Georgia O’Keeffe | New Readings and Insights

A new book sheds new light on the relationship between Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz

When we think of Georgia O’Keeffe, most of us think first of her early work: the  monumental close-ups of flowers that stunned the New York art scene. We think next of the landscapes and desert bones inspired by the American Southwest—a part of the country that enchanted the artist and became her home until the end of her long life in 1996. The other subject most quickly associated with O’Keeffe is her husband, the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz. And a new book of collected letters between the two artists sheds new light on their intriguing relationship. You can read an excerpt from the book and hear Susan Stamberg’s fascinating piece for the July 21 “Morning Edition” on National Public radio on the NPR website.

Most don’t associate O’Keeffe with pastels, but the artist did employ the medium. As Tamera Lenz Muente writes in “The Faraway Nearby,” a Master Class article in the August issue of The Pastel Journal:

Though she painted mostly in oils, O’Keeffe experimented with multiple media throughout her career, including charcoal, watercolors and pastels. But, pastels would be the only medium other than oil that she turned to regularly over the years. Pastels offered her almost pure pigment and the ability to blur or harden edges.

Her fingerprints are often visible in her pastels, indicating that she often pressed the pigment into the paper. While O’Keeffe almost never allowed people to observe her working, paper conservator Judith Walsh closely analyzed the artist’s working methods for an exhibition catalogue of O’Keeffe’s works on paper in 2000.

According to Walsh, in one landscape of the red hills, O’Keeffe began with a preliminary drawing with cream-colored chalk and used her finger or a brush to smooth the pastels on top. Based on a 1945 photograph of the studio at Ghost Ranch, it appears that O’Keeffe clamped her pastels onto a board on an easel and made a palette of sorts by spreading out selected pastel sticks on paper and coloring a small area to show each color.

It also seems she had made some of her pastels herself, as suggested by rounded chunks of pigment. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe has preserved her art materials, which illustrate the way she organized hundreds of pastel sticks made by various manufacturers, grouping them in boxes labeled by color.

To read the entire article about O’Keeffe in The Pastel Journal, check out the latest issue .

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