Georgia Totto O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
Georgia Totto O'Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887 in a large farmhouse on a dairy farm
in Wisconsin. She was born to Francis Calyxtus and Ida Totto O'Keeffe, both dairy farmers.
Ida, Georgia's mother was educated in the East and influenced her children greatly with the
importance of education. All but one O'keeffe daughter grew to become professional women,
which attests to the importance of education in the O'Keeffe home. By the time Georgia was
in the eight grade, she already knew she wanted to be an artist and shared this with the
daughter of a farm worker. Georgia asked the young girl what she wanted to be when she
grew up and when the young girl replied that she did not know, Georgia answered with a very
sure assertion that Georgia would be an artist.
Georgia's parents moved to Virginia in 1902 and were later joined by their children in 1903.
After receiving her diploma in 1905, she left for Chicago to attend the Art Institute of Chicago.
After a bout with Typhoid fever she did not return to the Institute but rather she enrolled at the
Art Student League in NYC in 1907. After spending a bit of time at the League she became
discouraged with her work and did not return the following fall of 1908. She moved to
Chicago for a short time and did commercial work before moving back home to
Williamsburg with her family in 1909.
Georgia took a teaching job in 1912 in Texas and stayed there until 1914. Soon thereafter she
moved to NYC to attend Columbia Teachers College until accepting another teaching job, this
time at Columbia College in South Carolina. During this time, she began to paint again, but
not as she had been taught. She, for the first time, painted what she felt. she was quoted
saying "I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me...shapes and
ideas so near to me...so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me
to put them down..."
Georgia's first solo show was in April 1917 at Alfred Stieglitz's 291 gallery in NYC, during this
time she was teaching at a college in Texas. In the winter of 1917 she resigned from her
teaching job and was then convinced by Stieglitz to move back to NYC, as he had since fallen
in love with Georgia.
Upon Georgia's arrival back in NYC her relationship with Stieglitz began to grow. They spent
much time at the Stieglitz family home on Lake George. This is where Georgia painted many
of her Lake George paintings and prints. Stieglitz was Georgia's most avid supporter and
took it upon himself to sell her paintings and arrange shows for her. By this time, Georgia
was known only as "O'Keeffe" and her artwork was quote expensive. Not only was it
expensive to buy her work, it was rather difficult as well due to Stieglitz's unclear standards
for owning one.
After Stieglitz's wife divorced him in 1924, he began to pressure O'Keeffe for marriage, but
she saw no reason for it as they had lived together since 1918. Finally she agreed and they
married in December. It was during the long and cold winter in New York that O'Keeffe began
painting her most famous pieces, her flowers.
By 1928 O'Keeffe needed a change of scenery in order to keep her prints and paintings fresh.
Stieglitz, who hated change of any type had no desire to leave the city. In May, 1929, Georgia
set out by train to New Mexico. This trip would inspire her and change her life forever.
O'Keeffe referred to the vast New Mexico desert as "the faraway" because with the thin and
dry air allowed her to see for miles and miles. At times he could even see several
approaching thunderstorms in the distance all at once. Georgia took many hiking trips
through the mountains and deserts in the area. Being somewhat of a loner, she went on
these excursions by herself, she even bought a Model A Ford and asked others to teach
her to drive it, which turned out to be a more difficult task than anticipated.
Georgia returned to the desert each summer until Stieglitz died in 1946, at which point she
returned permanently to New Mexico. Georgia continued to travel and paint until her eyesight
began to fail. During her 90's she became increasingly frail and on March 6, 1986 at the age
of 98 Georgia O'Keeffe died.