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Georgia O'Keeffe, Ram's Head White Hollyhock a...

Georgia O'Keeffe, Ram's Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills, 1935, The Brooklyn Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For seven decades, Georgia O’Keeffe stood out among the great American artists of the 20th century- revolutionizing modern art through her representation of the American landscape.

Georgia O’Keeffe was born in Wisconsin in 1887. Her artistic talents were recognized and encouraged at an early age and she became determined to make a career as an artist. O’Keeffe studied painting and sculpture art at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Art Students League of New York. Though her work was initially well received, O’Keeffe took a hiatus from the imitation realism work she found unfulfilling.

Georgia O'Keeffe, No. 13 Special, 1916/1917, C...

Georgia O'Keeffe, No. 13 Special, 1916/1917, Charcoal on paper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a summer class that first introduced O’Keeffe to the then-revolutionary ideas of artist and art educator Arthur Wesley Dow.  In trying to follow Dow’s philosophy and discover a personal language through which she could express her own ideas, O’Keeffe began a series of abstract charcoal drawings (now recognized as among the most innovative American art of the time period). A former classmate of hers showed the drawings to internationally-known photographer and art financier Alfred Stieglitz in 1916.  The two began a correspondence which led to Stieglitz funding an exhibition of O’Keeffe’s work in his own gallery as well as offering financial support for O’Keeffe to paint in New York for a year.

Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe began living together soon after O’Keeffe’s move to New York and were married in 1924.  Their marriage was one of the most successful art collaborations of the era.  For the next twenty years, the two would both live and work together- Stieglitz capturing portraits of O’Keeffe and O’Keeffe displaying her work at Stieglitz’s gallery.  It was during this time that O’Keeffe completed some of her most famous work- over-large canvasses portraying the intricate details of floral anatomy.

Photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe by Alfred Stieg...

Photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz in 1918. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was in 1929 that Georgia O’Keeffe first visited the state of New Mexico- a trip that would forever alter her artwork.  While she continued to visit the state during summers to paint, it was not until 1946 with Stieglitz’s death that O’Keeffe moved to New Mexico permanently.  “More than almost any of her other works, these early New Mexico landscapes and still lifes have come to represent her unique gifts.”¹

Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, O’Keeffe fame continued to grow.  She was constantly inspired by the surrounding world- two of her last major series were based on aerial views from her overseas travels.

Unfortunately, in 1971 O’Keeffe’s vision deteriorated dramatically.  She withdrew from the art scene for two years until meeting a young ceramic artist, Juan Hamilton, who encouraged and assisted her return to painting.  While Hamilton became a controversial figure regarding O’Keeffe’s last will and testament, he is undeniably credited with the artist’s return to her work.  In addition to painting and sculpting, O’Keeffe also resumed writing her illustrated autobiography, Georgia O’Keeffe, which became a best seller.  In 1978, President Gerald Ford presented Georgia O’Keeffe with the Medal of Freedom for her contributions to the United States’ cultural endeavors.

Georgia O’Keeffe passed away in 1986 at the age of 98.  Her work remains prominent in major national and international museums including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  O’Keeffe’s artistic legacy includes over 900 paintings.

Georgia O’Keeffe is my shero because she showcased the beauty of my birthplace to the world.  While my immediate family often moved throughout my childhood, my mom’s family has lived in northern New Mexico for over 25 decades.  The state, nicknamed The Land of Enchantment, has a haunting sort of beauty that makes me want to cry of an overwhelming feeling of simultaneous emptiness and joy.  O’Keeffe not only painted northern New Mexico, but she also lived for over 20 years in the small town of Abiquiu- my grandmother’s home.  My love for northern New Mexico obviously includes Georgia O’Keeffe as she is such an integral figure of the area.  She saw its natural beauty and allowed the world to view it through her eyes.

¹ http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/georgia-okeeffe/about-the-painter/55/

Sources: a, b, c, d

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