June! My new artist is Georgia. There’s a new Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at Crystal Bridges that I’m planning to go to this month so it’s the perfect month for her. Also I see there’s a cool exhibition at the New York Botanical Gardens that has her Hawaiian paintings with 300 Hawaiian plant types. So somebody go to that and let me live vicariously through you!
Here we go with my research this week...
Georgia O’Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887 on a wheat farm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
Georgia was the second of seven children born to Francis and Ida O’Keeffe. Her parents are described as a farmer father and a cultured mother. It was important to her mom that all the girls were properly educated and all but one became professional women outside the home. While her mom took on the role of educating the children, her aunts were often the nurturers for them.
Georgia felt overlooked as one of seven and so she played alone (and found that she wasn’t missed.) Her simple style began early on, if the other girls wore braids or ribbons, Georgia didn’t. At age 12, her mom took her to private art lessons and shortly after she declared she would become an artist.
Georgia was in and out of schools and on her own a lot in her teens. In 1901, just before Georgia’s 14th birthday, her parents sent her to Sacred Heart Academy boarding school. While she was away at school her family sold the farm in Sun Prairie and moved to Williamsburg, Virginia. That summer Georgia went home to Williamsburg and from there they sent her to Chatham Episcopal Institute, a boarding school in Virginia. She spent two years there, took piano, art courses, and was the art editor for yearbook. After graduating from Chatham in 1905, she began at the Art Institute of Chicago. She stayed with relatives there and walk to classes. But again she returned home, this time with typhoid fever. Once recovered in 1907, she enrolled in the Art Students League in NYC. She was 20 years old.
Georgia spent one year in NYC with the Art Students League. While there she won a top prize for her painting Dead Rabbit with a Copper Pot. Also during this time she visited Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291. She left NYC after only one year, her family couldn’t afford for her to continue. She then went back to Chicago where she worked as a commercial artist for 2 years. (I have such a hard time imagining strong-willed Georgia working with a client as a commercial artist!)
She returned home again to discover that her parents had split and their health was declining. Her sister invited her to a summer class at Columbia Teacher College in New York taught by Alon Bement. It was there she was taught the design principles of Bement’s mentor Arthur Dow. She also read Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art. She began to paint in her own way, the earliest example of this is Tent Door at Night from 1913. Georgia was then hired as the drawing supervisor for the public schools in Amarillo, Texas. At the end of August 1912, she took a train to Amarillo to begin her 2 years there.
1911-1918 Georgia did a lot of teaching in various places and spent summers learning. She temporarily took over for her old art teacher Miss Willis at Chatham Episcopal Institute in 1911. 1912 to 1914 she was the supervisor of drawing and penmanship in the public schools at Amarillo, Texas. In 1915 she moved to Columbia, South Carolina to teach art at Columbia College. She spent a summer teaching art at the University of Virginia and then went back to Texas to teach in Canyon at West Texas State Normal College. Over these years, she often corresponded by letter with her art friend Anita Pollitzer in NYC. She would confide in Anita, get updates on the art scene in New York, and get feedback on her work. Anita shared some of Georgia’s work with Alfred Stieglitz and he showed it (at first without permission) in his gallery. Soon Georgia and Alfred were corresponding via letter too.
When I think of Georgia O’Keeffe I usually think of the desert and New Mexico so I thought I’d start mapping out all the places she lived. She was really much more than that.
Each time I study an artist I learn new things and focus on different parts. This time I’m really struck by Georgia’s relationship with Anita Pollitzer. Georgia’s relationship with Alfred Stieglitz began because of Anita. She and Anita wrote letters to each other for 50 years (1915-1965). They talked about everything. Anita was a photographer and a suffragette. She held leadership positions in the National Women’s Party and was instrumental in the passage of the 19th amendment.
In 1918 Georgia took a leave of absence from teaching. The reason listed was illness (the flu epidemic) but it’s also likely she was leaving because she wasn’t well liked there. She didn’t follow their teaching methods and didn’t support the war. Stieglitz was concerned about her and sent his friend photographer Paul Strand to check on her and encourage her to come to New York.
She agreed and once in NY stayed in Stieglitz’s niece’s studio. At first Alfred and Georgia were just close friends. They’d been writing letters to each other and shared a love of the arts. After about a month, Stieglitz convinced O’Keeffe to sit for some photos. While taking the photos at his apartment, his wife came home early and kicked them out. That evening she gave Alfred an ultimatum: stopping seeing Georgia or move out.
Stieglitz left his wife (though she wouldn’t grant him a divorce for many more years) and moved into the studio with Georgia. Alfred’s mother Hedwig (I’m picturing an owl of course!) invited Georgia to their summer home on Lake George. The two spent summers there for years with Alfred’s family and friends.
Georgia’s Music ––Pink and Blue 1918, a piece that she liked so much she kept it in her own collection for many years.
Which researching I started a couple of paintings and finished one of them this week. Feels like June and summer are off to a great start!