When Mr.D and I are in Santa Fe we like to have lunch on the historic plaza and then walk about four blocks over to the The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. This is the largest single repository of her work in the world, and they change and switch out the paintings, photographs, drawings and sculpture all year long. So with each visit we’re likely to see something new.
(Note: This is a re-post of one of our most requested #TBT articles from exactly 3 years ago …)
Several times a year they have special exhibits of O’Keeffe’s work, and also combined showings with her American modernist contemporaries. Through September 17th you can view O’Keeffe’s paintings and Ansel Adam’s photography from separate assignments they accepted in Hawaii.
O’Keeffe was given complete artistic freedom to create two paintings of pineapples for Dole Foods. It’s remarkable to know her work of the Southwest and then see how she interpreted tropical plants, landscapes and lighting. Had I not known they were hers I would have asked a docent “When did this Hawaiian painter study with Georgia?” She painted flowers, waterfalls, papaya trees, beaches, lava rock formations, fish hooks. But not one pineapple. There was some sort of restriction for her, a woman, to enter the actual working fields. So the company sent pineapples to her hotel for her to paint. That did not agree with her, and it wasn’t until she returned to her studio on the mainland that they shipped more pineapples and she finished the final painting to complete the assignment.
Her paintings are shown with Ansel Adam’s black and white photography from a national park’s assignment. It took some time for him to consider how to photograph the tropics because of the humidity. The thick air created a haziness. From the look of his images, he figured it out. There are two photos of black lava flows that reminded me of the master artist he was. Because the blackness and texture of the lava absorbs light and is difficult to photograph. He was able to read the situation and perfectly capture that moment in fine detail.
Sorry, no photos were allowed in the special exhibit. Whenever anyone even made a move for their camera a guard was on them like a black bear on an apple tree.
The second exhibit “Abiquiu Views” can also be viewed through September 17th. This will change throughout the year, to show different artworks and views of O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, a tiny town about an hour’s drive northwest of Santa Fe. Above is her work table with original tools and materials, and a photograph of the view from her studio, the Chama River Valley and cottonwood trees. A large canvas is placed on her easel. It is very exciting to see the beginnings of a painting like this. The thought process. Infinite possibilities, then the artist’s idea moves to the canvas with marks of a charcoal stick. Glancing around the room of completed paintings with color, dynamic shapes, I was reminded that they were all just plain white blank canvases until O’Keeffe turned them into masterly awe-inspiring interpretations of her world.
Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico Out Back of Marie’s II, 1930
When Mr.D and I walk through a museum or gallery, we don’t save the discussion for later. We talk about how the art makes us feel right there as we’re standing with it. What we think the artist is telling us. Our interpretations. We split up and meet up again. And play a game called “I’d Buy That.” If you could have any piece of work from the entire museum, which one would you want to live with every day? The one above, Black Mesa Landscape. Hot red earth desert afternoon, cool mountains that are only a short drive away. I know this land, and could have breakfast with this painting every day for the rest of my life.
Cottonwood Tree in Spring, 1943
Mr.D’s “I’d Buy That.” In the springtime they are exactly brand new baby light green like this. She’s painted it in such a way that you might think the air moving through the leaves might gust past you.
Mesa and Road East II, 1952
We’d just driven this road through Abiquiu on our way to Santa Fe. It hasn’t changed much at all and the cottonwoods are still there, hugging the river bank. If you’re familiar with her work and take a drive from Santa Fe to Abiquiu, on to Ghost Ranch and Taos, the mesas, trees and ribboned red rock shapes will look very familiar. You might experience a beautiful deja vu, that you’ve always known these places. When you step out to take it all in, you might feel like you’re standing in one of her paintings.
In another gallery, Live Feed From O’Keeffe’s Garden. The camera is mounted on the roof of her home where she designed an impressive organic garden of vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, raspberry bushes, green chiles and more. The best months to check the cam are June through September when the rows of plants are big and harvesting begins. On Wednesdays and Fridays student interns work to care for the plants.
O’Keeffe was health-minded and avoided canned and processed foods, which is why her garden was a priority. One of the primary reasons she bought the Abiquiu house was because the four acre property had good soil and water for planting, so she could grow and cook her own organic produce. She also walked twice a day, read health magazines, and valued the advice of LeLord Kordel and nutritionist Adelle Davis who used cooking methods that would ‘retain maximum food values.”
On the opposite end of the room, her cookbook collection. It was great fun to watch people stand in front of this bookshelf, point and say “I’ve got that one.” “My mom has that one.” “I learned to cook from that one.” I did the very same thing.
When she was 90 years old a woman named Margaret Wood came to care for her and cook, and observed that “Miss O’Keeffe said that reading her cookbooks before bed was pleasant reading material.” And also “Miss O’Keeffe’s favorite foods were often simple, almost austere, like many of the forms she painted.” And she lived to be 98.
Georgia caring for her herb seedlings, 1960, by Tony Vaccaro
Ms. Wood wrote a cookbook called “A Painter’s Kitchen” in which she shares recipes and cooking techniques she learned from O’Keeffe. The ingredients are simple, fresh and pure. Inspired by the Abiquiu garden, and from other sources including Mary, a previous staff member who compiled a notebook of O’Keeffe’s favorite dishes.
Untitled (Abiquiu Pantry), Paul Hester and Lisa Hardaway
In the book she describes working with flour that was ground with a small mill in the pantry. That they made yogurt from local goat’s milk. Rarely ate red meat. O’Keeffe was very particular about her food with specific instructions to wash the fresh greens, tear them by hand, dry with paper towels and keep in the refrigerator. To be eaten within twenty-four hours. When they spent summers at her Ghost Ranch house, someone brought fresh produce from the Abiquiu garden every day. And something I adore about this book is that above each recipe Ms. Wood writes an observation, recalling memories that give us an idea of what their daily life was like, or how O’Keeffe determined when a painting was finished —
“After supper at Ghost Ranch we might sit on the patio and talk as the day light grew dim. The sagebrush thriving between flagstones lost its color, and the wooden ladder to the roof faded slightly into the dusk. Miss O’Keeffe told of how she had previously kept a bed on her roof. A rubber sheet protected it from the rain. She had many fond memories of sleeping in her bed under the stars.”
“An African mask — a woman’s long, dignified face carved in dark wood — hung on one wall. Miss O’Keeffe said ‘If I did a painting and placed it next to the mask — and the painting looked pretty good beside it — I knew the painting was good. But if it couldn’t stand up to it, the painting could be better.’ ”
Some of my favorite and most successful shopping is done in museum gift shops. Here they have a selection of posters, jewelry, postcards, books, colorful dish ware….
…….and the cookbook. I also saw a beautiful piece of glass art…
……that reminded me of seeds, and the garden.
They are the only museum in the United States dedicated to an internationally known woman artist. I never miss an opportunity to visit, each time I learn something new about her work and life.
Here is the link to the home page with current and permanent collection exhibition information.
Here is the link for tours of the Abiquiu house.
Museum Hours and Contact Information:
Monday 9 AM – 5 PM
Tuesday 9 AM – 5 PM
Wednesday 9 AM – 5 PM
Thursday 9 AM – 5 PM
Friday 9 AM – 7 PM
Saturday 9 AM – 5 PM
The Museum will open at 9 AM from Memorial Day through mid-October.
Planned Closure Dates
The Museum and Shop close EARLY, at 3 PM, on:
- Good Friday
- Christmas Eve
- New Years Eve
The Museum is always CLOSED on:
- Easter Sunday
- Thanksgiving Day
- Christmas Day – December 25
- New Years Day – January 1
Please contact Visitor Services with any questions at 505.946.1000.