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Georgia O’Keeffe

1960–1986: Clouds

1950–1959: New Mexico

Study Questions

In 1960 large exhibition of O’Keeffe’s work, most of it painted after 1946, was being planned for the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. That year, Georgia was seventy-three years old, but she continued to play a major role in the creation of the exhibit, as she had in the past, often annoying museum directors with her intense supervision. As this was her first major exhibition in fourteen years, attendance was high. Despite this major show, however, O’Keeffe’s gallery showings began to decrease in frequency: the last time her artwork hung in the Downtown Gallery in New York was in 1961.

This diminishing exposure did not, however, deter Georgia from attempting her largest painting, on a 24’x8’ canvas, at the age of seventy-seven. This painting, Sky Above Clouds (1965) portrayed a spacious sky with large, white clouds, a pure and serene heaven. This painting was ultimately exhibited at O’Keeffe’s next retrospective in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art. This exhibition, in 1966, included ninety-six works, making it her largest retrospective. As usual, she was very persistent and stubborn when the exhibition was being installed, insisting that all the walls be painted white and making various other demands.

In 1962 O’Keeffe received the honor of being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the nation’s most prestigious art society. She was also featured in Vogue and Life around this time. During the 1970s a renewed interest in her work resulted in a major retrospective that traveled to the Whitney Museum in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum of Art. Despite her age and her older style of painting, O’Keeffe’s artwork still appealed to the younger generations. Recognition of her contribution to American art continued in 1970, when she received the Gold Medal for Painting given by the National Institute for Arts and Letters. She was even awarded the Medal of Freedom from President Ford in 1977. Furthermore, her ninetieth birthday was celebrated at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., demonstrating that the contemporary American public continued to appreciate her artistic contributions.

Meanwhile, O’Keeffe’s loss of eyesight became more troublesome, causing her to abandon painting in 1972. She continued to live alone at her ranch until she met Juan Hamilton, a potter who had worked nearby. He showed up at her doorstep and asked her if she would hire him to do odd jobs. Although she originally turned him away, she realized that there was work that he could do and called him back. They became close friends, and Georgia became involved with his artistic training. She found that the smooth and oddly shaped pots he produced were similar to the rocks she had once painted. Consequently, she recognized that they had similar artistic drives. Acting as a mentor, Georgia organized a successful exhibit of Hamilton’s work at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. Because of Hamilton’s influence, O’Keeffe herself took up pottery and was also inspired to paint with the help of a studio assistant. She began to give interviews, permitted a documentary to be filmed at Ghost Ranch, and even wrote a book with Hamilton’s help. The book, Georgia O’Keeffe (1976) became a bestseller. O’Keeffe also began to paint again as a result of Hamilton’s support and encouragement. During a trip to Washington, D.C., she and Hamilton went on a long walk which ended at the Washington Monument. Sitting at the adjacent reflecting pool, she envisioned what would eventually become a painting, A Day with Juan (1977).

In 1972 O’Keeffe painted her last unassisted painting; all of her subsequent works depended on the help of an assistant who realized her ideas. While her vision became more shadowy, she became accustomed to her limited eyesight and continued to work, although with greater assistance. In fact, her handicap provided her with interesting new ideas, and she learned to use her other senses more acutely.

During the early 1980s, Georgia’s relationship with Juan became more distant, although he still cared for her and made arrangements with caretakers during his absence. He was not present on March 6, 1986, when the ninety-eight-year-old O’Keeffe was taken to the hospital after she experienced difficulty breathing. She died later that day, and her ashes were scattered in the winds of New Mexico at Ghost Ranch.

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