– Tiempo de Guerrero.
William Spratling and Natalie each began traveling in Mexico in the mid-1920s (inspired and instructed by Tulane’s anthropological Mayan expeditions led by Frans Blom and Oliver LaFarge). Both ultimately settled in the picturesque mountain village of Taxco by 1930. Here Natalie embraced new causes, preservation of Taxco’s ancient architecture; promoting another intellectual / artistic / literary colony; opening her “Kitagawa House” for lodging creative people; her social and anthropological work among the Indians of Mexico, disappearing for months at a time on horseback into the Mexican wilderness, gaining enormous expertise on native folkways and Mexican history, eventually leading anthropological museum expeditions among the indigenous peoples.
As a staff member of Frances Toor’s important magazine Mexican Folkways, her cohorts in this endeavor included such luminaries as Diego Rivera, Dr. Atl, Frida Kahlo, Anita Brenner, Rufino Tamayo, Carlos Chavez, Katherine Anne Porter, Miguel Covarrubias, Rene d’Harnoncourt, Hubert Herring, historians Carleton Beal, Stuart Chase, Leslie Simpson, artist Roberto Montenegro, Moisés Saénz, an array of scholars, sociologists, historians, authors, painters, and philosophers.
By far Natalie’s most lasting Taxco legacy would be the social causes she pursued on behalf of the impoverished peasant population. She pioneered social medicine for the community, inaugurating a sanitation system while bringing the first physician to the town. Natalie founded a school for the peasant children which she operated for the balance of her life, providing an early education to generations in Taxco, enabling them to escape the worst consequences of poverty, feeding them three nutritious meals daily, taking the children off the streets from early morning until evening, assuring each child of medical care, even surgery in Mexico City in many urgent cases. Not surprisingly, she became the godmother of many Taxqueños infants, many born in her bed as she brought their expectant mothers out of unsanitary hutches for safe deliveries in more sterile surroundings.
THE BOOK. When I imagine my ideal dinner party with figures from New Orleans history, writer Natalie Scott (1890-1957) and her friends, writer Lyle Saxon and artist William Spratling, are always near the top of the list. In his long and loving biography, “Natalie Scott: A Magnificent Life, ” John W. Scott has written his great-aunt into vivid life.
Here she is, in all her intrepid glory, and here at last is a fine collection of her writing, especially her wartime letters and journalism, as well as a charming selection of photographs.
A Newcomb College graduate, class of 1909, Natalie Scott knew the value of female relationships, remaining lifelong friends with classmates — and important New Orleans community activists — Hilda Phelps Hammond and Martha Robinson. Scott could have settled for life as a Southern lady, but she was driven by a sense of duty and a remarkable work ethic, as well as a profound sense of adventure. As a young woman, she set off for Europe to work with the American Red Cross during World War I; she received the Croix de Guerre for her bravery in caring for medical patients in combat conditions.
After the war, she returned to New Orleans, where she was a central figure in the French Quarter Renaissance of the ’20s, befriending all the leading literary and artistic lights of the period — Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Frans Blom and Oliver LaFarge, among them; working with the Double Dealer and the Arts and Crafts Club; writing and performing in plays, serving as one of the 20 founders of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, writing for the New Orleans States.
She balanced a life of activism with journalism and other creative work, collaborating with Spratling on “Old Plantation Houses of Louisiana, ” and producing five cookbooks, two of which were inspired by her later years in Mexico, where she moved in 1930. There she was instrumental in the artistic life of what became a well-known artists’ colony in Taxco, as well as a center for the design and production of Spratling’s work in silver. She founded a school there, arranged for improvements to local health care, and began a pension for artists and writers. Once, on a whim, she decided to travel the 900 miles there by horse, accompanied by sculptor Enrique Alferez for part of her arduous journey.
Scott was also called to serve during World War II, returning to the Red Cross once again. And her wartime letters, read in yet another time of war, bear witness to its horrors, and witness as well to Scott’s courageous spirit: “And one needs reassurance in these times. Sometimes I wonder how people at home would feel, used to strength and wholeness, if they suddenly walked thru just one of our wards. A 19-year-old, on his face, both legs in plaster, knees bent unnaturally and feet in the air, legs held apart by a plaster bar; in another bed, a boy 22, paralyzed from the neck down; arms gone; legs gone. And one tries to produce hope, and faith in life. And tries to have it.”
Book editor Susan Larson can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3457.
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