Lifestyle | Georgia O’Keeffe – Style in New Mexico
It is no Morocco, it is New Mexico... I discovered Gorgia O’Keefe the American artist in my teens. I just loved the beautiful paintings of flowers on large canvas, landscapes and skulls. The antagonism of both representation fascinated me. It was only a decade later that I read about how controversial this woman was for the time. First she was a female painter in the very masculine world of art of the 1900. Then her image was part of an erotic photography exhibit in the 1930’s. More than artist. She is an inspiration for a lot of women to follow their passion and to be self-made women. Visiting the museum in New Mexico is definitely on my to-do list. Same for purchasing her fashion trademark a bolero hat. Just read that On 20 November 2014 the 1932 painting Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 sold for $44,405,000, more than three times the previous world auction record for any female artist. Enjoy the videos below and her story below.
xx Audrey Soler, founder of The People Of Sand
Georgia O’Keeffe first came to Abiquiu when she was spending the summer near Alcade, New Mexico, where there were some beautiful sand hills to paint. O’Keeffe remembers looking in particular at one house that was high up, isolated from the town on a peninsula, wedged between two gullies. It was empty, and there was a wall in bad repair where a tree had fallen. She noticed with interest the garden and the patio with a well. One wall of the patio had a large door in it, and she remembers that, when it was opened, there was a large white pig inside. At this point she somehow knew that the house had to be hers, and even though it was not for sale, she began trying to buy the property in 1930. It took the artist 15 years to purchase the property at last.
Abiquiu sits on a plateau at an elevation of 6,400 feet, overlooking the Chama River Valley in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. “They still celebrate the birth of two saints: Santa Rosa and Santo Tomás. These days are far more important than Christmas.” Abiquiu actually dates back to prehistoric times. The first settlers here were Indians, and the name Abiquiu is a Spanish variation of the Indian Tewa words pay sha boo-oo, meaning “timber-end town,” and abechin, meaning “hoot of an owl.” The Indians who came to the Chama Valley were migrating from Mesa Verde in Colorado in the 15th century. “The house at Abiquiu is almost as old as when people began to live there,” explains O’Keeffe. The first deed indicates the house was sold for very little: a cow and a serape and some corn.
The house as it is today most likely dates back to the pre–Civil War period. It was owned by General José Maria del Socorro Chavez, who lived to the age of 101. He had been a famous Indian fighter and a brigadier general in the U.S. Army. The land was eventually sold after the death of Don José Maria’s son, J. M. C. Chavez, for $1, to the archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Santa Fe. “I was living and painting at Ghost Ranch, but I kept returning to Abiquiu to look around. The garden pleased me enormously.”
It was difficult for O’Keeffe to buy the house, since it was not for sale. But through her constant effort, on December 31, 1945 she finally purchased the land and structures from the church for $10. “When I bought it, it was totally uninhabitable. Architecturally it is not a masterpiece, but a house that grew.” The rooms were mostly bare, though some contained dilapidated furniture. The house had been added to in various stages after the Civil War. A large summer house and a lilac tree stood in the garden. The rooms inside were in disarray, and one room even contained stacks of old agricultural journals. However, the arrangement was appealing, and all the rooms opened to the patio. When O’Keeffe began to stay at Abiquiu in 1946, after the death of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, there was hardly a room she could live in.
O’Keeffe had always lived in large houses—first in Wisconsin, where she was born on November 15 in 1887; later, during her adolescence, in Williamsburg, Virginia; and she spent the summers in a house at Lake George, New York with her husband, while she was living in Manhattan. At Abiquiu O’Keeffe has rehabilitated the existing structures in their original style. No new walls have been built, and adobe construction was employed in each stage of reconstruction, although stucco has been used over adobe to prevent the perpetual washing away by rain.
The room that is now her studio was once a large space for cattle. At first it contained no windows and only one door. Originally, as a matter of fact, it was little more than a winter barn. A large window with a panoramic view of the Chama Valley was set into the eastern wall, and the exterior roof was weatherproofed. The floor, at first covered with adobe, was carpeted later, after it cracked. The original fireplace was rebuilt, and it is still the major source of heat. The space that was later to become O’Keeffe’s bedroom had at one time served as a building for wagons. Even though it is very small, this is the most important room in the house. It has a corner window that provides views to the southeast, and it is a very simple and austere space.
O’Keeffe has tried to save as much of the original house as possible, and eventually it is to be a national historic monument. She has altered it only to meet her desires, opening it up to views of the valley and the mountains beyond. “The view from the house across a wide green valley toward a low mountain is very fine.” Across the valley there are green trees and, back of them, the Chama River. The walls surrounding the house and garden have been completely restored. “Actually, building in adobe is like a disease,” says O’Keeffe. “Once you start using it, you can’t really ever stop.”
Interior furnishings do not follow a particular style. Simple unpainted wooden beds were built especially, but other furniture represents years of collecting. With the exception of O’Keeffe’s work, there is little art. Among the art, however, is a Calder mobile over the living room fireplace and a Juan Hamilton sculpture.
O’Keeffe returned to Ghost Ranch in the summers, when construction made it impossible for her to work and live at Abiquiu. Ghost Ranch, which lies north of Abiquiu, is a secluded place dominated by a rocky mountain range that towers dramatically above it. This dry rocky landscape is completely different from the flat verdant Chama Valley that Abiquiu overlooks. O’Keeffe has lived and worked at Ghost Ranch since 1934, and she spent summers there with Stieglitz when she was living in New York. “The ranch was built by a lumberman named Arthur N. Pack. He expected to live there for the rest of his life, until he decided to sell his business and move up north to Alaska. I learned about Ghost Ranch while I was staying in Taos, but I could not locate the entrance to it. Later on, in 1934, I met a man who told me how to find it. I rented the place the next summer and eventually bought it from Mr. Pack. To me it is the best place in the world, and I cannot imagine a more wonderful place. It has always been secluded and solitary. When I first went there, it was only one house with one room—which had a ghost living in it, so everyone was afraid to come.
“However, when I took my pots and pans and moved them to Abiquiu, I knew that was now my home, even though I continue to return to Ghost Ranch each summer to paint, or whenever I can find an excuse to get there. When you start making a home, it is difficult to stop changing it, imagining it different. If I thought of building a house from scratch today, I would make it so simple that it would make most houses look like some kind of Chinese puzzle.”
Georgia O’Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887, the second of seven children, and grew up on a farm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. As a child she received art lessons at home, and her abilities were quickly recognized and encouraged by teachers throughout her school years. By the time she graduated from high school in 1905, O’Keeffe had determined to make her way as an artist.
O’Keeffe pursued studies at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905–1906) and at the Art Students League, New York (1907–1908), where she was quick to master the principles of the approach to art-making that then formed the basis of the curriculum—imitative realism. In 1908, she won the League’s William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot). Shortly thereafter, however, O’Keeffe quit making art, saying later that she had known then that she could never achieve distinction working within this tradition.
Her interest in art was rekindled four years later (1912) when she took a summer course for art teachers at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, taught by Alon Bement of Teachers College, Columbia University. Bement introduced O’Keeffe to the then revolutionary ideas of his colleague at Teachers College, artist and art educator Arthur Wesley Dow.
Dow believed that the goal of art was the expression of the artist’s personal ideas and feelings and that such subject matter was best realized through harmonious arrangements of line, color, and notan (the Japanese system of lights and darks). Dow’s ideas offered O’Keeffe an alternative to imitative realism, and she experimented with them for two years, while she was either teaching art in the Amarillo, Texas public schools (1912-14) or working summers in Virginia as Bement’s assistant.
O’Keeffe was in New York again from fall 1914 to June 1915, taking courses at Teachers College. By the fall of 1915, when she was teaching art at Columbia College, Columbia, South Carolina, she decided to put Dow’s theories to the test. In an attempt to discover a personal language through which she could express her own feelings and ideas, she began a series of abstract charcoal drawings that are now recognized as being among the most innovative in all of American art of the period. She mailed some of these drawings to a former Columbia classmate, who showed them to the internationally known photographer and art impresario, Alfred Stieglitz, on January 1, 1916.
Stieglitz began corresponding with O’Keeffe, who returned to New York that spring to attend classes at Teachers College, and he exhibited 10 of her charcoal abstractions in May at his famous avant-garde gallery, 291, which O’Keeffe knew he would do, but was uncertain of when. A year later, he closed the doors of this important exhibition space with a one-person exhibition of O’Keeffe’s work. In the spring of 1918 he offered O’Keeffe financial support to paint for a year in New York, which she accepted, moving there from Texas, where she had been affiliated with West Texas State Normal College, Canyon, since the fall of 1916. By the time she arrived in New York in June, she and Stieglitz, who were married in 1924, had fallen in love and subsequently lived and worked together in New York (winter and spring) and at the Stieglitz family estate at Lake George, New York (summer and fall) until 1929, when O’Keeffe spent the first of many summers painting in New Mexico.
From 1923 until his death in 1946, Stieglitz worked assiduously and effectively to promote O’Keeffe and her work, organizing annual exhibitions of her art at The Anderson Galleries (1923–1925), The Intimate Gallery (1925–1929), and An American Place (1929–1946). As early as the mid-1920s, when O’Keeffe first began painting New York skyscrapers as well as large-scale depictions of flowers as if seen close up, which are among her best-known pictures, she had become recognized as one of America’s most important and successful artists.
Three years after Stieglitz’s death, O’Keeffe moved from New York to her beloved New Mexico, whose stunning vistas and stark landscape configurations had inspired her work since 1929. Indeed, many of the pictures she painted in New Mexico, especially her landscape paintings of the area, have become as well known as the work she had completed earlier in New York. Indeed, her ability to capture the essence of the natural beauty of northern New Mexico desert, its vast skies, richly colored landscape configurations and unusual architectural forms, has identified the area as “O’Keeffe Country,” Indeed, the area nourished O’Keeffe’s creative efforts from 1929 until 1984, when failing eyesight forced her into retirement. She lived either at her Ghost Ranch house, which she purchased in 1940, or at the house she purchased in Abiquiu in 1945.
She made New Mexico her permanent home in 1949, three years after Stieglitz’s death, and continued working in oil until the mid–1970s. She worked in pencil and watercolor until 1982 and produced objects in clay from the mid-1970s until two years before her death in 1986, at the age of 98.