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Georgia O’Keeffe

1940–1950: Abiquiu

1934–1940: Ghost Ranch

1950–1959: New Mexico

Returning to "the faraway" in 1940, Georgia discovered that someone else was renting her favorite house, Rancho de los Burros. Anxious to get settled in and painting again, Georgia proposed to buy the house and the surrounding eight acres, which were bounded by ranchland and the Carson National Forest. She was glad to feel established, and she adored her new home, which she painted often. She lived in isolation at the ranch, which had no running water, electricity, or telephone. The sandy soil prevented her from keeping a garden, so she was forced to journey to purchase food. O’Keeffe realized that she needed an assistant so that she would have time to paint, and therefore hired a young girl, Maria Chabot, to help her with domestic chores. Chabot admired O’Keeffe and even traveled to New York to see her exhibitions.

Moreover, Chabot was a companion to O’Keeffe during their horse rides and camping trips. They often went to the village of Abiquiu, where grayish formations of ancient lava ash protruded into the sky. Georgia called this "the White Place" and painted it many times. In contrast, Georgia also discovered the sharp and vertical dark hills of "the Black Place", an area north of Ghost Ranch that she painted in abstraction in Black Place III (1944).

In 1943 in Chicago, the Art Institute announced its intentions to present an O’Keeffe retrospective. Although it was difficult for Stieglitz to accept the fact that another institution besides An American Place would have a major exhibition of O’Keeffe’s work, he agreed to later show her newest paintings. At this time, O’Keeffe’s fame was at its highest, but she realized that her disagreeable and sometimes hostile attitudes towards other people were necessary to devote her time to painting. She therefore continued to prefer isolation and seclusion.

During the summer following her retrospective, O’Keeffe stumbled across an old, bleached a pelvic bone that resembled the shape of the mountains. This bone became the subject of a new set of paintings, as O’Keeffe painted the pelvis red against the clear blue of the sky. In her essay in the catalog of her work, she stated that these paintings were acknowledging the war that was being fought around her. In her painting the position of the bones is "most wonderful against the Blue–that Blue that will always be there as it is now after all man’s destruction is finished" (Lisle 257). O’Keeffe’s use of the pelvic bone recalled her earlier paintings in which she used animal skulls bones she found in the desert. One particular painting, Cow’s Skull: Red, White and Blue (1931), conveyed O’Keeffe’s view America.:

"I painted my cow’s head because I liked it and in its way it was a symbol of the best part of America I had found. Cattle were important to America, as I knew from my days in Amarillo when they were only beginning to think about oilI thought to myself ’Just for fun I will make it red, white, and blue–a new kind of flag almost.’ It always amused me as my idea of something American."

(Pollitzer 212)

Drawn back to the village of Abiquiu, Georgia discovered an abandoned hacienda, in ruin but still with the remains of a large garden and access to water. She realized that she wanted this property, which had an excellent view of the Chama River valley, and she persisted in trying to buy it from its owner, the Catholic church. Finally, in 1945 the property became hers and she proceeded to renovate it. This eventually became her permanent home, and visitors noticed the resemblance that the home had with O’Keeffe’s personality: "The concordance between O’Keeffe’s rhythm and her low adobe buildings, the quietness of the black door, the placement of the garden, were a breath with her own being" (Cardona-Hine 135).

Back in New York, Stieglitz’s health was deteriorating, as he turned eighty years old in 1944. His gallery, An American Place, was no longer the epicenter of the art world, and his age made him an ineffective manager. Other museums, such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, presented major exhibits for O’Keeffe, leaving Stieglitz’s gallery forlorn. Nonetheless, he was happy that he had been an important figure in establishing O’Keeffe’s career, bringing her work out to be appreciated by many.

Every departure from Stieglitz was painful for Georgia, but both realized that such departures were necessary for her sake and vitality. In 1946, Georgia left for Abiquiu as she always had, and afterward Stieglitz suffered from a stroke and was hospitalized. Diagnosed with a cerebral thrombosis, his condition was critical and Georgia flew back from New Mexico to be with him. He died on July 13, 1946.

Stieglitz’s death meant not only the loss of O’Keeffe’s mentor and friend, but also her primary manager. Moreover, Georgia was the executor of his will and had to find permanent places for his large collection. She carefully committed to this task during the winters when she was not in New Mexico. She also realized that she could not keep Stieglitz’s gallery open; the last exhibit of Georgia’s work in An American Place occurred in the autumn of 1950. O’Keeffe returned to New Mexico in greater solitude and resumed painting. Her works continued to receive wide acclaim, and in 1949 she was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a prestigious honor for a female artist.

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