Born in 1887, when most famous painters were men, Georgia O’Keeffe changed the way people thought about painters. In this Meet the Masters series, we celebrate this great American talent.
Although life on a Wisconsin dairy farm was not easy, Georgia took her role as second oldest of seven children very seriously. She worked hard, but carved out time to enjoy the wilderness. Georgia enjoyed spending hours among the apple trees, gazing at clouds or dismantling brightly colored flowers in order to fully examine their structure.
It wasn’t until she learned to draw Georgia was able to express the way nature made her feel.
By using an art instruction manual, she learned the fundamentals of drawing by copying cubes, squares and spheres. When Georgia’s mother recognized her daughter’s talent, she provided private lessons from a local artist, where Georgia was free to draw whatever she liked – choosing first an Arabian horse and a single red rose.
The freedom to express herself was short-lived when she was sent to Sacred Heart School at age 14. Although Georgia was crushed her new art teacher disapproved of her attempt at drawing a baby’s hand, she took the harsh criticism as a challenge. By the end of the year, Georgia received medals of honor for artistic improvement and exemplary behavior.
At her next school, Chatham, teachers gave Georgia total artistic freedom. Her academic life flourished, but her social life was bleak. Always the rebel, Georgia wore drab, loose fitting clothing, a stark contrast to the fancy ruffled dresses and elaborate ribbons worn by most of her schoolmates. Her appearance kept many potential friends at a distance, but her penchant for defying authority won over her schoolmates. She eventually became art editor of the school yearbook.
After graduating college and spending a year in New York, she moved to Chicago in 1908 and worked as an advertising agency freelance illustrator. She returned to art school in 1912, where her teacher taught that the goal of an artist is to express personal ideas and feelings.
O’Keeffe’s style began to blossom when she became an art teacher in Amarillo, Texas. Her skill made her a very popular teacher.
Although she enjoyed education, her desire for new experiences took her back to New York in 1914. After only a year there, Georgia felt the call to teach again and went to South Carolina. While there, she longed to develop her own style of expression.
She returned to Texas to teach, and once again the beauty of the west inspired her. In 1929, she took a trip to New Mexico. She felt at home at once. This trip inspired her to begin painting the close-up abstract depictions of flowers for which she become famous. After her husband’s death in 1946, Georgia bought a simple adobe house in New Mexico and spent the rest of her life there.
In her later years, O’Keeffe won many awards and honors. When she began to lose her eyesight, she embraced making pottery until her health failed in 1984. She died on March 6, 1986.
Georgia O’Keeffe is one of America’s most famous artists. Her paintings are simple, bold and beautiful. Her work, like other abstract artists, created bold impressions of real life. Her work continues to inspire many people, particularly women artists today.
Georgia O’Keeffe resources:
• In this YouTube video, Jill Lander teaches students to create their own O’Keeffe inspired flower, with paper, glue and chalk: bit.ly/30LmwQK.