Since her death 30 years ago at the ripe old age of 98, the life and work of American artist Georgia O'Keeffe continues to fascinate biographers, art historians, filmmakers and novelists alike. Discover Georgia O'Keeffe at your local Manatee County Public Library.
Sometimes a good way to inspire interest in reading a nonfiction title about someone is to first read a novel or watch a film based on their life. Just published this past February, "Georgia: a novel of Georgia O'Keeffe," by Dawn Tripp brings the artist fully to life on every page in this first-person novel that has been called, "A dazzling exploration of Georgia O'Keeffe's artistic career and the deeply human woman behind the cultural icon." Tripp's writing style is poetic and romantic, flowing as smoothly as O'Keeffe's brushstrokes.
Known for her paintings of huge, sensual flowers (beautifully reproduced in "Georgia O'Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers," edited by Nicholas Callaway), skyscrapers and the New Mexico landscape, perhaps less well known is the intriguing story of her life.
Born in Sun Prairie, Wis., on Nov. 15, 1887, Georgia's love of nature developed early and like her mother and grandmother before her, Georgia was encouraged to take art training at a young age. When she was 14, she was criticized for a hand-drawing that was too small. She later said that this motivated her to never draw anything too small again. In high school, her art teacher showed the class a flower and carefully pointed out each detail. In Georgia's later paintings of poppies, calla lilies, roses and red cannas, that dedication to detail is evident. Her letters, "full of vivacity, keen insight, and hard thinking," and her art are both exquisitely captured in "Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Letters," by Jack Cowart and Juan Hamilton.
In 1905, she went to Chicago to study at the School of the Art Institute. When she was 28, Georgia hung all her paintings up and reviewed each one. She determined that each one of her paintings were derivative and destroyed every piece as mentioned in "Georgia O'Keeffe: An Eternal Spirit," by Susan Wright. This title in the "Great Masters" series provides a concise overview of O'Keeffe's life and work.
In 1915, Anita Pollitzer, a friend she met in an art class a year earlier, sent some of O'Keeffe's abstract art to photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, who was impressed with her and with her art. He is reported to have said, "Finally, a woman on paper!" Without waiting for her approval, he displayed her work at his studio, calmed her down when she found out about the show and persuaded her to let the exhibit continue. He convinced her to move to New York City and they were married in 1924. Pollitzer penned an affectionate memoir about her friend in "A Woman on Paper: Georgia O'Keefe."
In looking back on her career, Georgia once said that an artist's work was influenced heavily by where they were born and lived and her iconic paintings of flowers and Southwestern landscapes attest to the truth of that statement.
Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. You may also access the library via the Internet: mymanatee.org/library. Cathy Habora is a staff member at the Braden River Branch Library. Judy Mullen is the Assistant Supervisor at the Braden River branch library.