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I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Georgia O'Keefe Alive at Ghost Ranch

"The winds blow hard and dry on the high Sonoran
desert. I have red clay coating the insides of my lungs,
my snot is red ochre, my ears are lined with the dirt of ancient
buttes and my skin resembles that of a lizard.  
But like holy water from the River Jordan, this dust immersion has
transformed me.  It is Georgia's soil and I have come
to breath it, bathe in it and let my soul absorb it in any way that it can.  
I've made my long awaited pilgrimage to the land that O'Keefe loved
and painted --- I have seen the light."

Thus began my notes a day after arriving at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.  My pilgrimage had begun in Winston Salem with the "Living Modern" exhibit at the Reynolda Museum.  I then gazed upon a crown jewel by her in the Crystal Bridges Museum.  We even camped at Palo Duro State Park where she loved to paint.  Now I was excited to spend several days at Ghost Ranch where O'keefe lived and painted for parts of every year from 1934 until frailty demanded a move to Sante Fe in 1984 (where she died at age 99 in 1986.)  She was a unique artist, a demanding, coy person with a wide streak of adventure.  She played it all by her rules and definitely close to the vest.  I was fascinated by her life and times and wanted to learn more.

If I had a fear of the place being too Disney-esque, it was quickly dispelled as we (finally) found the right hand turn which marked the entrance to the property.  Despite its wonderfully presented web site, Ghost Ranch still has that modest, rustic appeal that makes you believe those cattle rustlers (whose ghosts still haunt one of the cabins) could still be lurking on the grounds.  Now a site for education and retreats, the place offers several O'keefe themed "tours" as well as archeological and environmental ones. (The site has some of the oldest dinosaur fossils in the nation and has supplied several on-going study "blocks" to prestigious institutions. There is also a small but well presented museum that was built around one such 8 ton block so that visitors can observe the paleontologist working to uncover the remains of inhabitants from 225 million years ago. )

I signed up for everything with O'keefe's name attached and will share some of the highlights. Ironically we were there in time for an unexpected wave of cold and windy weather (and we were camping!) so both guides were more than creative in accommodating the challenges.  

It would take four hands to count the last time I was on a horse but....we were off to see the sun set over the lands Georgia painted, and to see them from her own backyard.

Since it was going to be too windy for our "guide" to talk en route we got a good education before leaving the barn of some of the sights we would cover.  No matter, I was thrilled just to be there.

    We had hiked up to this formation the day before but it was amazing to see it from a different angle (and very difficult to photograph on a horse that rarely stopped!)

The holy grail!  When O'keefe was able to acquire property on Ghost Ranch she built this home.  It is now owned by the O'Keefe Museum (along with the Abiqui home) and according to the estate terms no one is allowed into it for 100 years.  Word has it that Juan Hamilton (her assistant and executor) is softening and tours may be allowed soon.  The only downside (IMO) is that the traffic will surely change the face of the ranch.  So I was thrilled to be on a horse which meant I was high enough to peer over the wood fence and snap a photo.  Sacred moment.  

The sun was going down (in a cloudy haze) but the flat top mountain in the background is a landmark which can be seen for miles.  Pedernal Mountain is an icon for O'keefe lovers and since it was in her backyard she painted it many, many times.  In fact it is said she commented:

“It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me.
God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”
-Georgia O’Keeffe

(And it is where her ashes were scattered according to her wishes.)
The next morning we ventured out on foot with Karen who did an excellent job of teaching us about the geological landscape, the climate, the history and the plants on top of delivering a very thorough lesson on O'Keefe and her work.  Karen knew all kinds of lore about the ranch and it's past visitors (Lindberg's family came often) and protected every single struggling plant by showing us how and where to walk on the fragile red clay crust.

Look closely and you will see that the painting copy Karen is holding is exactly the scene before us, with the exception that a few of the tree scrubs are now larger.

Karen designed this walking tour so she spent hours tracking down the exact angles Georgia O'Keefe viewed something to paint it.  O'Keefe was of little help as she rarely named her work (and then called it something like "red hill with white top") and didn't leave many discerning notes.

We all marveled how just a slight turn could reveal the image and how little had changed since O'Keefe saw them herself.  It was fascinating to stand in a 360 degree theater of wonderful image and try to imagine how she narrowed her field down to a particular section.  Why did she choose this (or that?) we asked ourselves, what attracted her attention here...or here.  Naturally the artist in me was itching for a day to go out and try my hand.  But even if the weather had permitted our time at the ranch was coming to a close.  The best I could do would be to snap some photos and hope for studio time to tackle them.

So here is but a few I brought home to stimulate ideas.

I had one more stop on my pilgrimage and that was a tour of her home in Abiqui (a village so small that you meet elsewhere for a shuttle ride up so that cars won't disturb the residents.) My head was already spinning, I wasn't sure how much more I could take in but I was not about to miss the finale!
It was time, meanwhile, time to digest some of what I had learned.

Stay tuned.


  1. This is all very interesting! And it love that first photo!

  2. What a great post Cindy, it was like being there. So glad you got a chance to immerse yourself and really enjoy your visit.


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