Georgia O'Keeffe

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Georgia O'Keeffe was born on November 15,1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, the second of seven children. Her father was Irish, her mother Hungarian. She spent her childhood years on the family's 600-acre dairy farm and made her first drawings while attending parochial schools in Wisconsin and Virginia. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago during 1905-06, and then went to New York City, attending classes at the Art Students League with William Merrit Chase and Kenyon Cox during the years 1907-08.

In 1908, O'Keeffe moved to Chicago to work as a commercial artist. She initially supported herself by drawing lace and embroidery for advertisements. However, in 1910, when her eyesight began to suffer after a bout of measles, she gave up her commercial work and joined her family who had relocated to Virginia. Two years later she revived her interest in painting when she visited Alon Bement's art classes at the University of Virginia. Bement introduced O'Keeffe to the theories of Arthur Wesley Dow. After a short time teaching in Amarillo, Tx she returned to NY in 1914 to study with Dow at Columbia Teachers College.

In 1915 while teaching art at Columbia College in Columbia, SC, she produced a series of abstract charcoal drawings and her friend Anita Pollitzer showed them to dealer-photographer Alfred Stieglitz. He gave O'Keeffe her first solo exhibition at his avant-garde gallery, 291. During that year, she began posing for him, resulting in some of the most remarkable photographs in history.

In 1924 she married Stieglitz who was sixty years old. They were very much in love and the photographs he took of her, which ranged from prim schoolteacher to provocative nudes, were a great poem of love. Yet throughout their marriage she remained true to herself. She wanted to live in the West; he would not live there, so she spent her summers in New Mexico and her winters in New York City with him. They wrote to each other regularly (3400 letters altogether) and he continued to show her work in his gallery. One aspect of their relationship that undoubtedly kept them apart was his refusal to allow her to have children. Gradually, their intimacy waned. In the summer of 1946 she received word while in New Mexico that Stieglitz was in a coma and she returned to NY. After finding a simple pine coffin, and tearing out its offensive pink satin lining, she stitched in one of pure white linen. After two years of settling his estate, she moved back to New Mexico.

O'Keeffe first went to New Mexico in 1929 as the guest of famed patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan. After Stieglitz's death she settled in Abiquiu, a house that was almost inhabitable but was high on a plateau which she had fallen in love with. After much negotiating, she bought the property for $10. She lived and painted at Ghost Ranch while Abiquiu was being refurbished.

She stopped painting regularly when her eyesight began to fail in the early 1970s. Juan Hamilton, a sculptor and ceramist began working as her assistant and companion in 1972; he tried to interest her in making pottery, but was not very successful. He was a married man with two children, earnest and sincere although inclined to be arrogant. But he was a great help to her in every possible way and he worked for her for fourteen years.

O'Keeffe became more and more frail, less able to see; she died at the age of ninety-eight on March 7, 1986.