Artist Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the most photographed women of her era. Her husband Alfred Stieglitz alone took more than 300 pictures of her long before the selfie era. In one photograph that he didn’t take, all you can see is her left hand. In that hand is a smooth black rock. The story of her and the rock began on a float trip.
Georgia O’Keeffe was rafting on a river with photographer Eliot Porter. During their adventure, he found that smooth black rock and kept it. She was also a rock collector and she liked Eliot’s rock.
Eliot and his wife invited O’Keeffe to Thanksgiving dinner. While they were in the kitchen preparing food, the rock disappeared from the living room where O’Keeffe was. The next time Eliot saw his rock, it was in her hand in a photo in Life Magazine. She said it was her favorite. This was in 1966, 17 years after she permanently moved to New Mexico. She relocated there after Stieglitz’s death because, “It’s so beautiful there. It’s ridiculous.” I agree.
Georgia O’Keeffe doesn’t tend to inspire neutrality. She’s one of those artists whom people either really admire or don’t like. I’m with the admirers. The don’t-likes frequently say that her creations-often enormous flowers, adobe walls with a shadow crossing them, etc.-are too simple, too facile; but each received careful preparation and planning. They tended toward abstraction, but O’Keeffe labored over each one. The essential elements she considered paramount in every painting were line, color, and composition.
One of the best things I saw in the excellent Georgia O’Keeffe Museum at 217 Johnson Street in Santa Fe last summer was her beat-up, well-used box of art materials. I hadn’t been in this museum for many years and was pleased to discover that it was even better, and far more crowded, than I remembered. It has become a 5 Compass Santa Fe attraction, but don’t expect to park anywhere near it. It’s not too far, however, from the Governor’s Palace and far better to walk to it.
Like a child, I really appreciate O’Keeffe’s bold images like Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur painted in 1930. Ruth likes her too and often uses her in the classroom to teach students about art. Children really respond to O’Keeffe’s in-your-face paintings. They love to collect things too and respond to nature. Georgia said that nature was the true source of her art. Like Ruth, Georgia taught school in Canyon, Texas, before marrying Stieglitz and becoming photographed and famous.
Eliot Porter reportedly introduced color to landscape photography. He loved taking pictures of nature, and I can see why he and O’Keeffe were friends. But I wonder if he and his wife ever invited her to Thanksgiving dinner again and if she eventually told him that she had stolen his rock on Thanksgiving Day?