Georgia O’Keefe’s Inspiration


Working on more stories about the New Mexico landscape Georgia O’Keefe loved so much…….

Welcome back.  “Where I was born and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.” So said artist Georgia O’Keefe referring to several stories written about her that she called “odd things” in the 1976 book about her life simply entitled: Georgia O’Keefe.

O’Keefe was born in Wisconsin on November 15, 1887 and as a young woman she studied art at the Chicago Art Institute and the Art Students League in New York City. She also trained as a teacher and in 1916 she was hired as the head of the Art Department at West Texas State Normal College.

O’Keefe first came to the attention of the New York art world when photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz exhibited her drawing at his 291 gallery.         During this time O’Keefe also met many early American modern artists including John Marin, Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove. Her own naturalistic yet also abstract works established her as a serious artist in an era when there were few women artists. By the mid-1920s she had become known as one of America’s most important artists.

In 1929 O’Keefe took a trip with a friend to New Mexico in search of new inspiration.They went to Taos where they were the guests of Mabel Dodge Luhan, a famous patron of the arts. O’Keefe took numerous back packing trips into the mountains and deserts of the region  and became entranced with the landscapes there. From 1929-1949 she spent part of every year working there. Then in 1934 she visited Ghost Ranch which lies 18 miles north of Abiqui, and decided immediately to move there. In 1940 she purchased a small house on the ranch and learned to drive which allowed her to go to remote locations alone to paint. Her subject matter included dramatic rock formations like “The Black Place”, a remote and still uninhabited area about 150 miles west of her home. Bones, skulls and unusual stones, as well as flowers, were other typical sources of subject matter for her paintings.

In the following years, O’Keefe rarely left New Mexico but her art continued to grow in popularity and value. In the fall of 1970 the Whitney Museum of American Art organized the Georgia O’Keefe Retrospective Exhibition which introduced her work to a new generation and increasing her popularity even further. In 1977 O’Keefe received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to citizens.

O’Keefe was diagnosed with macular degeneration in 1972 and eventually stopped painting, although she continued to draw. She hired a young potter, Juan Hamilton, to work as her assistant and he taught her to work with clay, opening up a new area of artistic expression. With his assistance she produced a series of clay pots and also a group of watercolors.

Frail and in failing health, O’Keefe moved to Santa Fe in 1984. When she died in 1986 at the age of 98, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered on top of Pedernal Mountain, over the place she called the “faraway” but which we all know as Ghost Ranch.

After her death a foundation was created which established the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe which houses a large collection of her works and is dedicated to preserving her legacy. A house she purchased in Abiqui is open to the public by appointment but her home at Ghost Ranch is not available for tours.

Ghost Ranch lies next to the Sangre de Christo mountain range in a world of its own. There are fossils everywhere, the colored mountains that O’Keefe fell in love with are in plain view and an array of wildlife passes by your window every morning. It’s a must visit destination and I am taking you there next week along with visits to some other interesting spots in the area.

Adios till then when I’ll see ya down the road……………..










One thought on “Georgia O’Keefe’s Inspiration

  1. Dale,
    I recieved notification of your post on the way back from Utah. I was fortunate to take a trip there this past week. I am somewhat familiar with Georgia O’Keefe’s work however I wanted to tell you. We went to visit my wife’s son in Monticello Utah. Interestingly enough he works for the BLM there. We spent a day looking at rock formations, Hiking to ruins and taking in the sites of monument valley from atop one of the buttes, which had a road of gravel switchbacks leading down one side. I have been to Colorado quite frequently but never have I seen anything like Utah. I was absolutely awed by the landscape. Anyway, thanks for the post.

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