The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: A Sterling Silver Surprise

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a small, concise, sterling silver beauty. Of course, I’ve known of O’Keeffe’s art work for most of my life, but this museum really pulled together the various threads and stages of her career, giving a broad and deep view that I was delightfully surprised with.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum - Green and White - Oil on Canvas - 1957-1958
Georgia O’Keeffe, Green and White, Oil on Canvas, 1957/1958

The Museum opened in 1997, eleven years after the artist’s death. I heard from an informed person that the museum opened because another local museum just didn’t have the space to exhibit her art work and turned down the donation of pieces. I find this to be a happy mistake, since I believe O’Keeffe’s work should be honored and displayed as completely as possible.

Why, you might ask? Well, because I was surprised to be reminded of the various stages of O’Keeffe’s creative life. And pulled together in one space, I kept thinking, “Oh yes, I remember this style…and those paintings…and that stage!” Not all of her art work is of the sensual flower variety and you’d probably recognize many of her works with a little reminding.

For example, there’s the “My New Yorks” stage representing the period after she moved to NYC in 1918. These pieces are bold, solid, linear, and architecturally evocative.

From shortly before this period, though, there are a number of abstract nature paintings from her time in South Carolina. The lines in these paintings are far from linear and are more fluid and spiritual.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum - Machu Picchu I - Oil on Canvas - 1957
Georgia O’Keeffe, Machu Picchu I, Oil on Canvas, 1957

Of course, there’s a wide selection of paintings grouped together as “O’Keeffe’s New Mexico” and are probably more well-known to the general public. But still, they include her well-known flowers and the desert landscapes which often featured skulls and skies. In some ways, these could have been separated into two different groupings since each is so unique and distinct.

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum initially feels small, but the space really packs a punch. There isn’t a single painting or piece (like travel artifacts) that doesn’t carry immense weight – proportionally more than the space it takes up on the wall. In fact, the Museum has over 3,000 pieces, including 140 oil paintings and 700 drawings.

I look forward to going back some day. And the next time, I’ll plan to spend more than a few hours there since O’Keeffe’s work is really worth a slow, meditative meander.