About the Artist:

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986)
Ranchos Church, New Mexico, 1930–31
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
1971.16

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), Ranchos Church, New Mexico, 1930-31, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1971.16

 

 

 

 

 

Georgia O’Keeffe was born on a farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, in 1887. As a child she received art lessons at home and was encouraged by her mother and teachers throughout her school years to pursue her apparent abilities in art. By the time O’Keeffe graduated from high school, she was determined to become an artist, at a time when there were few recognized women artists.

O’Keeffe pursued studies at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905–06) and at the Art Students League in New York City (1907–08). Shortly after completing her studies, she became disenchanted with art, feeling that she could not achieve distinction working in the traditional, realistic mode she had learned in school. She was reinspired, however, after taking a summer course for art teachers that espoused the theories of the artist and art educator Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow believed that art should express the artist’s personal ideas and feelings, which were best realized through the harmonious arrangements of line, color, and notan (the Japanese system of lights and darks).

Armed with this alternative to imitative realism, O’Keeffe experimented for two years while she was teaching in the Amarillo, Texas, public schools. She taught art in Amarillo from 1912 to 1914, her first extended experience in the West. She then taught in South Carolina, where she had an artistic revelation and started drawing and painting only “what was in my head.” She moved to Texas in 1916 to head the art department at West Texas State Normal College in Canyon, and she began to look to the Texas Panhandle sky for inspiration. O’Keeffe returned off and on to New York City starting in 1914. There she met the photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, who gave her a one–person exhibition in 1916. In 1918 Stieglitz offered her financial support to paint in New York for a year, where she moved from Texas. They later married.

O’Keeffe first saw New Mexico in 1917 while on a trip that took her to Colorado, and she extended her stay to take in the beauty of the New Mexican desert. The landforms of New Mexico’s Sangre de Christo Mountain Range intrigued O’Keeffe. Although it would be more than a decade before she returned, this arid landscape stayed with her.

Beginning in the 1920s, artists gravitated to New Mexico seeking the area’s climate and clear light. Two artists in Stieglitz’s circle, painter Marsden Hartley and photographer Paul Strand, were among the first of this group to travel to New Mexico, bringing back exciting images of the landscape and architecture.

The shapes, light quality, and colors present in the Southwest captivated O’Keeffe, and she longed to return to the beautiful, arid landscape—a refuge from the busy urban environment of New York City. From April to August 1929, O’Keeffe and friend Rebecca Strand (wife of photographer Paul Strand) visited Mabel Dodge Luhan in Taos. Luhan was a socialite, author, and arts patron who entertained artists and writers from New York and abroad.

During this trip, O’Keeffe painted the Taos Pueblo, desert flowers, the large ritual crosses that dotted the desert, and the elegant buttressed apse of the Church of St. Francis at Ranchos de Taos. This trip invigorated her, charged her creativity, and boosted her confidence. O’Keeffe returned to New Mexico each year until 1949, when, after settling the estate of her late husband, who had died in 1947, she moved to Abiquiu permanently.


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