Irwin Klein and the New Settlers

By: Bill Whaley
22 August, 2016

Irwin Klein and the New Settlers
Photographs of Counterculture in New Mexico
Edited by Benjamin Klein
(Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2016)


“Innocence to Experience” & the “Inner light”

El Rito, Taos, and the Emigrants

In Irwin Klein and the New Settlers, editor Benjamin Klein honors his uncle Irwin, the photographer and visual anthropologist, who worked in the style of Dorothea Lange and  Walker Evans. The photos touch on the utopian aims of the counter culture depicted in social circumstances from 1967 to 1971. “My own role was as much that of a participant as an observer, ” says Klein.

Certainly Klein reminds one of Henri Cartier Bresson who conceived of the “simultaneous recognition” of significance and the precise forms, which give the event its proper expression. Many Taosenos are familiar with Klein’s photographic forebears, Irving Rusinow, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, and John Collier, Jr. of the Farm Security Administration/Works Progress Administration (FSA/WPA). The WPA era focused on native Taosenos in detail during the Roosevelt New Deal era.

The photographs express Klein’s warm feelings for the dropouts, hippies, utopian idealists, whom he re-described as New Settlers” or “Yeoman farmers.” He focuses on the “inner light” of these young people in their journey from “Innocence to Experience.” Klein’s photographic record is as invaluable for its anthropological contribution as it is for the black and white beauty of the images.

Supplementary articles in the book by, among others, include editor Ben Klein and historian Tim Hodgdon, who focus on the analysis of the counter culture movement in the academic terms of the folklorist, anthropologist, sociologist and historicist. A piece by Lois Rudnick summarizes a brief history of Taos area communes. Rudnick is well known for her book, Utopian Visions: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture and for her extended scholarly studies about the Mabel phenomena.

The Klein book also includes references to other publications for those who wish to research the subject of the counter-culture era including but not limited to the Whole Earth Catalog to Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Culture Class (2002). Florida identifies communities grown up around scenic beauty, a tolerant social milieu, thriving art scene, and multitudes of young people, which might refer to places like El Rito, southwest of Taos as well as Taos itself.

Though I lived here during the era, I did not know that El Rito, home to my longtime friend, Cam Martin (of Dwellings Revisited on Bent St.) and Martin’s Store, was a jumping off point for national and local luminaires. Max Finstein, Rick Klein, Hugh Romney (Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farm), poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and Larry Littlebird et al first encountered or helped ignite the scene in El Rito.

There are particularly celebratory photographs of Robbie and Mary Gordon’s wedding at New Buffalo (see above) and I think I see Chuck Perez with his arm deep in a pot of stew (or something) at the wedding feast.images-1 I will leave the confirmation of identity to Taylor Streit or other extant residents of the fabled commune.

Here’s an anecdote about the book. Taylor Streit, Taos’s once and future fishing guide, saw the Klein book before I did and mentioned that the unknown couple in photograph 30 was Merimee (Moffitt) and Michael Troxel. Many of us knew Troxel as an all around handyman, hard-core Oakland homie, and occasional substitute as emergency catcher on the “Speedballs,” Taos’s top “jungle ball” softball team (sponsored for a couple of years by yours truly under the aegis of Taos Plaza Theatre).

FreeLoveFrontCoverWhile researching how to spell Troxel’s name, I stumbled into Merimee’s book on the web at Amazon, Free Love, Free Fall; scenes from the West Coast Sixties. I downloaded Free Love on kindle in order to meet my deadline and deleted attempts to spell Michael’s name “Troacyl and “Troaxcyl” for Troxel. Merimee’s book, meanwhile, strikes me as an incredibly candid tale of adventure from a woman’s point of view, written in the style of Kerouac’s On the Road. She was everywhere: California, New York, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico while hanging out in Virginia City, Nevada at the famed Red Dog Saloon, or hanging with Janis Joplin in the Haight. If you had your eyes open and your thumb out in those day, you didn’t miss much. Though I only skimmed Free Love looking for Troxel’s name I can’t wait to read it.

Irwin Klein and the New Settlers benefits from the distance in time and space by focusing on an academic and aesthetic approach to the counter culture phenomena.Even if you were there, you might learn something. For an insider and anecdotal approach see Iris Keltz’s Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie or Lisa Law’s Flashing on the Sixties. Read all three together and you can relive the era, a scary thought for those who missed much due to the exigencies of survival or the requirement to get high and go fishing.

If you’re not satisfied with any of the above references, you can tell your own story at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe, which is sponsoring “Turn On, Tune In: History of Counter Culture in New Mexico, a digital storytelling workshop, October 14-16, 2016. Submit your own visuals in an application due August 31, 2016 by going to the on-line application at or on

Since some of you, dear readers, have entered the pantheon of history as part of the great hippy movement, it might be time to tell the grandchildren what she or he did. Soon, we’ll be talking about the phenomena of “Second Homers” and the 1990s.

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