Editor's note: The following essay from the catalogue for the exhibition Georgia O'Keeffe and the Camera: The Art of Identity was reprinted in Resource Library on July 5, 2008 with permission of the author and the Portland Museum of Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Portland Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
"Miss O'Keeffe" - Photography and Fame
by Susan Danly
When Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) first showed her work in New York in 1916 at Alfred Stieglitz's avant-garde 291 gallery, she was virtually unknown as an artist. By the time of her death, some seventy years later, she was among the most famous people in America (fig. 1). This exhibition and essay explore the essential role that photography played in establishing her reputation, promoting her career, and creating her public persona. From the beginning, O'Keeffe's professional and personal life were inexorably entwined with the needs and desires of Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) who over the course of almost thirty years became her artistic mentor, commercial dealer, portraitist, lover, and, later, husband (fig. 2). The numerous O'Keeffe biographies that have appeared since her death dissect their complex artistic, business, and sexual relationships in great detail. And while any discussion of O'Keeffe and photography must necessarily begin with Stieglitz in New York, it is also important to examine the artist's concerted efforts to develop and maintain friendships with other photographers later in her career, after she moved to New Mexico (fig. 3). Furthermore, by looking at the ways in which her art and personal life were illustrated and discussed in the popular press, we gain insight not only into the details of a carefully crafted public persona, but also into the ways she consciously redefined her art after 1930. Photographs of O'Keeffe alone in the rugged New Mexico landscape, of her traditional adobe homes at the Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, and images of her as a venerable older woman all convey strength, independence, and a strong will (fig. 4).
1. Photographers and Friends -- from sexual object to venerated artist
During the mid-teens, when Georgia O'Keeffe was an art student at the Teachers College of Columbia University in New York, she made numerous trips to Alfred Stieglitz's famed gallery of modern art, the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, later simply referred to as 291 after its address on Fifth Avenue. She frequently went with her friend and fellow art student Anita Pollitzer, who engaged Stieglitz in conversations about modern art, but O'Keeffe remained reticent. It was Pollitzer who first showed O'Keeffe's recent charcoal drawings to Stieglitz, unbeknownst to her, and the two were formally introduced in 1916. Immediately captivated by the work, he included some drawings in a group exhibition that same year. From that point on, he took an active interest in O'Keeffe's her career -- showing her the work of other artists in his gallery, sending her copies of his avant-garde art magazine Camera Work, and organizing exhibitions of her art.
O'Keeffe's first solo exhibition at 291 took place the following year. By then, O'Keeffe was teaching at West Texas State Normal College in Canyon and after classes were over in the late spring, on an impulse, she traveled back east to visit friends. However, as she freely admitted to Anita Pollitzer, it was really Stieglitz that she wanted to see. O'Keeffe arrived in New York, shortly after the exhibition of her work closed, but Stieglitz obligingly rehung the show for her. It featured abstract watercolors and charcoal drawings made in South Carolina and watercolors and oils of the west Texas landscape. Stieglitz also documented the installation for O'Keeffe in an album of eight images that he later sent to her in Texas (fig. 5). The spareness of her abstract imagery was echoed in his installation, where the works were hung as far apart as possible in the small gallery space. Stieglitz's photographs further emphasize the simple lines of the wood molding, the tonal variation of the burlap wall covering and the fabric below the chair rail, and the elemental contrast of light and dark, especially in her charcoal drawings.
Among the most compelling images in the album is Stieglitz's photograph featuring an O'Keeffe charcoal and an abstract sculpture, a small plaster somewhat reminiscent of Auguste Rodin's work (fig. 6). Stieglitz had exhibited Rodin's watercolors at 291 in 1908, just after O'Keeffe had arrived in New York, and over the years published numerous images of his sculpture in Camera Work, which O'Keeffe read. Her sculpture, modeled in clay, then cast in plaster and later in bronze, was titled Abstraction, although the artist herself described it in figural terms as a nun bowing her head in mourning.  When Stieglitz photographed the piece again in 1919, titling his image, Interpretation (fig. 7), he tacitly acknowledged his different understanding of the work. The 1919 photograph emphasized the ambiguous nature of this piece, with its sexually-charged form, and he included the sculpture in several of his early portraits of O'Keeffe. In one, O'Keeffe holds the sculpture close to her chest, in another the sculpture is placed in front of her painting Music-Pink & Blue No. 1, 1918, which, as previous scholars have noted, forms a vaginal-like backdrop for the sculpture. And in yet another series of images with the sculpture, Stieglitz shows O'Keeffe fondling the sculpture with her bare feet (fig. 8). One of Stieglitz's photographs of the O'Keeffe sculpture was also included in the 1921 exhibition of his work, where he first unveiled his nude portraits of his protégé. In a review of the show, the art critic Paul Rosenfeld merged both of their interpretations in his description of the work: "A tiny phallic statuette weeps, is bowed over itself in weeping, while behind, like watered silk, there waves the sunlight of creation."
Stieglitz had begun his extended portrait series of the artist during O'Keeffe's trip to New York in 1917 and it both revived his photographic career and set the parameters for much of the Freudian criticism of her work for the next decade. These photographs, as well as Stieglitz's discussions of O'Keeffe's work, promoted the sexual interpretations of her imagery to which she objected. But enrapt in the initial throws of her love affair with the much older and professionally influential dealer, she was in no position or mind to discourage his making portraits of her in the nude, often posed in front of her art. One of the most frequent backdrops for his early O'Keeffe portraits was her 1916/17 charcoal drawing, No. 15 Special (Philadelphia Museum of Art), in front of which she posed both fully clothed (fig. 9) and baring her breasts. Although Stieglitz did not exhibit any of his O'Keeffe nudes after 1921, art critics and writers were well aware of their existence and they continued to color interpretations of her art.
While scholars have frequently discussed the sexual content of Stieglitz's early portraits of O'Keeffe, many of the images from the series also make reference to the essential dilemma of O'Keeffe's art -- the continual tension between abstraction and realism. In 1919, Stieglitz posed O'Keeffe's hands reaching up as if to pluck a round object from one of her drawings (fig. 10). The photograph can be seen as a modern-day reference to the ancient Greek story about a contest between two famous artists, Zeuxis and Parrhasius, to produce the most realistic painting. Zeuxis first depicted a still-life of grapes that was so real that birds tried to peck at the fruit. But Parrhasius painted a curtain that was even more convincing and it fooled his rival, who attempted to pull the drapery aside to see what lay behind. Stieglitz's photograph of O'Keeffe's hands attempting to grasp what appears to be a three-dimensional object from a two-dimensional drawing, underscores the essential conceit of trompe l'oeil illusionism (fig. 11). O'Keeffe's painting of the same subject, Green Lines and Pink, with its more nuanced color and simpler definition of space moves even farther toward abstraction (fig. 12).
In 1923 Stieglitz organized an important show of one hundred works by O'Keeffe at the Anderson Gallery in New York (fig. 13). The exhibition included both abstract works, such as Green Lines and Pink and Blue Line (frontispiece), along with a lively series of nude watercolors that were more explicitly sexual in nature (fig.14). The works in that exhibition and the critics' response to it cemented her reputation as an artist. Significantly, the critic Herbert Seligmann singled out the nudes as especially important advances in color and suggests parallels between the female form and abstraction: "Color is her language. Her body acknowledges its kindred shapes and renders the visible scene in those terms. A few bold delicate strokes lay upon paper a woman's figure in vibrant red, or green and slate shot with rose." 
From the outset, Stieglitz's photographs of O'Keeffe and her work encouraged the critics to conflate her art and her persona as a female artist. Henry Tyrrell observed that her work was "an extraordinary manifestation of modern art expression and feminine self-revelation through the medium of semi-abstract symbolistic painting." Helen Appleton Read noted that: "O'Keeffe's work is the expression of a powerful personality. It is entirely personal." And in an attempt to combine O'Keeffe's art, her facial features, and aspects of personal life, one critic in the popular press even went so far as to speculate about the connection between her genius and ill-health: "Miss O'Keeffe has known a great deal of illness in her life: she has, we imagine, been thrown back on her own resources to a large extent. She is intellectual and introspective -- for an artist, a curiously austere type. Her face is an interesting study --- the features extremely sensitive and fine, the nose slender and straight, the mouth wide and thin lipped." It is here that we begin to see a new understanding of her persona, as "intellectual and introspective," an image that counters the sexual aura promoted by Stieglitz.
The subject of O'Keeffe's health, both mental and physical, during these years has been discussed by most of her biographers. Suffice it to say that her bouts with influenza, possibly tuberculosis, recurring periods of unhappiness, and a full-blown nervous breakdown in 1933 all added to a real frailty belied by the image of her as a strong, vibrant artist. Much of the deep anxiety that she felt was brought about the failure of her Radio City Music Hall commission and by rifts in her relationship with Stieglitz -- his relationships with other women, most notably Dorothy Norman, and his need to control her career, promoting her art in ways with which she did not agree. Because most of her travels in those years where dictated by Stieglitz's need to be near his family during summers at Lake George in upstate New York, O'Keeffe rarely left his side.  Then in 1929, seeking a real break from the intensity of her marriage and a new source of inspiration for her career, O'Keeffe left New York for New Mexico.
She traveled to Santa Fe with her friend, Rebecca Strand, the wife of photographer Paul Strand. After their arrival there, the two women were taken to Taos, at the insistence of Mabel Dodge Luhan, who welcomed them to her home, Los Gallos, and provided them with a studio. During their three-month visit, they explored the neighboring Indian pueblos, went on sketching and camping trips, and sunbathed in the nude. O'Keeffe purchased a Model A Ford and they both learned to drive. According to Rebecca Strand, O'Keeffe was a timid driver, but loved the car, nick-naming it Hello. In a letter to her husband, Strand captures the sense of fun and relaxation that the trip presented to them: "This afternoon, G. and I put on our bathing suits, connected the hose, and washed the Ford. Much shrieking with laughter and it came out shining like a new button. Then we disappeared into the pink patio and took off our suits and hosed ourselves, then went to the house, made jasmine tea and [had] some of Mrs. Schauffler's marvelous orange bread." 
Just as her personal life was undergoing significant changes, so was her art. Even Stieglitz seemed to recognize O'Keeffe's new spirit of independence engendered by her rediscovery of the restorative powers of the Southwest. His 1929 portrait of her, titled significantly, Georgia O'Keeffe After Return from New Mexico shows a coyly smiling woman, engaging the camera lens with a self-assured expression (fig. 15). Her right arm is propped on the side of an automobile, the symbol of her new-found sense of freedom. While in New Mexico, O'Keeffe began sketching and painting landscapes of the rugged terrain, and later exhibited the finished oils in New York at Stieglitz's new gallery, An American Place. His portrait of a confident O'Keeffe, dressed in nun-like black with the suggestion of a cross formed by her lapel (fig. 16), poses the artist in front of an abstracted landscape, After a Walk Back of Mabel's, 1930, painted near Mabel Dodge Luhan's house in Taos. The photograph was probably taken when the painting was shown at his gallery in 1930 and differs significantly from his earlier images of her posed with her work. Gone are the allusions to sensuality, either personal or aesthetic, and instead we see the artist as a saintly desert ascetic. The odd clothing she wears in the photograph was not a new affectation however. O'Keeffe had always preferred to wear simple clothes, long dresses that she often fashioned herself and flat shoes. She rarely donned jewelry and usually tied her long hair in a bun at the back of her neck and covered it with a headscarf, as in this picture. On her annual trips to New Mexico, she acquired some Navaho silver bracelets and one figures prominently in another Stieglitz's portrait of her taken in 1933 (fig. 17). O'Keeffe leans wistfully against the rim of an automobile wheel, the metallic shine of the bracelet echoing the graceful curve of the spare tire. 
In addition to Navaho silver and a new car, O'Keeffe also collected bones in New Mexico and shipped them back to Lake George in 1931. Although Stieglitz complained about the cost of shipping, O'Keeffe placed them around the farmhouse and he began to include them in portraits of her (fig. 18). Expanding on his previous portraits of her hands, Stieglitz included these momenti mori skulls juxtaposed to O'Keeffe's artfully positioned fingers. That year he made several other portraits of her with horse and cow skulls in addition to four images of the artist wrapped in an Indian blanket-all symbols of the Southwest that she incorporated into her paintings as well (fig. 19). When Stieglitz exhibited his portrait of O'Keeffe's hands and deer skull with the variant title Life and Death-Hands and Skull, he underscored his ideas about the latent symbolism of her imagery as well. By the time Life magazine published this Stieglitz photograph of O'Keeffe in 1943, it could also be read as a meditation on their waning relationship and his poor health. 
After 1929 when she began to spend more time in New Mexico, O'Keeffe found new ways in which to promote her career and her reliance on Stieglitz declined. He still held annual exhibitions of her work in his gallery, but other critics began to play a greater role in publicizing her growing reputation as an artist. As his own photographic work ended in 1937, gradually other photographers began to fill the void, producing images of the artist that increasingly placed her specifically in the Southwest rather than New York. In the beginning, these new photographers came from the ranks of the Stieglitz circle or at least they were beholden to him for an introduction to O'Keeffe. The first to take an interest in O'Keeffe and her art was the young Ansel Adams (1902-1984). He and O'Keeffe had met in 1929, when they were both staying with Mabel Dodge Luhan in Taos. Adams was there working on a book documenting the architecture of the Taos Pueblo with a text by the noted writer Mary Austin. While the pueblo was one of the chief attractions for artists, writers, and tourists alike, it is clear that O'Keeffe shared Adams's special interest in it. She made several sketches and paintings of the nearby church of San Francesco de Asis on that first trip and in the following years produced several more oils that parallel Adams's formal concerns for the broad massing of shapes and natural light. Writing about one of them, O'Keeffe remarked: "The Ranchos de Taos Church is one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the Spaniards. Most artists who spend any time in Taos have to paint it, I suppose, just as they have to paint a self-portrait. I had to paint it -- the back of it several times, the front once. I finally painted a part of the back...that said all I need to say about the church." 
In the 1920s, O'Keeffe's architectural subjects had dealt with the more complicated urban skyline and dramatic lights of New York City. In New Mexico, under the bright light of the desert sun, her colors seemed more subtly bleached and the plain adobe walls provided simple areas for broad tonal modulation. The parallels between Adams's photographs and O'Keeffe's paintings, especially in the 1930s, are dramatic and have been the subject of a recent study . Her introduction to Adams's architectural photographs reinforced the already existing formal concerns in her own work, but more importantly it provided a new direction for her career as a whole. While she had always been interested in vernacular architectural forms, they emerged as a major focus later in her career. Their shared love of the dramatic landscape and culture of the southwest bound their friendship and his portraits of her contributed to the creation of the iconic image of O'Keeffe as a strong individualist and pioneering modern artist (fig. 3). 
Adams's 1930 book, Taos Pueblo, along with a portfolio of his work, garnered Stieglitz's attention when the two photographers first met at An American Place in 1933. He had hoped that Stieglitz, arguably the most influential advocate for modern photography in the country, would exhibit his photographs at the gallery. Although Stieglitz did not immediately offer Adams an exhibition, the two began a friendly relationship and correspondence that last until Stieglitz death. In 1936, Adams's hopes for success on the East Coast were finally realized when Stieglitz presented a solo exhibition of his photographs and sold one of them to David Hunter McAlpin, a wealthy collector and a founder of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art. Adams had met McAlpin, a member of the Rockefeller family, through Georgia O'Keeffe earlier in the year; and the three of them, along with Godfrey Rockefeller and his wife, met again at O'Keeffe's house at the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico the following year to make an extensive tour through the Southwest.
By the mid-1930s, the Ghost Ranch, owned and run by Arthur and Phoebe Pack from a wealthy East Coast lumber family, had become the center of O'Keeffe's artistic life. Located sixty miles northwest of Santa Fe in the Chama River Valley, the guest ranch catered to well-to-do easterners, but it also provided a degree of privacy and remoteness that appealed to O'Keeffe. She stayed there for the first time in 1934, and by the summer of 1937 she had rented one of the houses on the property, Rancho de los Burros. Situated at the base of a distinctive flat-topped mountain called the Pedernal, the traditional adobe home was surrounded by colorful cliffs and provided a vista of the distant Jemez mountains and deep blue desert sky. O'Keeffe's 1937 painting of the Ghost Ranch house (fig. 20), was reproduced in an article in Life magazine titled, "Alfred Stieglitz Made Georgia O'Keeffe Famous." The magazine article concluded, perhaps to O'Keeffe's dismay: "A notable impresario of artists, [Stieglitz] has helped the onetime school teacher to become on of the country's most prosperous and talked-of painters." 
Despite its isolated location, the Ghost Ranch provided O'Keeffe with a steady stream of visitors and potential patrons. During the day, she would retreat with her canvas or sketch pad into the hills, but in the evenings, before she moved to Ranchos de los Burros, she often ate with other guests in the communal dining room. Later when she was settled in her own house, O'Keeffe invited friends to join her on the roof to watch the stars, a favorite pastime noted in the Life magazine article and one that she described in a letter to Stieglitz: "I've been up on the roof watching the moon come up -- the sky very dark-the moon large and lopsided -- and very soft -- a strange white light creeping across the far away to the dark sky -- the cliffs all black -- it was weird and strangely beautiful." 
Shortly after O'Keeffe moved into the Burros house in September 1937, Ansel Adams and David McAlpin arrived at the Ghost Ranch for the start of a two-week camping trip through the most scenic parts of the Southwest. The group traveled in style by car, guided by one of the Ghost Ranch's most skilled hands, Orville Cox. The trip resulted in one of the best-known images of O'Keeffe, a rare Ansel Adams portrait that captured the smiling artist looking slyly out from under her wide-brimmed hat toward the cowboy who assiduously avoids her gaze (fig. 21). Among the more typical Adams landscapes taken on this trip are those of the most famous landscape sites in the West: Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, Monument Valley in Utah, and the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. In addition to the numerous photographs en route, Adams photographed scenes at the Ghost Ranch, providing an insider's view of O'Keeffe's new world -- filled with friends, spectacular landscapes, moments of humor, and her work. In an unusual view of O'Keeffe painting, Adams captured her using the back seat of her car as a studio, its roof shielding her from the hot desert sun (fig. 22). The canvas propped up on the back seat, Gerald's Tree, depicts a gnarled cedar stump named for her friend, Gerald Heard, a poet and theosophist who also visited the artist at the Ghost Ranch that year (fig. 23). As O'Keeffe noted Heard had hiked to the tree often during his stay there and "he must have been dancing around the tree before I started to paint it. So I always thought of it as Gerald's tree." 
Late in the year O'Keeffe sent nineteen paintings from her summer's work at Ghost Ranch to her annual exhibition at Stieglitz's gallery in New York. Among them were two versions of Gerald's Tree, The House I Live In, and Three Small Rocks Big (fig. 24). The catalogue copy consisted of a long letter that she sent to Stieglitz describing the events of a typical day on the ranch -- getting up late, eating lunch with the gardener, giving her car to Ansel Adams so he could drive out into the landscape to take photographs, and an evening horseback ride with David McAlpin:
The evening was capped off by an impromptu piano concert from Adams on the Steinway piano owned by an absent Ghost Ranch resident, Robert Wood Johnson, the New Jersey pharmaceutical magnate. O'Keeffe's guests let themselves into his closed-up house, laid down on the newspapers covering the carpet, and drank beer while Adams played. By including such details in the exhibition catalogue, Stieglitz insured that O'Keeffe's New York audience had a full and romantic picture of her life out West.
Later that year, Adams sent a set of proofs from the New Mexico trip to David McAlpin, for which O'Keeffe chided the photographer because he didn't charge his well-to-do patron. But Adams was grateful for McAlpin's financial support, conveying his enthusiasm for the trip in a letter to Stieglitz: "By a miraculous sequence of circumstances and the kindness of David McAlpin, I am in New Mexico with three cameras, a case of film, a big appetite and a vigorous feeling of accomplishment." He goes on to say that: "O'Keeffe is supremely happy and painting, as usual, supremely swell things. When she goes out riding with a blue shirt, black vest, and black hat, and scampers around against the thunderclouds -- I tell you it's something." 
In addition to the Ghost Ranch photographs that he acquired from Adams (fig. 25), McAlpin later purchased one of O'Keeffe's flower pictures for his collection. As the result of his 1937 trip and another with the same group to Yosemite the following year, McAlpin became a staunch advocate for modern photography, eventually donating funds to both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art to purchase photographs for their collections. In May 1939, to celebrate MoMA's first exhibition devoted to photography, McAlpin entertained Beaumont Newhall, MoMA's new curator, Adams, Stieglitz, and O'Keeffe at dinner. Later that evening he took the group, all except the aging Stieglitz, on a boat ride to see the New York World's Fair, which named O'Keeffe's one of the twelve outstanding women of the past fifty years. During this same visit to New York, Adams took photographs of O'Keeffe's paintings in the backroom of Stieglitz's gallery. Propped up on shelves and leaning against the storage bins, these were not just installation shots of an exhibition, but rather formal geometric studies of frames, angles, and odd croppings. McAlpin bought three prints from the series, one of which, Detail of O'Keeffe Painting and Reflections, An American Place, Gallery of Alfred Stieglitz features her view of the industrial landscape of Manhattan (fig. 26). The sheet of glass covering the O'Keeffe painting reflects the window frames on the opposite side of the room and the buildings beyond, further layering the complexity of Adams's composition, turning O'Keeffe's realism into an abstraction. 
Another of Stieglitz's stable of photographers who developed a long relationship with O'Keeffe was Eliot Porter (1901-1990). Late in the winter of 1938-39, Stieglitz showed Porter's black-and-white prints in a solo exhibition at An American Place. Trained as a research scientist in biochemistry, Porter was at that time an amateur photographer with an interest in birds and natural history. The year after his show with Stieglitz, Porter gave up his teaching and research to focus exclusively on his photographic career. During a visit to O'Keeffe at the Ghost Ranch in 1940, Porter used black-and-white film to photograph one of the characteristically twisted trunks of a dead cedar tree (fig. 27) just the type of stark vegetation that O'Keeffe featured in her painting Gerald's Tree (fig. 23). By 1946, when he moved to Tesuque, New Mexico, situated between Santa Fe and the Ghost Ranch, Porter had begun to earn a reputation as a noted color photographer. But in keeping with his other images of O'Keeffe, Porter continued to photograph the artist and her landscape in black-and-white. His image of O'Keeffe, posed with her portrait bust by the sculptor Mary Callery (fig. 28), uses deep shadows to soften the artist's profile, the type of dramatic lighting that nineteenth-century photographers described as "Rembrandt effects." Indeed in composition and mood, Porter's image evokes the seventeenth-century Dutch painter's famous portrait, Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer, another meditation on artistic fame.
Porter's friendship with O'Keeffe developed during these years because of their close proximity and shared love of the Southwest landscape. Together with Porter's wife Aline and O'Keeffe's friend, the Santa Fe writer Spud Johnson, they made a trip to Mexico in 1951, where Porter photographed churches and pyramids in both color and black-and-white. During the 1960s, Porter made several raft trips on the Colorado River through Glen Canyon, Utah, which was soon to be flooded to provide a source of water for the growing urban populations in the Southwest. O'Keeffe and the photographer Todd Webb joined him on the first trip in 1961 (fig. 29). While camping along the river's edge, Porter found a perfectly smooth, rounded black stone which he showed to the artist because he knew she collected such things. Although she was keenly interested in its shape and texture, Porter refused to give it to her. Sometime later at a party in Tesuque, Porter and his wife decided to tempt O'Keeffe by placing the stone where she could see it. During the course of the evening, the rock vanished and he later found it at her house in Abiquiu. The story became part of family lore and eventually was memorialized for the public in a photograph taken by John Loengard, The Rock from Eliot Porter (fig. 30) and retold in a somewhat different version in Calvin Tompkins' profile of O'Keeffe that appeared in The New Yorker magazine.
Abiquiu, where O'Keeffe bought a second home in 1945, was an old abobe village and home to descendents of the Spanish and native population alike. Located some forty miles northwest of Porter's house, along the banks of the Chama River, Abiquiu offered a good supply of water and closer proximity to paved roads than the Ghost Ranch. For almost a decade O'Keeffe had been trying to buy the ruins of an old hacienda and the adjoining three acres from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. She finally succeeded and set about on an extensive project to restore the house and grounds, which was formulated and carried out by her friend, Maria Chabot. The Abiquiu village church had been recently rebuilt, with assistance from New Mexico's most prominent preservation architect, John Gaw Meem, and the urge to rebuild the region's historic structures was in vogue. O'Keeffe's interest in traditional building forms began at the Ghost Ranch, in a painting called simply, The Patio-No. 1, with its emphasis on a close-up view of its traditional roof structure and adobe walls (fig. 31).
But Abiquiu, with its older history and opportunity for a large walled garden, provided O'Keeffe with other architectural elements that did not exist at the Ghost Ranch. In Abiquiu she was particularly drawn to the traditional entryway into the patio courtyard, a feature of the house frequently photographed by visitors, including Eliot Porter (fig. 32). The ruins of the house needed much work and O'Keeffe put Chabot in charge of rebuilding and replastering the adobe walls, adding modern, plate-glass windows, transforming the old carriage house into a studio, and building a high adobe wall around the garden for privacy (fig. 33). The work took almost three years, but by 1949, O'Keeffe began dividing her time between her two homes at the Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu.
Both homes were simply outfitted with a few pieces of modern furniture, her paintings, and an increasingly well-known collection of rocks and bones artfully arranged on window sills and ledges. A group of skulls, pelvic bones, and antlers hung on the railing of the porch at the Ghost Ranch (fig. 34) and greeted visitors in the entryway into the Abiquiu house (fig. 35). As early as 1938, her Ghost Ranch bone collection was featured in the popular press in a Life magazine article that identified O'Keeffe as the "best known woman painter in America today." The article reproduced one of her horse skull pictures saying that "experts, collectors, and connoisseurs will vehemently assure doubters that it is a thing of real beauty and rare worth."
By the 1950s, when her fame as an artist was well established, the houses that she purchased and the one she rebuilt had become as important as the paintings and the photographs of her in the public imagination. One photographer who helped to create the popular portrait of O'Keeffe as the consummate artist of the Southwest was Todd Webb. Like Adams and Porter, he too came to know her well because of his connection to Stieglitz. Shortly before Stieglitz's death, Webb went to see the ailing photographer and gallery impresario to show him a portfolio of his work. He also photographed O'Keeffe's one-person show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, the first devoted to a woman at that prestigious institution (fig. 36). As Stieglitz had done in his installation shots of her first exhibition, Webb emphasized the spare detail of the hanging, using the inherent geometry of the gallery spaces to frame the images. When Webb applied for a Guggenheim grant to photograph the Santa Fe Trail in 1954, he turned to O'Keeffe for a letter of recommendation. While working on that project in 1955, he stopped briefly to see her in Abiquiu and visited her again for two weeks the following year when he was awarded an extension of his Guggenheim grant. In exchange for her help and hospitality, Webb gave the painter her first Polaroid camera, provided instructions, and even printed photographs for her when he returned to New York (fig. 37). 
Prompted by both O'Keeffe's lifestyle and the landscape, Webb determined to leave New York and move to New Mexico. He finally settled in Santa Fe in 1961 and accompanied O'Keeffe and Eliot Porter on their 1961 and 1964 trips down the Colorado River, taking memorable pictures of O'Keeffe in Glen Canyon (figs. 29 and 38). Her bone collection became a staple of his O'Keeffe repertoire, among the many pictures that he published in his 1984 book, Georgia O'Keeffe, The Artist's Landscape (fig. 39). Several of Webb's architectural images of O'Keeffe's patio, taken in the 1970s at Abiquiu, echo the simple geometry and abstract patterns that appear in her paintings from the 1950s (fig. 40). He also photographed the interior of her studios at the Ghost Ranch and at Abiquiu, with paintings and props hanging on the wall. In one image, Webb positioned an O'Keeffe painting, From the River-Pale, next to the barren tree branch that had served as its source of inspiration (figs. 41 and 42). Without the photograph, the viewer might easily assume that the painting is an aerial landscape view of the nearby Chama River. In another photograph of her Ghost Ranch studio, the clutter of detail in the foreground contrasts markedly with the high degree of abstraction in the O'Keeffe painting on the easel (figs. 43 and 44).
2. Celebrity Portraits
In addition to allowing her photographer friends to take numerous pictures of her home, her landscape, and her face, beginning in the late 1940s the nominally reclusive O'Keeffe made herself available to celebrity portrait photographers as well. With the widespread popularity of news and fashion magazines such as Life, Time, and Vogue, the appetite for images of famous people was becoming insatiable among American audiences. O'Keeffe, already acclaimed as one of the most important modern women painters of the era, played both sides of the celebrity coin-she was aloof and private but she made sure her face was known to the public. Vogue was among the first popular magazines to cover O'Keeffe's career beginning with an article in 1923 by art critic and Stieglitz friend, Herbert Seligmann. His piece titled "Why 'Modern' Art" included a Stieglitz portrait of O'Keeffe and a reproduction of her work, compared her early abstract art to music, and discussed it within an eclectic framework of El Greco's mannerist paintings, Congolese sculpture, the jungle scenes of French modernist Henri Rousseau, and the work of the Stieglitz circle, including Arthur Dove and John Marin. But by the late 1940s, Vogue and other popular magazines were more interested in O'Keeffe's celebrity status than in criticism of her art.
As part of his extensive study of famous people in the arts, Irving Penn (b. 1917) photographed O'Keeffe for Vogue in 1948. Penn posed O'Keeffe in a tight corner between two temporary walls in his New York studio. In one version of the image, we see the edges of those false walls emphasizing the contrived nature of the studio environment. Dressed characteristically in black, O'Keeffe looked to the photographic historian Colin Westerbrook "as if she [were] still in mourning for Alfred Stieglitz, who died two years earlier. With Stieglitz now gone, O'Keeffe has lost her mythic proportions. Penn's singular portrait repudiates the many Stieglitz had done in which this tiny woman seems Amazonian, an incarnation of a Lawrentian sexual energy." In the variant reproduced here, Penn has made O'Keeffe appear even more vulnerable and frail, wedged further into the corner with her hands tucked behind her back and feet turned slightly off center (fig. 45). Penn used the idiosyncratic corner format for a number of other celebrity portraits that same year, but none of those figures seem so overwhelmed by the surrounding props. George Grosz sits uncomfortably on a chair ready to rise, Spencer Tracy smiles nonchalantly with his elbow resting on the wall next to his head, and Charles Sheeler leans back resolutely on a mound of old carpeting. A master portraitist, Penn was skillfully adept at drawing out a variety of psychological nuance from O'Keeffe's pose and facial expression. With the hint of a smile and one raised eyebrow, her face manages to convey a sense of skepticism and authority, despite the frailty.
Philippe Halsman's portraits of the artist, taken on two assignments for Life magazine in 1948 and 1967, are all about O'Keeffe's famous sense of style. In a portrait from the early series, Halsman (1906-1979) set O'Keeffe's kerchief-covered head in profile against a black background resulting in an image that is classical in its simplicity and elegance (fig. 46). With its allusions to aristocratic Roman and Italian Renaissance portraiture this iconic image set the stage for other celebrity portraitists of his day, such as Yousuf Karsh and Arnold Newman. Photographs from this same session also show the artist seated outdoors in front of her home at the Ghost Ranch contemplating her famous collection of bleached animal bones and stones. In one outdoor scene she wears at broad-brimmed black hat with a favorite pin that the sculptor Alexander Calder made with her initials prominently displayed on her lapel. The same pin peaks out from under her suit collar in a later close-up image from 1967 that emphasizes the streaks in her graying hair and wrinkles on her face. These are images of an older woman -- self-assured and confidant in her position and comfortable in her surroundings. In 1986, Newsweek magazine featured another Halsman portrait of O'Keeffe holding a set of vertebrae taken at the same session. Clearly identifying her persona with the landscape, this homage to the recently deceased artist concluded with a plea for a more restrained development in the western states: "With the Southwest sprawling into the future, with the American sublime closeted in parks, people sorrow for O'Keeffe as they would for the last pioneer."
When Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002) traveled to Abiquiu to photograph O'Keeffe in 1956, he too produced an image that suggested her self-assurance and reflected her artistic concerns. Seated in profile in the entryway of her house, O'Keeffe posed under a large set of antlers that appeared in many of her paintings (fig. 47). Karsh wrote that he "expected to find some of the poetic intensity of her paintings reflected in her personality. Intensity I found, but it was the austere intensity of dedication to her work, which has led Miss O'Keeffe to cut out of her life anything that interferes with her ability to express herself in paint." As Stieglitz had done in his portraits of the young O'Keeffe, Karsh drew attention to the artist's hands. But for his image of the sixty-nine year old artist, he posed her bent fingers next to a gnarled tree stump and placed her under a deer's skull, alluding to the passage of time and death. As if to balance those dark elements, however, a streak of light coming in from the open doorway falls on O'Keeffe's forehead, wrist, and still-life objects in the composition, serving as a reminder of the inspiration and vitality of the still-practicing artist. According to Karsh, his photograph once hung in her house at Abiquiu.
Like Halsman, the European-born Karsh had come to North America with the outbreak of World War II. He too established his photographic reputation taking portraits of famous people -- politicians, scientists, writers, actors and actresses, musicians, and artists. In the late 1940s and 50s, he produced a series of images of hands, clearly an homage to Stieglitz, and among the first artists he photographed in 1958 was Georgia O'Keeffe. In the 1960s and 1970s, Karsh would capture likenesses of other well known painters, sculptors, and photographers, including Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Joan Miro, Man Ray, Edward Steichen, and Ansel Adams. Perhaps more than any other late twentieth-century photographer, Karsh has become synonymous with the concept of celebrity.
Arnold Newman (1918-2006) is another O'Keeffe photographer whose artistic reputation derives from his portraits of famous people. After studying art at the University of Miami, Newman worked at a series of commercial portrait studios. On trip to New York in 1939 he met Alfred Stieglitz and two years later, with encouragement from Stieglitz and Beaumont Newhall at MoMA, Newman decided to set out on his own as a photographer. In his 1946 double portrait of O'Keeffe and Stieglitz, it is the photographer, rather than the painter who dominates the composition (fig. 2). While Estelle Jussim observed that this picture may be more about Newman's psychology than that of his sitters, it is clear that Newman has managed to capture the sense of estrangement between his subjects. Both present almost expressionless faces and neither engages the camera or the other person.
Newman's later portrait of O'Keeffe alone, taken at the Ghost Ranch, is from a group of artist's portraits that feature background elements that convey distinctive aspects of each subject's style. For example, Newman's portrait of Mondrian features a gridwork of shapes formed by his easel and two squares tacked to the wall behind his head. Willem de Kooning stands immediately in front of a wall with scraps of canvas covered with his expressionist brushwork, creating a kind of artistic halo behind his head. And for his portrait of Isamu Noguchi, Newman placed the artist's head in the void at the center of one of his sculptures. The photographer took the unusual step of setting up the O'Keeffe portrait out-of-doors (fig. 48). The artist, wearing a denim shirt, is shown in profile, seated in front of a blank canvas propped on an easel to which is attached a ram's skull and horns. The distinctive landscape surrounding her home at the Ghost Ranch forms the backdrop for the composition. As with other celebrity photographers, Newman often worked for the popular press and a variant of this image appeared in an article on Santa Fe in Holiday magazine the following year.
3. Promoting O'Keeffe and Santa Fe Modern Style in the popular press:
The growth of Santa Fe as a cultural center attracting artists and writers from the East Coast, as well as the Southwest, was in full swing by the time that O'Keeffe arrived there from New York in 1929. With the renaissance of Hispanic architecture, prompted by the work of John Gaw Meem and others in the following decades, Santa Fe later came to represent a unique melding of modernism and the traditional adobe style. The photographer Laura Gilpin (1891-979), who lived in Santa Fe and was a long-time friend of the artist, noted the affinity between O'Keeffe's work and the local architectural idiom in an article for House Beautiful in 1963: "Beauty of spacing and simplicity of design are the two major qualities that dominate the painting of Georgia O'Keeffe. They are also the dominant characteristics of her house in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Indeed, her house and her painting are all of apiece, and most of her "decorations" are nature objects picked up off the desert." Gilpin's photographs that accompanied the article included interior shots of the Abiquiu house, details of the now famous collection of stones and bones, and a view of the Chama River Valley from the panoramic window of O'Keeffe's studio, where a decade earlier, Gilpin had photographed O'Keeffe, sitting beside this same window, with a still life of paint brushes on the sill (fig. 49).
The most comprehensive picture of O'Keeffe's homes and their furnishings appeared in a 1958 photo essay in Life magazine and later in a book by the photographer John Loengard (b. 1934). His profile portrait of the artist, seated on the rooftop and framed by a chimney pot atop her home at the Ghost Ranch, was featured as the cover of Life (fig. 1). The magazine piece also included examples of her paintings along side Loengard's portraits, views of the interiors of her houses (fig. 50), and scenes of the surrounding landscape (fig. 51). The accompanying text combined quotes from the artist with the observations of an unnamed writer that, together with the pictures, strove to demonstrate the "interlocking of her life and art." Among the Loengard images are the inevitable still-life arrangements of bones (fig. 52) about which she reminisced:
The Life article also featured a Loengard photograph captioned "A favorite stone and a favorite belt" that shows O'Keeffe holding a smooth, rounded dark stone, identified in his later book as "The Rock from Eliot Porter" (fig. 30). Loengard's introduction mentions the story of the rock stolen long ago from her friend, the photographer Eliot Porter, and provides interesting details about the three-day photo shoot in 1966. During the time Loengard spent with the artist: "She talked a great deal, often with amusement. O'Keeffe played the role not so much of a painter, but of a wealthy woman, interested in the arts. She paid considerable attention to the smooth management of her household." After following his subject through the routine of a typical day, he concluded: "Clearly, O'Keeffe was no hermit"-- morning and evening walks with her favorite chow dogs, visits from friends and family, and work in the garden filled her days with much activity even at the age of seventy nine.
Although O'Keeffe did not pose at her easel for Loengard, her art is still very much evident in his images. Hanging on the wall in her uncharacteristically cluttered bedroom or standing alone on an easel, her paintings are formal elements that the photographer skillfully weaves into his compositions. The dark rectangle of the door in My Last Door, (1952/52, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum) serves as foil to the Calder mobile that hung over her bed (fig. 50) and the shape of the stretched canvas in Canyon Country, White and Brown Cliffs emphasizes the corners of doors, windows, and cupboards in her Ghost Ranch studio (fig. 52). But for the most part, Loengard's photographic approach to O'Keeffe was personal and only indirectly related to her art. His reverential close-up portraits capture the wrinkles of her lined face, his scenes of her house show O'Keeffe alone fingering her rock collection or stooping over as she works in the garden. In the last image in the book, Evening Walk, Ghost Ranch (fig. 51), O'Keeffe, long skirt billowing in the wind, almost disappears in the wide expanse of the New Mexican desert.
While Gilpin and Loengard's photographs stress the traditional New Mexican aspects of O'Keeffe's home, others, such as those by George Daniell, Don Worth, Balthazar Korab, and Myron Wood, capture the modernist side of her art and life. George Daniell (1911-2002), a celebrity photographer best known for his portraits of Hollywood stars, was perhaps the first photographer to emphasize the affinity between her persona and Santa Fe modernism. He and O'Keeffe had met in New York in the 1940s at Stieglitz's gallery and he photographed her once on visit to Fire Island. But it was a trip to New Mexico around 1952, when he juxtaposed the austerity of shadows on an adobe wall with O'Keeffe's black hat and coat (fig. 54), that Daniell captured her affinity for abstraction, the quality that he most admired in her work. His lasting memory of the artist was of her relaxing in a modern chrome reclining chair in her house at Abiquiu.
Don Worth (b. 1924), who worked as an assistant to Ansel Adams, photographed O'Keeffe around 1958 standing next to a doorway on the Abiquiu patio (fig. 55) that appears in some of her most minimalist paintings, such as Wall with Green Door (fig. 56). In addition to his emphasis on the repetitive pattern of the square stepping stones, Worth places the metal frame of a butterfly chair in the foreground, as if it were a piece of abstract sculpture. The stylish butterfly chair, designed by the Argentine architect, Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy in 1938, would normally be covered in a fabric sling. Its absence here makes the empty angular frame seem all the more enigmatic, as does the downcast gaze of O'Keeffe who looks off into empty space. Devoid of the usual array of animal skulls, antlers, and stones, the unadorned adobe wall lacks reference to the usual O'Keeffe icons. Even the artist's attire, a simple checked skirt and jacket, seem subdued compared to the more self-consciously contrived black-and-white outfits that she wears in photographs by celebrity photographers like Irving Penn and Philippe Halsman.
At O'Keeffe's behest, in April 1965, House Beautiful sent the noted architectural photographer Balthazar Korab (b. 1926) to photograph her house at Abiquiu as part of series of articles on artists' homes. Author Mary Roche explained the magazine motivation: "An artist is a person with a constellation of special gifts, and for those of us who are constantly nourished by those gifts, the life of the artist at home has tremendous fascination." Telling Korab that he reminded her of the young Ansel Adams, O'Keeffe greeted him at the door and took him on a tour of the house. In a recollection of the day, Korab noted that he worked "without as much as moving a chair. Everything was in the right place." Probably at O'Keeffe's request, Korab took the, by now, requisite shots of traditional Southwestern elements in her home -- the adobe wall and ladder, the wooden viga roof supports, and her famous collection of bones and stones. But he was also drawn to her "hard edge modern, chairs by Eames, Saarinen, Bertoia," as is evident in his photograph of the living room that features designer-sculptor Harry Bertoia's famous bird chair and ottoman (fig. 57). The captions for his pictures stress how well the modern design elements and O'Keeffe's art, especially her cloud paintings complement the traditional architecture (figs. 58 and 59).
The public's fascination with the artist's homes continues today. Korab's photographs of Abiquiu were recently republished in Western Interiors and Design, and this time, the thrust of the article was even more overtly about O'Keeffe and modernism: "While many people think of Georgia O'Keeffe as the high priestess of Southwestern style, her soul belonged to one true faith: modernism." The author, one of O'Keeffe's biographers, reiterates the importance of the artist's early training with the Japanese-inspired Arthur Wesley Dow and the influence of Stieglitz and the modern art, including photography, that he championed at his 291 gallery in New York. But more than Stieglitz, the author believes, O'Keeffe understood modernism as a "way of life." "She demonstrated it in the geometry of her usually black clothing, her neat hair, her lean body type, her bold, precise penmanship." At Abiquiu in the end, O'Keeffe "rejected the rustic" and instead interspersed a Bertoia wire-frame chair and a molded Eames chair with her own muslin-covered seating cubes and plywood and sawhorse dining table. The artist's penchant for a modernist aesthetic at Abiquiu is perhaps best expressed in Korab's views of her studio, with its large plate-glass window dominating the room and reflecting the sky and hills beyond (figs. 60 and 61). O'Keeffe's admiration for Frank Lloyd Wright's organic modernism that melded landscape and architecture found ample expression in her new studio.
In 1979, the public library in Pueblo, Colorado, commissioned Myron Wood (b. 1921) to photograph O'Keeffe's home at Abiquiu as part of a large documentary project recording important sites and landscapes of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Although O'Keeffe initially rejected their request, she eventually invited Wood to Abiquiu and gave him permission to photograph there and at the Ghost Ranch. The project took over two years and resulted a book that reflects Wood's notion that: "Her effect upon these dwellings was natural and it was so sustained that it is perhaps clearer and more innocent than anything she expressed in the any other medium. In her homes as in her life there was no pretense -- bare light bulbs, lean furniture, and adobe walls served their purposes" (fig. 62). Like many other photographers and writers who met her late in life, Wood revered the aging artist: "Miss O'Keeffe had a walk of queenly splendor. Upon entering a room, she changed that room by her presence; never mind that she could barely see. It was the magnetism of her will that caught everyone up." His portraits show a smiling woman, seated next to her young companion, the artist Juan Hamilton, or deep in thought as she fondles her collection of smooth stones. His interior views of her home focus on simple details -- doorways and windows imbedded in thick adobe walls, the modern banquet and chairs in the living room, the kiva-style fireplace with its artfully arranged sticks of wood. And his landscapes taken at the Ghost Ranch show the low adobe building dwarfed by the surrounding cliffs and softened by the surrounding sage and stunted pines.
For Wood and other photographers who specialized in scenes of the Southwest in the 1960s and 70s, O'Keeffe had become a venerated symbol of modernism in the West. Her homes were seen as the embodiment of the new and increasingly popular pueblo revival, a regional idiom that combined traditional architectural forms and modern design. A love of natural materials, rooted in the minimal vegetation and dramatic rock formations that surrounded her houses, served as the basis of her art. And although her imagery vacillated between the real and the abstract, but it was often derived from her observations of the natural world, especially after she moved to New Mexico. The numerous photographs which show her late, more abstract paintings sparingly displayed in her homes among her favorite bits of modern design and beloved collection of natural objects demonstrate how conscious she was of their combined impact. O'Keeffe's willingness and what even might be considered compulsion to have her homes and private spaces photographed and published so frequently in the popular press speak to her need to create a new image of herself. This image of an older, self-reliant woman, alone but fulfilled by her dedication to her art and her landscape, would eventually replace the Stieglitz-generated view of O'Keeffe as a young avant-garde painter of sexually-charged images of flowers and seashells. 
4. O'Keeffe and the Popular Press:
O'Keeffe's image in the popular news and fashion magazines of her day emerged along side the critical writings about her art shaped by Stieglitz. From the beginning, women's magazines, in particular, linked her persona with changing notions about the role of women artists in the modern era. As early as 1922, Vanity Fair identified O'Keeffe as one of five "women painters of America whose work exhibits distinctiveness of style and marked individuality." The article included an early Stieglitz portrait of O'Keeffe with a lengthy caption that easily could have come from his pen: "Her history epitomizes the modern artist's struggle out of the mediocrity imposed by conventional art schools, to the new freedom of expression inspired by such men as Stieglitz. Her work was undistinguished until she abandoned academic realism and discovered her own feminine self. Her more recent paintings seem to be a revelation of the very essence of the woman as Life Giver."
A decade later, Frank Crowninshield, an editor at Vanity Fair and an O'Keeffe collector, pointedly featured a Stieglitz portrait of O'Keeffe (fig. 14), along with reproductions of her paintings, including Coxcomb (fig. 63), when the magazine ran a series on the Museum of Modern Art's most popular American painters. The museum had recently polled its visitors as to their favorite artists, and O'Keeffe led a group made up of male artists that included Eugene Speicher, Maurice Sterne, Edward Hopper, Charles Burchfield, and Preston Dickinson. Making certain that his readers were aware that "Miss O'Keeffe is, in private life, the wife of Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer," Crowninshield went on to praise her work with its "extraordinary interest in form, a natural gift for design and a sensitized, almost uncanny feeling for colour. These qualities, imposed upon a rich emotional nature, have produced a painter for whom it is impossible to find a counterpart among modern artists."
The link between O'Keeffe's paintings and contemporary style, the primary thrust of these women's magazines, is perhaps most direct and obvious in a brief article that appeared in Town and Country in 1937. The article, titled "Beauty is Fun," featured an O'Keeffe flower painting, Jimson Weed that once hung in the mirrored exercise studio of Elizabeth Arden's upscale Fifth Avenue beauty salon in New York. As the unidentified author described it, the large painting (almost six feet by eight feet) "dominates the yellow and white splendor reflected in the many mirrors of this latest in exercise floors." In an interview with Andy Warhol late in life, O'Keeffe told of Elizabeth Arden's attempt to transform her face with make-up. The artist went home, looked in her mirror, and immediately washed it all off. 
In addition to the numerous articles about O'Keeffe that appeared in women's magazines, her public persona became the fodder for popular news magazines such as Life, Look, Time, Newsweek, and The New Yorker. These magazines tended to run articles on her life and art at the time of major retrospective exhibitions of her work. In its review of her 1946 show at the Museum of Modern Art, Time praised the "brilliant hardness of her most ambitious paintings" and retold the story of the early Stieglitz-O'Keeffe exhibitions. In 1960, Newsweek, referring to the seventy-two year old artist as "the grand old lady of painting," discussed her one-person show at the Worcester Art Museum and its emphasis on her more recent "brilliant semi-abstract work paintings of clouds, earth, rivers and airscapes." Robert Hughes, writing for Time about the Whitney's 1970 show attempts to "scotch the myth of her provinciality forever," approves of the "aloofness and precision" of her painting style, and concludes that her "life and work are one." O'Keeffe's own popular picture book about her art and life, published by Viking Press, was the subject of a lengthy essay by Sanford Schwartz in The New Yorker in 1978. In the review he takes umbrage in the "very stagy photograph" of O'Keeffe on the back cover, which like many images in the popular press, shows O'Keeffe walking off into the desert landscape as if it were a "parody of the last scene in a Western." But Schwartz goes on to remark on the unusual longevity of her successful career, the seamless melding of text and the pictures in the book, and importance that Stieglitz's portraits play in the public's understanding of the artist's persona. And he discusses the nature of her fame: "O'Keeffe was a figure with a national renown that cut through art circles and reached the widest public -- a public that often had little or no interest in the art world. O'Keeffe's fame was special in that it was based equally on what people knew of her work and of her life."
Vogue, perhaps more than any other popular magazine, was fascinated by O'Keeffe's celebrity status late in her life. In 1967 the magazine featured an article with illustrated with photographs of her homes at Abiquiu and the Ghost Ranch by Cecil Beaton. Although the article begins: "Georgia O'Keeffe's name is engraved on the cornerstone of modern American art," it goes on to claim that "her extraordinary contribution to twentieth-century art [has been] obscured by her fame." The piece provided readers with details of her relationship with Stieglitz, her move to the Southwest, a discussion of her role as a woman artist and place among contemporary abstract artists, and it even described the modern décor of her adobe houses. Like any good celebrity piece, it also provided Vogue's readers with an insider's look at her lifestyle: "O'Keeffe can (their emphasis) kill a rattlesnake, even in her eightieth year...she rides from the new house in Abiquiu to her first Western home, the Ghost Ranch, in an air-conditioned automobile like any other sensible Westerner. She rises early, eats lightly, has a figure any woman more than half her age would envy, dresses classically, simply...No provincial in any sense, but thoroughly sophisticated, she has always been more modern than her contemporaries."
That same interest in O'Keeffe's personal life permeates art historian Barbara Rose's two feature articles on the artist that appeared in Vogue in 1986 and 1987. The first is a memorial piece following the artist's death at age ninety-nine and the second, a reminiscence about Rose's visit with O'Keeffe in the 1960s. Titled "The Self, The Style, The Art of Georgia O'Keeffe," the later article is full of anecdotal incident and speculation about the nature of her fame. The artist "remains as much a mystery and a myth as she was when she was alive, controlling everything that was published about her work, and, wherever possible, what was written about herself. The making of that myth was one of O'Keeffe's greatest creations." Illustrated by one of her famous flower paintings and a Stieglitz photograph of her bare breasts and hand, Rose's essay concludes: "Her painting and her persona together provide a lasting drama of artistic and human interest. She wanted to leave an indelible mark of her identity and vision of the world. She did it by understanding the concept of style and creating her own unforgettable personal version of it."
5. "Ruler of the Art World:" O'Keeffe and Popular Culture
The famed artist and publicity addict, Andy Warhol invited the aging O'Keeffe to take part in an interview and photography session for his magazine Interview in January of 1983. Recently described as the "crystal ball of pop culture," his trendy magazine featured articles and images of all kinds of celebrities from the world of fashion, politics, society, and the arts. In addition to O'Keeffe, the rather idiosyncratic group of artists that Warhol interviewed over the years included Salvador Dali, Bruce Nauman, Jamie Wyeth, William Wegman, Robert Rauschenberg, and David Hockney. O'Keeffe lacked the edginess and hip quality of Warhol's usual subjects and at the age of ninety three, required assistance from Juan Hamilton to answer Warhol's queries. According to Hamilton, later she was annoyed that her portraits were reproduced without her permission and scoffed at the notion that she and Warhol should exchange paintings, saying that her work didn't belong in Andy Warhol's house.
In addition to the photographs of O'Keeffe and Hamilton by Christopher Makos that appeared in the magazine, Warhol took informal Polaroid portraits of O'Keeffe, one of them showing the artist, grim-faced with her arms folded, seated next to a pile of cardboard boxes. Warhol used another, more frontal photograph of O'Keeffe as the basis for a series of silk-screen prints, reversing the tonal relationship in the image so that the print appears to be a colored negative, exploiting the photographic properties of his source (fig. 64). He also experimented with the colors, making three versions of the O'Keeffe portrait: one in black on peach paper, another in orange on cream paper, and the third in blue on black paper with diamond dust sprinkled on the surface. Warhol used diamond dust in several other celebrity portraits, such as those of the artist Joseph Beuys and Senator Edward Kennedy; and it figures prominently in his Myth series, prints that included pop culture icons such as Uncle Sam, Mickey Mouse, and a Warhol self-portrait in the guise of the radio-play character know as the "Shadow."
If the company that O'Keeffe keeps in Warhol's "glitterati" world seems odd, the interview itself, conducted over lunch in Warhol's studio, was even stranger. It began with O'Keeffe saying that she felt lost without her cane; to which Warhol responded solicitously: "You have me. You can use me as a cane." Throughout the interview, Juan Hamilton prompted O'Keeffe's answers to the questions that Warhol posed, most of which had little to do with her art and more to do with famous people she knew, such as the architect Philip Johnson, the cosmetics maven Elizabeth Arden, and fashion designer Calvin Klein. In talking about her failing eyesight, the artist seems frail and dependent on Hamilton for direction. And in the resulting print series, her identity is almost lost, her facial features described in an eerie black and her clothes in uncharacteristically bright colors. She would be unrecognizable except for the myriad photographic portraits that preceded Warhol's image.
Like Chairman Mao and Marilyn Monroe, O'Keeffe entered Warhol's galaxy of stars because of her pre-existing celebrity status, made possible through photography. As Barbara Rose astutely noted, O'Keeffe created her own public persona, "the same way Andy Warhol became larger than life, by imitating the image-making that creates stars." The degree to which these two artists share their fame in the realm of pop culture is illustrated by an inexpensive museum store tchotchke, a wooden ruler that lists chronologically the "Rulers of the Art World" from Apelles to Warhol. Among the thirty-six artists listed, Warhol and O'Keeffe are the only twentieth-century American artists. A further example of the degree to which O'Keeffe has become an icon of American pop culture today is evident in a food counter at the San Francisco airport, where John Loengard's portrait of the artist (fig.1) serves as the menu marker for the "O'Keeffe Sandwich" -- an overstuffed concoction of turkey, ham, cheese, lettuce, and tomato, of which the abstemious artist would have no doubt disapproved. As the title of a Ms. magazine review of O'Keeffe biographies suggests -- "Georgia on Our Mind, Portrait of the artist as a pop star" -- her image also resonates in the world of contemporary music.
For the most part, however, O'Keeffe's lasting fame rests on the strength of her work and the romantic story of her life. Photographs made by her art dealer-husband, her friends, celebrity portraitists, and photojournalists all serve to tell various versions of that tale. In the 1920s, it was Stieglitz's version of O'Keeffe's life, told through the eyes of a modern art impresario and impassioned lover, which captured the critics' attention and the press. Gradually, however, O'Keeffe took control of the image-making apparatus that increasingly surrounded her career after 1930. The work of other well-known art photographers, who eventually became friends such as Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and Todd Webb, served to create a new identity for the artist. Enthralled by the culture and landscape of the southwest and successful in promoting her art, by the 1940s, O'Keeffe emerged as an independent spirit and a venerated older woman. Realizing the potential for disseminating such images in the popular press, she posed for the leading celebrity portraitists of her day including Yousuf Karsh, Arnold Newman, and Irving Penn. By allowing magazine photographers into her two homes at Abiquiu and the Ghost Ranch, O'Keeffe further supplied the public with views and written descriptions of her private world. Fusing traditional New Mexican architecture with her taste for modern design, O'Keeffe's homes came to represent Santa Fe modernism -- simple, planar, organic architectural form that provided the perfect domestic setting for her paintings. By consciously cultivating press coverage of her career and her lifestyle, O'Keeffe achieved and maintained celebrity status for decades, not only in the art world, but also in the population at large. O'Keeffe's astute understanding of the power of the photographic image became a critical tool in fashioning her popular identity and a key to her abiding fame.
About the author
Susan Danly is Curator of Graphics, Photography, and Contemporary Art, Portland Museum of Art.
About the Catalogue
The exhibition Georgia O'Keeffe and the Camera: The Art of Identity is accompanied by a 2008 catalogue of the same name published by Yale University Press, 136 pages, ISBN:0300126824, featuring all the works in the exhibition and essays from Susan Danly and Barbara Buhler Lynes. The catalogue is available in the Museum Store.
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Resource Library editor's note:
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on July 5, 2008, with permission of the author and Portland Museum of Art, which was granted to TFAO on June 30, 2008.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Kristen Levesque, Director of Marketing and Public Relations and Jacqueline Richardson, Marketing and Public Relations Assistant at the Portland Museum of Art, for their help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.
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