Georgia O’Keeffe was born on a Wisconsin farm in 1887. The closest town was called Sun Prairie. O’Keeffe knew at a fairly early age that she wanted to be an artist and enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1904 until a bout of typhoid caused her to drop out. Upon her recovery, rather than returning to Chicago, she moved to New York, where she enrolled in the Art Students League. Feeling she didn’t have what it took to be a painter, she moved to the south and made a living, first as a commercial artist and later as an art teacher. Rededicating herself to art in 1914, she took a teaching position at Columbia College in South Carolina, where she felt the easy teaching load would give her time to devote to drawing.
In 1916, Alfred Stieglitz came across her drawings and arranged for a show, exclaiming, “At last a woman on paper!” They married in 1924, and had a lifelong companionship documented by hundreds of photographs Stieglitz took of O’Keeffe. The relationship had many ups and downs, but through it all, Georgia painted, taking trips to the Southwest to give herself and her husband the emotional space they each needed. The terrain would increasingly come to dominate her work.
Upon Stieglitz’s death in 1946, O’Keeffe moved to Santa Fe, where she purchased Ghost Ranch and opened her own gallery, An American Place. O’Keeffe loved the light and lines of her ranch, living there in her treasured privacy, painting up to her death at age ninety-nine. She won many awards, including the Medal of Freedom in 1977, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and her works grace many of the most prestigious museums around the world.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s style is unique; her paintings are at once both stark and rich. Her precise brush strokes applied to organic forms, flowers, skulls, and rocks overlaid with luminous color washes command the eye. Ever an iconoclast, Georgia O’Keeffe lived, and painted, by her own rules.
Regarded as one of the most important women artists of the twentieth century, she laid important groundwork for the ambitions of women artists simply by pursuing her singular vision. In 1930, O’Keeffe shared her thoughts on feminism, forty years before the second wave of activism. “I am interested in the oppression of women of all classes…though not nearly so definitely and so consistently as I am in the abstraction in my painting because the past has left us so small an inheritance of women’s painting that has widened life…Before I put a brush to canvas I question, ‘Is this mine? Is it all intrinsically of myself? Is it influenced by some idea or some photograph of an idea which I have acquired from some man?’ That too implied a social consciousness, a social struggle. I am trying with all my skill to do painting that is all of a woman, as well as all of me.”
“I am going to be an artist!”
— Georgia O’Keeffe at age eight,
when asked what she was going to be when she grew up
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