I remember reading a while ago that the record for the most expensive painting by a woman artist belongs to Georgia O'Keeffe -- in 2014, Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1 (1932), sold for $44.4 million. At the time of this writing, the record still stands.

Cerro Pedernal, near Abiquiu, New Mexico

My first encounter with O'Keeffe was much earlier, through her flowers, two oriental poppies, printed in a wall calendar seen at the now long gone Borders. The colors and the close up were so striking that even in the abundance of images in the crowded bookstore,  I could not take my eyes off them. I thought they were extraordinary. I did not need a wall calendar, but I bought it anyway and framed the poppies photo, I paid more on the mating and the frame that on the calendar itself. Since then, in every place I've lived, I've always had an O'Keeffe flower hanging. I gradually got to know her work -- the flowers, the bones, the shells, the crosses, the hills, the clouds, and  her beloved Pedernal. It was my love for Georgia O'Keefe's paintings and my desire to see her home studio in Abiquiu, near Santa Fe, that started my love affair with New Mexico.

I was not new to the Southwest landscape; before my first trip to New Mexico I had driven through Arizona and Utah to see most of National  and Tribal Parks and had taken hundreds if not thousands of photos of red and yellow landscape in different light intensities. I was already sold to the wide open spaces, blue skies, and white cotton clouds. But New Mexico turned up to be more than just that. While I love driving, for a change of pace, at my first trip to New Mexico, I decided not to get a car and instead take the Rail Runner from Albequerque to Santa Fe to experience the scenic views for the unbelievable price of only 10 dollars. I remember not expecting the green, nor the mountains. The Rail Runner passes through little pueblo villages to arrive in Santa Fe in the historic Railyard District, a picturesque part of the city. I left my luggage at the hotel and walked to Santa Fe Plaza, then picked some random bar that had a rooftop facing the plaza, finally relaxing after a long day. My first memories of Santa Fe are the sunset dying over the St. Francis Cathedral at the end of the street, into a warm yellow, the drips on the beer glass sitting on the table, cold and inviting, the view on the plaza from the rooftop, the cool afternoon wind, the dry air, the small talk around. It was love at first sight. 

        Joyful Empowerment,     
Angela De la Vega
Not getting a car turned up not to work well with the plan to see Georgia O'Keefe's studio, as Abiquiu lies about 50 miles outside Santa Fe, I should have done more research. This started one of the traditions for my trips to New Mexico,   I always leave something to see for next year, to have reasons to come back. My first time there I spend my time walking the streets and open markets, visiting museums and art galleries, and checking the food at the numerous and amazing restaurants. I discovered adobe houses and their polished landscapes, and  Canyon Road, a unique street hosting numerous art galleries and jewelry stores in about 2 miles. There were two pieces that I absolutely loved. The first one was a sculpture of a little girl on top of the world by Angela Mia De La Vega, the other one was a photo of a horse at the Kat Livengood Photography studio. I felt inspired to be surrounded by so much beauty. 

Tent Rocks National Monument
I got to see Georgia O'Keeffe's studio  the year after and I loved it. Its white walls and simplicity of the interior, the stones laid out everywhere, the adobe walls, the magic door that made her buy the house in the first place.   I loved the surrounding landscape even more -- this made me in the following years to take trips to see the dwellings around at Puye Cliff and Bandelier National Monument, as well as the spectacular Chaco Canyon, and the beautiful Taos Pueblo up North. I got to never stop smiling while hiking the amazing Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument or wandering through White Sands National Park.

Santa Fe has many  museums (another passion of mine) and they are all worth seeing: the Georgia O'Keeffe museum of course, New Mexico Museum of Art, New Mexico History Museum (my favorite) and the Palace of the Governors -- all located downtown Santa Fe, then there is the Museum Hill where the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (also a favorite of mine) and the Museum of International Folk Art and Museum of Spanish Colonial Art are located. Finally, I have to mention Meow Wolf, not a museum, but a place so unique that all I can say is go see it

The food and drinks are another big attraction in Santa Fe. There is a long list, but you can never go wrong with Cafe Pasqual, la Plazuela (the vegetarian dish there is one of the best I have ever had), drinks on top of La Fonda, or Coyote Cantina (the restaurant is also great), cocktails  at Secreto Lounge at St. Francis Hotel. (These are all places frequented by tourists downtown Santa Fe, but there are so many local places that are amazing.).

At Georgia O'Keeffe's home in Abiquiu,
New Mexico
That first summer in New Mexico, I also got to read O'Keeffe's biography (by Roxana Robinson).  The book is detailed, rendering the context of the time, marking when each painting was created. It is full of quotes, O'Keeffe wrote lots of letters to her husband, family, and friends. There was a Midwest connection and a Chicago connection, a place so dear to my heart. You get a sense of the person, with both its positives and negatives, moments when she took a stand like when she refused to change her name after marriage or she sent a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, she fought for her independence as a woman, and artist; but she also stayed in a marriage  in spite of public cheating, she was too unforgiven sometimes, or too trusting towards the end of her life. I loved to see how much driving (and the independence that came with it) meant to her, how much she adored the Southwest open landscape traveling there every year at a time when traveling was not easy, making it her home in the end. I loved how much painting meant to her.

"In many ways, Georgia O'Keeffe was an exemplar. Simply by its existence, example is enabling. The fact of it permits other people to behave in a similar manner. Georgia O'Keeffe, by her example, gave permission to following generations of women to give work priority in their life, to consider it crucial." (Georgia O'Keeffe - A Life; Roxana Robinson).

When the last page was over, up close, Georgia O'Keffee and her life looked just like her flowers, extraordinary.

Museums: Georgia O'Keffee museum, New Mexico History Museum, Museum on Indian Arts and Culture, Palace of the Governors, New Mexico Museum of Art.

Around: Bandelier National Monument, Chaco Canyon, Kasha-Katuwe National Monument, Puye Cliffs, El Santuario de Chimayo, Georgia O'Keffee's home and studio in Abiquiu

To do: Meow Wolf, Art Galleries on Canyon Road


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