Sunday, November 15, 2009

Georgia On My Mind

Magnet # 93: San Antonio Steer Skull

Material: Clay

Purchased By: Mom & Dad
When I look at this magnet by Clay Critters, I can't help but think of American painter Georgia O'Keeffe, who was born on this day back in 1887. She took everyday objects like the skulls that inspired this one, which were almost considered trash out in the West, and made them vibrant and beautiful in her paintings. She created a new style of art, becoming one of the first American artists who influenced Europe and the rest of the world, rather than be shaped by its art.

O'Keeffe realized at an early age that she wanted to be an artist and when she attended the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, she received praise for her work, but it never satisfied her personally. For a time, she did commercial art work and taught elementary art classes in Texas to support herself, but she could never completely turn her back on fine art. A fellow artist introduced her to Oriental art, and she began to realize there were all kinds of new directions in which she could take her work. But one of the most important developments in her career would take place completely without her knowledge.
In 1916, a friend of O'Keeffe's contacted her to inform her that ten of her drawings were hanging at 291 Art Gallery in New York City. She had not granted permission for this, and soon discovered that another friend, a photographer, had shown her work to Alfred Stieglitz, the gallery's owner. He was so overcome by the work that he included it in a show. O'Keeffe traveled to New York to confront him, and Stieglitz fell in love with her as well. With his enthusiasm, O'Keeffe began showing her work regularly, being influenced by his photographer friends, and developing a following of her own. It was at this time that she began painting in oils again, and closing in on her subjects, often flowers, at such a close range, it appeared as though they had been pictured under a magnifying glass. Both of these qualities would come to define her as an artist. Eventually, she and Stieglitz married. By then, she was becoming one of the most prominent American artists of her time.

Although their marriage lasted over twenty years, the couple didn't spend much of that time together. In 1929, O'Keeffe took a train out to New Mexico and, for all intents and purposes, never really came back. She fell in love with the landscape and began to paint the works that would define her most as an artist. Although she would return to New York each fall, O'Keeffe could not stay away from her new home for long. Aware that Stieglitz had begun an affair with another woman, she eventually bought a home on Ghost Ranch where she spent her summers. After Stieglitz's death, she finally established a permanent New Mexico residence in 1949. For the rest of her life, she would paint as much as possible there. Even when her eyesight began to fail her, others stepped in to assist O'Keeffe in her work. All told, she enjoyed more years of life than nearly any other artist - 98. When she died in 1986, her remains were scattered over her beloved Ghost Ranch.

O'Keeffe is the only internationally known female artist to have a museum dedicated to her - the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. When I visited New Mexico with my parents about a decade ago, we saw the Museum. It really does have an impressive collection of her work, and its simple, yet elegant, white spaces are an ideal spot in which to showcase it. I wasn't collecting magnets at that time, but after checking out what they have available on their website,, I'm okay with that. They're a bit simple - none showed there even feature images from her paintings, which is really a shame. We also drove through the Ghost Ranch, which is a special spot to my Mom. Her family was friends with the managers, so she visited it a couple of times when she was growing up, although she never saw O'Keeffe there. During our visit, we saw groups of artists painting outside with easels, taking in the gorgeous landscape. Although O'Keeffe may be gone from the spot, it's nice to know that other artists are still inspired by the area she loved so. Hopefully, not only her art will continue to be cherished, but her beloved Ghost Ranch will remain intact, introducing future generations of artists to O'Keeffe's past and their artistic futures.

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