Georgia Okeeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe Georgia Totto O’Keeffe was born in the year on November 15, 1887. She was one of seven children and spent most of her childhood on a farm, with the typical farm animals and rolling hills. O’Keeffe’s aunt, not her mother, was mostly responsible for raising her. O’Keeffe did not care much for her aunt, she once referred to her as, “the headache of my life.” She did, however, have some admiration for her aunt’s strict and self disciplined character. O’Keeffe was given her own room and less responsibility.

The younger sisters had to do more chores and share close living conditions. A younger sister stated that O’Keeffe always wanted things her way, and if she didn’t get them her way, “she’d raise the devil.” It was found through family and friends that O’Keeffe was like this throughout much of her life. O’Keeffe began her training early with private art lessons at home. The foundation of her future as an artist was made. When O’Keeffe was in the eighth grade she asked a daughter of a farm employee what she was going to do when she grew up.

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The girl said she didn’t know. O’Keeffe replied very definitely, “..I am going to be an artist!”–“I don’t really know where I got my artist idea..I only know that by that time it was definitely settled in my mind.” She entered the Sacred Heart Academy, an art school in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1901. At school she discovered her blooming talent for artwork. Her art seemed to be the only stable element in O’Keeffe’s younger life. In 1902 her parents moved to Virginia and were joined by the children in 1903.

By the age of 16, O’Keeffe had 5 years of private art lessons at various schools in Wisconsin and Virginia. One particular teacher, Elizabeth Willis, encouraged her to work at her own pace and granted her opportunities that the other students felt were unfair. At times she would work intensely, and at other times she would not work for days. When it was brought to the attention of the principal, she would reply..”When the spirit moves Georgia, she can do more in a day than you can do in a week” After receiving her diploma in 1905 she left for Chicago to live with her aunt and attend the Art Institute of Chicago. She did not return to the Institute the following year after getting Typhoid Fever. Instead, in 1907 she enrolled at the Art Student League in New York City.

Discouraged with her work, she did not return to the League in the fall of 1908, but moved back to Chicago and found work as a commercial artist. During this period O’Keeffe did not pick up a brush, and said that the smell of turpentine made her sick. She moved back to her family in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1909 and later enrolled at a nearby college. In 1912 a friend in Texas wrote to her explaining of a teaching position was open in Amarillo, Texas for a “drawing supervisor”. O’Keeffe applied for the position and was hired for the fall semester. O’Keeffe also made trips to Virginia in the summer months to teach at the University of Virginia.

She would remain working at Amarillo until 1914. After resigning her job in Amarillo, O’Keeffe moved to New York City to attend Columbia Teachers College until accepting a teaching position at Columbia College in South Carolina. Having a light schedule, she felt it would be an ideal job that would give her time to paint. It was at this time that she left behind all she had been taught about in regards to painting and began to paint as she felt. “I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me..shapes and ideas so near to natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down..” During her summers, she studied and taught art at the University of Virginia, working with Alon Bement, who introduced her to the theories of Arthur Wesley Dow.

Returning to New York in 1914, she enrolled at Columbia Teachers College to study under Dow, whom she later credited as the strongest influence on the development of her art. In 1916, O’Keeffe’s friend Anita Politzer showed some of these abstract drawings to photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who exhibited them at his avant garde gallery 291, on Fifth Avenue in New York. He exclaimed, “At last, a woman on paper!” and told Anita the drawings were the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while.”. He explained that he would like to show them. O’Keeffe had first visited 291 in 1908, and later on several occasions, but had never talked with Stieglitz, although she had high regard for his opinions as a critic, “I believe I would rather have Stieglitz like something..anything I had done..than anyone else I know of..”.

In April Stieglitz exhibited 10 of her drawings, and she had not been consulted before the exhibit and only learned about it through an acquaintance. She confronted Stieglitz for the first time over the drawings and later agreeing to let them hang in his gallery. Needing a job, and missing the wide, flat spaces of northern Texas, Georgia accepted a teaching job at West Texas State Normal College in the fall of 1916. While in Texas she would often make trips to the nearby Palo Duro Canyon, hiking down the steep slopes to observe the sandstone formations. At least 50 watercolors were painted during the time spent in Canyon, Texas.

“It was all so far away..there was quiet and an untouched feel to the country and I could work as I pleased.” Georgia’s first solo show opened at the 291 gallery in April 1917. Most of the exhibit had been these watercolors from Texas. After the show Stieglitz decided to close 291 due to financial difficulties but said, “Well I’m through..but I have given the world a woman.” During the winter Georgia became ill with a flu that was sweeping …


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