Claire Morrill & The Taos Book Shop

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The first two pages from A Keepsake Presented in Honor of Claire Morrill, Octogenarian, August 11, 1978.


A Keepsake Presented in Honor of Claire Morrill, Octogenarian, August 11, 1978 Booklet.


Several items from the David and Carol Farmer archive relate directly or indirectly to Claire Morrill and the Taos Book Shop. For example, the following is from the introduction to a booklet titled A Keepsake Presented in Honor of Claire Morrill, Octogenarian, August 11, 1978:


"The genesis for this tribute grew from a paper that I gave to members of the Wichita Bibliophiles several weeks ago. I titled the paper ‘The Girls and their Book Shop,’ and naturally it featured the book shop girls we know best, Claire Morrill and Genevieve Janssen. While I was preparing my paper I reread portions of Claire’s A Taos Mosaic, and the back copies of the Taos Book Shop News that we had saved. When Genevieve wrote us of Claire’s forthcoming eightieth birthday, I began to talk to Luke about putting together some of the highlights I had rediscovered in the TBS News to form a keepsake for this landmark birthday. We enlisted Genevieve’s help in order to tap her personal file of one of the few complete sets of the TBS News in existence (partial files rest in several prestigious university special collection departments). We then selected what we believe to be the choicest of the choice from Claire’s pen. We hope you agree.


Thinking some of Claire’s friends might also like to participate, we contacted several, told them what we had in mind, and asked if they might want to share their experiences and impressions of Claire’s contribution as a friend, an author, a bookwoman, a wit, and a human being. The response was pleasing, and again, we hope you will agree.


It is our great admiration and affection for Claire and Genevieve and their book shop that brought this booklet into existence. We feel it is remarkable that two women of diverse backgrounds—Claire, the journalist, and Genevieve, the psychiatric social worker—could land in Taos, open a book shop and end up as a local ‘institution’ and ‘legends in their own time.’


Their exuberance for life in Taos was contagious and a visit to the Taos Book shop was a special experience. We have many fond memories of Genevieve laughing and talking a-mile-a-minute and of Claire—just a few words, cleverly spoken, full of humor. This devotion to Taos and Claire’s special brand of humor were also passed on to customers in the form of the TBS News. What nuggets are contained in those writings! Our only regret is that we could not reprint every single one of them!


The two years I spent working at the TBS were indeed privileged. To be associated with ‘The Girls and their Book Shop’ is a source of great pride.


With deepest respect and love for you, Claire Morrill, we wish you a Happy 80th Birthday!


Luke and Hal Ottaway"[1]


The booklet, signed by Morrill, includes letters of tribute to Morrill at the end. Of an edition of 250, this copy from the Farmer archive is number 180.[2]

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Letter from Hal Ottaway to David Farmer, December 14, 1992.

In a 1992 archived letter from Hal Ottaway, one of the editors of A Keepsake, to David Farmer, Ottaway writes that he enclosed “a Christmas keepsake for you and Carol” with its accompanying package. He hopes that the Farmers will retain the keepsake for their own personal collection, rather than donating the booklet to Southern Methodist University. Then, Ottaway offers this brief description of the work:


“This is the keepsake that my wife Luke and I put together on short notice for Claire Morrill’s 80th birthday. I made up an additional twelve copies, one for each of the Wichita Bibliophiles and this I see was Potter Hill’s copy. Potter Hill is deceased and when his family invited the Bibliophiles to choose books from his library, I bought this one back, knowing that I would find someone someday who would appreciate the piece. This is complete with the sprig of Taos Sage. She signed all twelve copies, and by that time in her life that was somewhat of a chore. She did not mind signing one or two copies of something, but a dozen was nearly too much. But both Genevieve and Calire [sic] were so grateful to us for our part in the big celebration, Claire was happy to extend herself to me.”[3]


While Ottaway provides excellent context for the booklet’s creation here, a handful of other items in the Farmer archive explain further Morrill’s life as well as the history of the Taos Book Shop. For example, in a Taos Book Shop pamphlet titled “Southwestern Americana Catalogue, 1961-11,” the book store describes its offerings as “[m]any first editions, scarce and unusual books, out of print. Subjects covered are Indians, Spanish-Colonial Southwest, art, archaeology, history, plus a fine selection of books by and about D. H. Lawrence, who during three periods made Taos his home.”[4] In addition to texts for sale, the Taos Book Shop also offered a “carefully chosen collection of Indian silver, shell, turquoise, and coral jewelry—both pawn and new pieces; vegetable dye rugs from the Navajos; old kachinas, fetishes, and pottery; moccasins made by hand in the shop by a Taos Indian.”[5]

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Cover page from Taos Book Shop News XV, no. 1 (Christmas 1962).

Two additional items from the Farmer archive offer more biographical information on the Taos Book Store. One is a Taos Book Shop 50th Anniversary Coupon from 1997, which offers 1947 as the year that the store began. The other is a copy of the Taos Book Shop News, from Christmas 1962. In this newsletter, Morrill writes:


“The Taos Book Shop is fifteen years old this fall. If you’re interested in recalling, there were a few days at the first when we were the only bookless bookshop in existence, having chosen a sideline of candies which arrived before the books. But we admitted this cheerfully in an initial newspaper ad, and nobody seemed to mind. Taos, having gotten along very well without us for four hundred years, seemed to feel it could stagger along for another few days.


The candy finally fell by the wayside and was replaced by old Indian silver, kachinas, fetishes, and what not, which had the advantage over chocolates of not requiring us to ride herd on them to make sure they were fresh. The less fresh a kachina is, the better we like it and so do our customers.”[6]


As this excerpt indicates, the Taos Book Shop, moving from selling chocolates to books and artwork, had a long and diverse history in Taos. A biography of Claire Morrill and additional background information on the Book Shop emphasizes this further.

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Taos Book Shop "50th Anniversary Sale" coupon.

Born Helen Claire Morrill on August 11, 1898, in Killmaster, Michigan, Morrill was one of five children born to lumberman Levi Morrill and his wife Alice. As a child, Morrill and her family moved frequently before she graduated in 1915 from Mackinaw High School in Mackinaw City, Michigan.[7] Because she did not have the funds to enter college immediately after graduating high school, Morrill worked and saved for a few years before entering Albion College in 1917. After her time at Albion, Morrill taught English at Mancelona High School, which led to her finishing her college training at the University of Michigan in 1924.[8] Beginning that same year, Morrill taught English at Midland High School in Midland, Michigan, until 1928 and journalism from 1927 to 1928. In her book, A Taos Mosaic: Portrait of a New Mexico Village, she describes Midland as an “industrial-chemical center.”[9]


Because of her previous experience teaching journalism and working for the Marquette Mining Journal and the Soo Evening News, the owners of the Midland Republican, the town’s weekly newspaper, reached out to Morrill. After the school year wrapped up in 1928, Morrill joined the Republican as an editor and writer of a weekly column for women.[10] Several years later, she invested in the newspaper and became both the managing editor for the Midland Republican as well as the vice president of the Rich Publishing Company.[11]


Following seventeen years as the Republican’s editor, in 1945, Morrill decided that she needed to take a break.[12] To do so, she and her partner Genevieve Janssen decided to travel to South America before heading for Europe. Unfortunately, the postwar period in Europe made tourist travel complicated, so the social worker Janssen took a teaching job at the University of Oklahoma. During this time, Morrill came out to Taos to visit a friend, and in 1947, the couple decided to move to Taos permanently and establish a bookstore, the Taos Book Shop.[13] Additionally, they restored an adobe home in Talpa with the help of friends such as their neighbors, the artists Barbara Latham and Howard Cook.[14]

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“Southwestern Americana Catalogue, 1961-11" pamphlet.

Operating in three different locations over the course of twenty-eight years, the Taos Book Shop offered artwork, rare books, souvenirs, jewelry, kindred spirits, and sanctuary to both tourists and the “intelligentsia” of Taos.[15] Originally, the book store was located on the Taos Plaza but moved from that spot after three and one half years.[16] The Book Shop’s most iconic location, however, was in the historic adobe building where Ralph Meyers’s Mission Shop used to be located. With an old bell “that swung from the niche surmounting its façade,” the location of the Mission Shop had never been an actual religious mission, but rather, had been the home of “a famous Taos socialite, La Doña Luz Lucero de Martinez.”[17] Supposedly, the Doña had hosted esteemed guests such as Padre Martinez and her neighbor Kit Carson.[18]


When Morrill and Janssen purchased the Mission Shop from Meyers’s widow, they “inherited” its weavings, dresses, robes, silver, and cradleboards, which they combined with their books, as well as the workers John “Johnny” Andres Romero (Taos Pueblo) and Luiz Suazo (Taos Pueblo).[19] Friends with frequent E. I. Couse model Ben Couse (Taos Pueblo), Romero had worked in the Mission Shop for fifteen years before it was purchased by Morrill and Janssen.[20] An expert moccasin maker, Romero spoke Spanish, English, and Tiwa and worked for Morrill and Janssen from when they acquired the Mission Shop, around 1950, until 1960.[21] In A Taos Mosaic, Morrill describes both Romero’s and Suazo’s roles in the Shop as well as their somewhat contentious relationship with her and Janssen.


Published by the University of New Mexico Press in 1973, A Taos Mosaic: Portrait of a New Mexico Village was a collection of non-sequential stories about Taos’s history, Morrill and Janssen’s time in the town, and the Taos Book Shop’s creation. The text was accompanied by photographs by Laura Gilpin, whose career spanned over seventy years and has been describe as “one of the most prolific female photographers of the 20th century.”[22] Initially studying with Pictorialist Clarence H. White, Gilpin created photographs early in her career that “emphasized beauty and artistic creation over photography’s documentary qualities.”[23] However, over time, she “developed a more straightforward photographic approach.” Specifically, Gilpin became known for her extensive photographic and written documentation of Navajo (Diné) people and the general Southwestern landscape. In 1968, Gilpin published The Enduring Navaho, a text detailing the lives and artforms of Navajo peoples, accompanied by Gilpin’s own photographs.[24]

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 Cover of A Keepsake Presented in Honor of Claire Morrill, Octogenarian, August 11, 1978 booklet.

Before her death in Albuquerque on June 8, 1980, Morrill was the center of a gathering that her friends coordinated to celebrate her life and lasting impact on the Taos community. The resulting publication, “A Keepsake Presented in Honor of Claire Morrill, Octogenarian, August 11, 1978,” stands as a steadfast reminder of the important relationships that Morrill cultivated not only in New Mexico, but across the Southwest.[25] After her passing, the Taos Book Shop stayed open until late 2002, when the historic building in which it resided was converted into an art and curio gallery. Before shuttering its doors, the Book Shop boasted that it was “The Oldest Bookshop in New Mexico.”[26]

[1] “A Keepsake Presented in Honor of Claire Morrill, Octogenarian, August 11, 1978” Booklet.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Letter from Hal Ottaway to David Farmer, December 14, 1992.

[4] Taos Book Shop, “Southwestern Americana Catalogue,” 1961-11.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Taos Book Shop News XV, no. 1 (Christmas 1962).

[7] Tawny Ryan Nelb, “Remembering Midland’s first female newspaper managing editor,” Midland Daily News, published October 19, 2019,

[8] Ibid.

[9] Claire Morrill, A Taos Mosaic: Portrait of a New Mexico Village (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973), vii.

[10] Nelb, “Remembering Midland’s first female newspaper managing editor.”

[11] Ibid.

[12] Morrill, A Taos Mosaic, viii.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 13.

[15] Nelb, “Remembering Midland’s first female newspaper managing editor.”

[16] Claire Morrill, “The Indispensable Bookman,” Southwest Review 47, no. 3 (Summer 1962): 238.

[17] Ibid., 238, 239.

[18] Ibid., 239.

[19] Ibid., 238, 239.

[20] Ibid., 241, 242.

[21] Ibid., 238.

[22] “Laura Gilpin,” Amon Carter Museum of American Art, accessed June 30, 2022,

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Nelb, “Remembering Midland’s first female newspaper managing editor.”

[26] Ibid.