10. Additional parcels were quickly sold, and the rural area that has been mentioned by such literary figures as Willa Cather and Aldous Huxley began its transformation from pueblo to village. The rich history of the land and the people who lived there can still be seen in the remnants of ancient adobe walls and the apple, pear, and apricot trees that flourish in the Valley today. 

The land that would become SFI Tesuque eventually came into the hands of the Marino family, who subdivided it into five parcels in the late 1970s and sold them to several neighbors, including cult spiritual teacher and software designer Frederick Lenz and Walter Mead, scion of the Mead Paper Company.

Mead owned two houses on the property — an “upper guest house” for his frequent visitors and a home designed and built by famed New Mexico builder Betty Stewart that served as the main residence on the estate. Stewart’s homes were locally known for their peaked metal roofs, brick floors laid directly on a bed of sand without mortar, and 34-inch double-bricked adobe walls. True to much of Stewart’s work, every line in the house is slightly off-plumb, a feature Thaw likens to “living in a sculpture.” 

“Everything was in free hand as if it were in movement,” he says.

The Thaws bought the Betty Stewart house from Mead in 1987 and made it their full-time residence soon after. Over the next decade they purchased the surrounding properties, including the Mead “upper guest house,” an additional home just off Bishop’s Lodge Road, and the open space they chose to preserve as a natural meadow. The land was restored to its original status under a single owner and became a gracious estate. 

As Thaw was enlarging the land holdings of the estate, he was approached by the family of Winnie Beasley, a colorful Tesuque resident and former RAF pilot, with a proposition. As a means of helping the Beasley family through a difficult period, they offered a small piece of contiguous land that would expand the estate to Bishops Lodge Road. Gene Thaw, recognizing a sound investment, also saw that generosity of spirit was a valuable gift to neighbors in need. He bought the property the Beasleys offered. Finally, in 2002, the Thaws purchased an additional 16 acres from investors, which completed the total acreage that became the transformative gift to SFI.

Eugene Thaw

"It's a property that we did a lot to and put a lot of ourselves into...it was very special for us." -- Eugene Thaw

Eugene Thaw has been an art dealer since 1950, a collector of fine art, and a philanthropist. He is president and founder of the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust in Santa Fe, which makes grants to nonprofit organizations in the arts, the environment, animal rights, and cultural preservation.

He has been a member of several boards of directors, including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Pierpont Morgan Library, and the board of trustees of St. John’s College. He is co-author of the four-volume Jackson Pollock Catalogue Raisonné

As a graduate of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Thaw first came to New Mexico in the early 1980s when serving on the board of St. John’s, which has a campus in Santa Fe. Though not taken with the area during those short visits, he returned to New Mexico in 1986 to appraise the estate of famed painter Georgia O’Keeffe. He and Clare stayed at Bishop’s Lodge for 10 days while he evaluated the approximately 400 pieces of unsold art in O’Keeffe’s house. In seeing Northern New Mexico through the eyes of Juan Hamilton, O’Keeffe’s longtime companion, they fell in love with Santa Fe’s sunny climate, the spectacular mountain views, and the lively art scene. They also fell in love with the Betty Stewart-designed adobe house in Tesuque, prompting them to buy it from Walter Mead in 1987. Thus began a new chapter in Thaw’s life and career.

Thaw has always been a passionate collector. He amassed substantial collections of Old Master drawings, jewelry, and architectural models, among wide-ranging other interests. He says collecting is an intellectual activity, and he collects objects to learn more about them. He enjoys the challenge of finding the common theme among objects and continually finding better examples of each type until every object in the collection compliments and reinforces the others. When he has learned enough about a subject to acquire a well-rounded collection, he likes to give it away. The Morgan Library in New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are among the recipients of his philanthropy. 

After moving to Santa Fe, he and Clare began collecting Native American art “to prove that the principles for judging quality are the same for any kind of art,” he says. “The aesthetic judgment and the ability to look for quality and see it is the same facility.” 

Once he had accumulated about 300 pieces of American Indian art and his home was bursting at the seams, he decided to give the collection to the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Up to that point the collection had been very personal; he only bought pieces that appealed to him. He began adding to the collection even more furiously to round it out, with the finest examples from every region and period. When he was finished, Thaw gave the Fenimore Museum 800 pieces, which are housed in a new 18,000-square-foot wing built to accommodate them. 

Art is a social good in and of itself, and it can also be used to do good work. Thaw owned a Van Gogh painting called Flowering Garden, which was loaned to the Frick Collection in New York City for several years. When the value skyrocketed in the early 1980s, he sold it and used the proceeds to establish the Thaw Charitable Trust, which became his life’s work after he retired from selling art in 1986. 

A Personal Gift with a Transformative Purpose

"When I think about the world of science, when everything is going down the tubes and when ignorance is on the rise, if you could save one place that might start discursive thinking all over again, it would be the Santa Fe Institute." -- Eugene Thaw

The Thaws’ estate is as personal a “collection” as their Native American art. “It’s a property that we put a lot of ourselves into,” Thaw says. “It was a very special place for us.” The choice to make a gift of the estate to SFI was equally personal and rooted in a long relationship.

The Thaws met Nobel laureate and Santa Fe Institute co-founder Murray Gell-Mann through a friend shortly after moving to New Mexico. Gell-Mann introduced them to then-SFI researcher Geoffrey West, whose work with University of New Mexico professor and SFI External Professor Jim Brown in biological scaling intrigued the Thaws. They began to support the Institute’s research in the early 1990s. 

When they decided to return to New York, the Thaws realized that if they simply sold the property, it would probably be subdivided again, undoing their years of work in assembling a cohesive estate. And if they had decided to sell, Thaw says, the proceeds would have gone to the Thaw Charitable Trust and been given to a nonprofit group anyway. “It seemed to us that a gift of the property to an organization like the Santa Fe Institute would make more sense,” he says. “Why not choose to give away the property before it turns into money and have it serve a good purpose?” Giving the estate to SFI allowed the Thaws to protect the land and its surrounding environment, while offering a lasting benefit to the Institute. 

Thaw’s passion for philanthropy is closely related to his passion for collecting. He says he is often asked why he supports causes, and why he gives away his collections. He says he gave his outstanding collection of Old Master drawings to the Morgan Library in New York because his gift could enhance what was already there. 

“If civilization was ending and you could save one place to start it all over again, it would be the Morgan Library, because it’s the most incredible repository of literary and aesthetic quality that mankind has ever achieved,” he says. “When I think about the world of science, when everything is going down the tubes and when ignorance is on the rise, if you could save one place that might start discursive thinking all over again, it would be the Santa Fe Institute. They are equivalent intellectual centers.”

The property is already playing a role in the life of the Institute. Small working groups of researchers have been held on the campus. On a recent evening, SFI donors gathered at a reception around the pond in the meadow. As they sampled wine and took in the view, scientists presented their research in brief salons under the trees. In another event, a small group of SFI Omidyar Fellows staked out “their” space in the Upper Guest House, in a round kiva room lined with built-in benches — a space that seemed tailor-made for such a discussion. 

“This gift is already proving to be transformative for us,” Sabloff says. “The estate will again be filled with life, and I believe that SFI can be a respectful steward of the beauty and the gracefulness of the estate so that it remains the tranquil retreat that it is today.”

Funding opportunities

When presenting the Tesuque campus to SFI, Eugene Thaw said the task of reinventing the property belongs to the Institute. “The earth and the grass and the trees are the same for me as for the Institute,” he says. “But the use you make of it has to do with your own imagination and personality.”

Helping SFI realize a new vision for the Tesuque campus will also be the privilege of the Institute’s friends.

As part of SFI’s upcoming 30th Anniversary in 2014, there will be opportunities to support Tesuque campus activities, including scholarships for writers and sabbatical researchers and sponsorship of working groups. There will also be naming opportunities attached to the buildings, open spaces, and the campus itself. For more information, contact Nancy Deutsch, SFI’s Vice President for Development, at 505.946.2752 or  .