The Georgia O’Keefe Museum of Art
Santa Fe has many interesting art museums, but one particular institution, added to the array back in 1997, has drawn particular attention. And that is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum of Art, which is located a short ways from the Santa Fe Plaza on a quiet, shady side street. This museum is the only art venue in the U.S. that focuses on a single woman artist of international stature. Not only does the art institution hold a sizable collection of the artist’s works, but the place periodically puts up special exhibitions devoted to the famous painter and her small circle of fellow artists and friends.
Nowadays, the name of Georgia O’Keefe is synonymous with adobe architecture, brightly-colored desert florals, sun-bleached cattle skulls and barren landscapes of the arid Southwest. But it wasn’t always that way, for the Wisconsin-born painter had to study and work hard to gain her fame. And then it took a move to New York City, where she first showed her work at Gallery 291, alongside other notable artists, such as Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Paul Strand, Charles Demuth, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. It is here that Georgia gained a local following with stunning abstracts of urban New York.
A Prairie Painter
From 1912 through 1914 Georgia spent part of the year teaching art in the City Public Schools of Amarillo, a small city, situated on the windy plains of the Texas Panhandle. In her spare time the young lady visited the surrounding countryside, including Palo Duro Canyon, where she created a stunning series of small watercolors and landscapes, which would foreshadow her years in nearby northern New Mexico. It is here, in these small energetic watercolors, where one can see the motifs and colors that would later categorize her better-known New Mexico portfolio.
In the Land of Enchantment
In 1929, Georgia O’Keeffe made her first visit to the Land of Enchantment, also known as the state of New Mexico. After a brief visit to Santa Fe, she settled down in Taos, a small artists’ colony located near the Colorado state line. It was in this rustic outpost, where she created her first New Mexico images, including one remarkable painting of the rear exterior of the Church at Ranchos de Taos. Eventually, Georgia discovered the multi-colored cliffs in the Abiquiu valley, west of Santa Fe. By 1949, Georgia was living at her own ranch in Abiquiu, year round. She purchased a place under the shadow of a dramatic volcanic peak, named The Pedernal. Her home became known as the Ghost Ranch and it is from this locale that Georgia O’Keeffe realized some of her most productive years.
Of all the Gallery 291 artists, perhaps Georgia O’Keeffe is the best known, today. Just having a major museum devoted to her prodigious output is a feat all in itself, for such a situation is a rare event in America. In addition, naming the major museums that hold examples of her long and illustrious career reads like a who’s who of American art museums. Perhaps what is most amazing is that Georgia accomplished this legacy, not from rich cultural heritage of a major American city, but by retreating to the outback of New Mexico and letting the world come to her…..which they did in great numbers.