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Georgia Totto O'Keeffe

 (1887 - 1986)
Georgia Totto O'Keeffe was active/lived in New Mexico, New York.  Georgia OKeeffe is known for abstract botanical and landscape structure painting.

Georgia Totto O'Keeffe

    oh-KEEF  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Georgia Totto O'Keeffe was born on November 15,1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, the second of seven children of Francis Calyxtus O'Keeffe and Ida Totto O'Keeffe.  Her father was Irish, her mother Hungarian.  She spent her childhood years on the family's 600-acre dairy farm and she made her first drawings while attending parochial schools in Wisconsin and Virginia.  She studied at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago during 1905 and 1906.  Following that she went to New York City, attending classes at the Art Students League with William Merrit Chase and Kenyon Cox during the years 1907 and 1908.

In 1908, O'Keeffe moved to Chicago to work as a commercial artist.  She initially supported herself by drawing lace and embroidery for advertisements.  However, in 1910, when her eyesight began to suffer after a bout of measles, she gave up her commercial work and joined her family who had relocated to Charlottesville, Virginia; they had hoped that the warmer climate would be beneficial to Mr. O'Keeffe's health.  Two years later she revived her interest in painting when she visited Alon Bement's art classes at the University of Virginia.  Bement introduced O'Keeffe to the theories of Arthur Wesley Dow.  O'Keeffe moved to Amarillo, Texas to teach art in a local public school.  However in 1914 she returned to New York in order to study with Dow at Columbia Teachers College.

In 1915 she was teaching art at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina; she produced a series of abstract charcoal drawings there and her friend Anita Pollitzer showed them to dealer-photographer Alfred Stieglitz.  He gave O'Keeffe her first solo exhibition at his avant-garde gallery, 291.  During the same year, she began posing for him, resulting in some of the most remarkable photographs in history.

In 1924 she married Stieglitz who was sixty years old.  They were very much in love and the photographs he took of her, which ranged from prim schoolteacher to provocative nudes, were a great poem of love.  Yet throughout their marriage she remained true to herself.  She wanted to live in the West; he would not live there, so she spent her summers in New Mexico and her winters in New York City with him. They wrote to each other regularly (3400 letters altogether) and he continued to show her work in his gallery.  One aspect of their relationship that undoubtedly kept them apart was his refusal to allow her to have children.  Gradually, their intimacy waned. In the summer of 1946 she received word while in New Mexico that Stieglitz was in a coma.

She returned to New York and spent the next day searching for a simple pine coffin. After tearing out its offensive pink satin lining, she stitched in one of pure white linen. She took two years to settle his estate and then moved permanently to New Mexico.

O'Keeffe first went to New Mexico in 1929 as the guest of famed patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan.  After Stieglitz's death she settled in Abiquiu, a house that was almost inhabitable but was high on a plateau and she had fallen in love with it and the surrounding countryside.  After much negotiating, she was able to buy the property for $10.  Since 1934 she had lived and painted at Ghost Ranch and she continued that practice while Abiquiu was being refurbished.

She stopped painting regularly when her eyesight began to fail in the early 1970s. Juan Hamilton, a sculptor and ceramist began working as her assistant and companion in 1972; he tried to interest her in making pottery, but was not very successful.  He was a married man with two children, earnest and sincere although inclined to be arrogant.  But he was a great help to her in every possible way and he worked for her for fourteen years.

O'Keeffe became more frail, less able to see; she had two nurses caring for her needs which were minimal.  She died at the age of ninety-eight on March 7, 1986.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

From the internet, and
Mark Stevens in Newsweek Magazine, March 17, 1986
American Artist magazine, January 1976
Article by Hunter Drohojowska in ARTnews magazine, Summer 1986
2 articles in Architectural Digest (dates unknown)
The Battle Over Georgia O'Keeffe's Multimillion-Dollar Legacy by Andrew Decker in ARTnews magazine, April 1987
Days With Georgia by Christine Taylor Patten and Alvaro Cardona-Hine  ...  Displaying 4671 of 24589 characters.

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Biography photo for Georgia Totto O'Keeffe
© 2001 The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

About  Georgia Totto O'Keeffe

Born:  1887 - Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Died:   1986 - Santa Fe, New Mexico
Known for:  abstract botanical and landscape structure painting