Georgia On My Mind

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Since Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) is one of the most popular American artists, it's no wonder she's also one of the most requested artists on "Feel Art Again," with votes from readers Gillian, nutmeag, Nerak, and AMT. While most of you have seen at least one of her paintings before, there's much you probably don't know about this iconic painter.

1. Georgia O'Keeffe could trace her American roots all the way back to the Mayflower, which one of her ancestors, Edward Fuller, traveled on to reach the New World. He was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact.

2. Her high school years were a bit crazy, with stints at Sacred Heart Academy (where she was a boarder), Madison High School, and Chatham Episcopal Institute (where she was again a boarder), and a move from Wisconsin to Virginia, O'Keeffe still managed to serve as art editor of her senior year yearbook, the Mortar Board, at Chatham Episcopal.

3. Any account of O'Keeffe's life will always make mention of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. Many fail to mention, though, that Stieglitz began living with O'Keeffe while he was still married to his first wife, Emmeline, and that he married O'Keeffe only a few months after his divorce from Emmeline was finalized.

4. O'Keeffe was one of the few female artists who enjoyed great success and wealth during her lifetime. In 1928, the sale of six of her calla lily paintings for $25,000 set a record at the time for the largest sum ever paid for a group of paintings by a living American artist. She received two very large, important commissions: a $1,500 mural commission for Radio City Music Hall and a $10,000 commission from Elizabeth Arden for a large painting to hang in a New York "exercise salon." The Museum of Modern Art honored her with a one-woman retrospective in 1946, their first ever retrospective for a female artist. And, of course, the awards rolled her way, with the Medal of Honor from President Gerald Ford and the Medal of the Arts from President Ronald Reagan, as well as 10 honorary degrees from various schools.

5. Although O'Keeffe is most famous for her large paintings of flowers (like "Light Iris" above), she also painted many scenes of 1920s New York City (like "The Radiator Building At Night" above). Apparently she didn't even like flowers all that much, as she was quoted saying, "I hate flowers. I only paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move."

6. Like any fabulously successful artist, O'Keeffe's circle of friends included quite a few famous faces. In addition to Stieglitz, who, as a photographer, enjoyed success on par with O'Keeffe's, her regular crowd included the photographer Paul Strand and his wife, artist Rebecca Strand. She was visited in New Mexico by D.H. Lawrence and the Charles Lindberghs, among others, and she met Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera during a trip to Mexico in 1951.

A larger version of "Light Iris" (1924) is available here; a larger version of "The Radiator Building At Night" (1927) is available here.

Fans should check out the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; the Norton Museum of Art's video on an O'Keeffe exhibit; this PBS special on her life in New Mexico; and, for the kids, this O'Keeffe guide from the National Gallery of Art.

Current O'Keeffe Exhibits:
Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities (Santa Fe, NM: through September 7, 2008)
Georgia O'Keeffe and the Camera (Portland, ME: through September 7, 2008)
Georgia O'Keeffe and the Women of the Stieglitz Circle (San Diego: through September 28, 2008)

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. E-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current art exhibitions or suggestions of artists.

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June 24, 2008 - 2:48am
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