GEORGIA O'KEEFFE, A PRIVATE FRIENDSHIP, PART II
Walking the Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch Land
In Georgia O’Keeffe, A Private Friendship, Part II, Walking the Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch Land, I write of Georgia’s life when my family met her and afterwards.
To know Georgia in these later days is to chronicle the historical experiences of her times when she met the colorful beauty of the Texas and New Mexico plains.
As a young girl Georgia enjoyed the flat marshland of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. After her role-model mother’s death in May 1916, Georgia combined her art with a teaching career. In late August of the same year she moved to Canyon, Texas, nestled in the middle of the Texas Panhandle. That October her sister, Claudia, moved to live with her. The sisters ventured to New Mexico for the first time in August 1917. Georgia’s instant love of New Mexico compelled her to return again and again to the expanses of earth and sky complete with dramatic lighting that further glorified the rich colors and sculpted outcroppings.
As a young boy my uncle, Winfield Morten, came from the black land prairie of Dallas, Texas, to New Mexico with his family about the same time as Georgia.
A mutual appreciation of the clear, pristine visual impressions of the New Mexico landscape drew Georgia O’Keeffe as well as my aunt and uncle, Helen and Winfield, to an area where they were neighbors across the Chama River (Tewa for “red river” or “here they have wrestled”) at Abiquiu (Tewa for “timber point”).
Abiquiu is a tiny village forty-six miles north of Santa Fe (the site of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum) and five miles southeast of the ancient land known as Piedra Lumbre (Shining Stone), a one-hundred-square-mile high desert.
When I was a young girl, my parents, Pauline and Hal Hopkins, my mother’s sister and her husband, Aunt Helen and Uncle Winfield, and their friends welcomed me into their social life because they easily accepted different generations. They expected me to conduct myself properly although they never instructed me. Their conversations and storytelling reverberated with gusto, but always with my presence in mind. They never told me to leave the room. I absorbed the stories with the clear, unencumbered insight of a young girl.
When Georgia joined our social life I also became a privileged participant. As the years passed, the stories of the times Georgia and my family functioned as a part of each other’s world percolated through my mind and memory. As others documented Georgia’s life, it became clear that these select, private stories of Georgia and my family were for me to tell.
Aiding in the telling of these stories were the mementoes and letters Georgia presented Aunt Helen and Uncle Winfield and the letters and snapshots my family saved, all carefully collected and placed in an envelope with Uncle Winfield’s slanted handwritten notation on the front: “Important—Georgia O’Keeffe.” Eventually I acquired the envelope for safekeeping, with no instructions. Everyday mementoes filled the envelope: an invitation to the members’ preview at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 3, 1960, of Georgia’s retrospective exhibition, “Georgia O’Keeffe: Forty Years of Her Art”; letters to Aunt Helen and Uncle Winfield; and snapshots of Georgia and my family.
The mementoes serve as a reminder of events worth remembering. These keepsakes, a vestige of the times, catalogue Georgia’s decisions. The letters, the usual method of communicating at that time, supply evidence of the high regard Georgia and my family had for each other as they dealt with small and personal matters. The snapshots provide proof of my family’s and Georgia’s passion for life by recording the experiences of their friendship. These detailed snapshots occupy a proper and legitimate place as a record made by my family. Our snapshots also remind me of an ordinary but particular time. These little icons from a photographer’s darkroom don’t compete for attention with fine art photography but do add dimension to the variety of Georgia’s life.
All these materials from my envelope, viewed once so casually, now provide a real and worthy interpretation of the shaping of our relationship during the times we were a part of each other’s worlds.
These materials led to further research. But as I searched for additional facts to avoid repeating what others have written, every discovery suggested that my story is about more than Georgia and our family. Not to be forgotten is the essence of the land, with its distinct interaction of history, people, and cultures.
Already there exists a plethora of biographies, critical books, and essays on Georgia, some based on facts while others are based on speculation. In her later years Georgia even wrote of herself and would regret not keeping a journal to get it right.
As a child and adolescent I had a certain impression of Georgia that conflicted with how she was portrayed. In my research, for example, I discovered that Georgia had many friends for someone who claimed people “bothered” her. In my opinion, her friendliness emerged in her own way, but she chose isolation to stay focused on the force of her creativity.
With my experiences, mementoes, research, and discoveries, I have attempted to reconcile the differences between what I experienced as a child with unadorned vision and today’s icon status projected on her in the minds of so many.
I hope the reader will read these recollections of walking the land, perhaps, if lucky, by the light of a New Mexican sunrise or sunset or in the glow of a piñon fire tucked into an adobe fireplace. Wherever the reading, I have not presented Georgia as a bigger-than-life persona with distracting myths that sacrifice her humanity. I knew Georgia as a woman who only wanted freedom to put her easily-seen perceptions into a visual language focusing only on the essentials, and for her neighbors and friends to call her “Georgia.”
Time has not distracted me from telling of the Abiquiu neighbor we called Georgia