Following a Painter’s Path
Georgia on our minds...again.
A few years ago on International Women Day, we shared “The Legend of the Ranch” and how GhostRanch got its namesake. Ranchero real ones will already know that GhostRanch is named for the place in New Mexico where Georgia O’Keeffe spent a lot of her life painting.
As creative storytellers, we’ve written and discussed a lot about the art of journaling, sketching and looking back through old books for inspiration. Why not do the same with our icons? Digging back into Georgia’s life, there are so many fun details about the various ways in which she was creative—a collection of color swatches, old bones she found when wandering the desert. Even the letters between her and lover/photographer Alfred Stieglitz are a fascinating glimpse into the way she saw the world and relationships.
It’s one thing to visit the art museum where a painter’s works are held. It is another to retrace their steps to understand more wholly the spirit of a creative icon.
“It's not enough to be nice in life. You've got to have nerve.”
While O’Keeffe is widely known for her desert scene depictions and luscious-colored florals, her first work to capture public attention was entirely black and white—a collection of charcoal works. After graduating college in Chicago and moving to New York City, she was inspired by Arthur Wesley Dow to go beyond the restrictive lines of traditional European style art. He encouraged students to interpret things in a more abstract, suggestive way. Like cubism used geometry to build a piece, she used elements from the natural world. These charcoal works created an opportunity for her public gallery. It would also catch the eye of the photographer and artist who would later become her life partner, Alfred Stieglitz.
It’s no secret we design-minded love Pantone’s color of the year (and the lady behind it, Leatrice Eisman). O’Keeffe was also dedicated to color as a fluid, evolving aspect of her art. She recalls: “The color used for the paintings had little to do with what I had seen — the color grew as I painted.” On her New Mexico wanderings, she would also create color cards to add to her ever-growing collection. Like paint swatches, when she found the perfect hue to match the sand or a desert flower, she’d “record” it in her color card book.
Discussing childhood memories in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, O’Keeffe remembers “The color of the dust was bright in the sunlight. It looked so soft I wanted to get down into it quickly. It was warm, full of smooth little ridges made by buggy wheels. I was sitting in it, enjoying it very much — probably eating it.” Harvard Art Museum now houses her original jars of pigment from which she would mix colors.
When you think of the early 1900s time period O’Keeffe lived in, it was pretty wild for woman to take herself solo (sometimes Stieglitz joined her) into the desert to wander and create something of her own accord. From her world travels, to New York City, to Santa Fe—there are traces of “The Mother of American Modernism” everywhere, all adding to a story.
Now, who wants to start a book club with Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters? Once everyone is vaccinated, we’re all headed to Ghost Ranch to follow her literal footsteps.
Whose are you following?