Georgia Totto O'Keeffe

(November 15, 1887 � March 6, 1986) Georgia O'Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887, the second of seven children, and grew up on a farm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. As a child she received art lessons at home, and her abilities were quickly recognized and encouraged by teachers throughout her school years. By the time she graduated from high school in 1905, O'Keeffe had determined to make her way as an artist.

O'Keeffe is chiefly known for her landscapes and paintings of desert flowers, which are often interpreted as yonic symbols. Her mature style stressed contours and subtle tonal transitions, which often transformed the subject into a powerful abstract image.

O'Keeffe pursued studies at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905�1906) and at the Art Students League, New York (1907�1908), where she was quick to master the principles of the approach to art-making that then formed the basis of the curriculum�imitative realism. In 1908, she won the League's William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot). Shortly thereafter, however, O'Keeffe quit making art, saying later that she had known then that she could never achieve distinction working within this tradition.

O'Keeffe was in New York again from fall 1914 to June 1915, taking courses at Teachers College. By the fall of 1915, when she was teaching art at Columbia College, Columbia, South Carolina, she decided to put Dow's theories to the test. In an attempt to discover a personal language through which she could express her own feelings and ideas, she began a series of abstract charcoal drawings that are now recognized as being among the most innovative in all of American art of the period. She mailed some of these drawings to a former Columbia classmate, who showed them to the internationally known photographer and art impresario, Alfred Stieglitz, on January 1, 1916.

Stieglitz began corresponding with O'Keeffe, who returned to New York that spring to attend classes at Teachers College, and he exhibited 10 of her charcoal abstractions in May at his famous avant-garde gallery, 291. A year later, he closed the doors of this important exhibition space with a one-person exhibition of O'Keeffe's work. In the spring of 1918 he offered O'Keeffe financial support to paint for a year in New York, which she accepted, moving there from Texas, where she had been affiliated with West Texas State Normal College, Canyon, since the fall of 1916. Shortly after her arrival in June, she and Stieglitz, who were each married in 1924, fell in love and subsequently lived and worked together in New York (winter and spring) and at the Stieglitz family estate at Lake George, New York (summer and fall) until 1929, when O'Keeffe spent the first of many summers painting in New Mexico.

During her years in New York City, O'Keefe produced many paintings, including urban and architectural images. With Stieglitz's connections in the arts community of New York, O'Keefe's work received a great deal of attention and commanded high prices. Yet O'Keeffe tired of the scene in New York and spent increasing amounts of time in the west. Stieglitz, many years older than O'Keeffe and often in ill health, was uncomfortable with travel. Her trips west gave her the solitude she required to pursue her art.

O'Keeffe spent much of her time in Taos, New Mexico, and when Stieglitz died in 1946, she took up permanent residence there, living near Taos or Santa Fe until her death in 1986. Her home was in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Toward the late 1960s, O'Keeffe's eyesight grew poor, such that by 1972 she could hardly see at all. About that time, O'Keeffe met Juan Hamilton, a potter who introduced himself to O'Keeffe and began doing household jobs for the artist. Hamilton eventually became O'Keeffe's very close companion, such that he was rumored to have been her lover. Hamilton was in fact the sole heir named in O'Keeffe's will.


- By Julie V.

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