Georgia O’Keeffe

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Georgia O’Keeffe – Abiquiu house
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Cottonwood and Pedernal – Georgia O’Keeffe, 1947

Is strong black tea is the secret of longevity?  My friend ceramic designer Eva Zeisel, who lived to be 105, thought nothing of adding 5 teabags to a pot of tea. It was so strong it could dye your teeth black on contact. On a tour of Georgia O’Keeffe’s house in Abiquiu, the guide pointed out her stash of tea and said none of the staff could drink it, it was like a jar of tannic acid. O’Keeffe lived to be nearly 100. In midlife she fell in love with New Mexico and spent 10 years trying to convince a local church to sell her the cliff top adobe house (a virtual ruin) that she meticulously restored as her Abiquiu home. Parts of it are early 18th century. You have to see it in person to appreciate her incredible eye for framing views and the radical minimalism of the interior and exterior ; a ladder propped against a wall, a nun-like single bed facing a tiny kiva and a cinemascopic view of the valley below.  The floor inside is just red mud, which is now drying out and turning to dust. Apparently it wasn’t sealed in the traditional manner with ox or goat blood, so it is too fragile to stand on and visitors have to tiptoe around the perimeter of the rooms and peer in through windows. It  takes ‘Do Not Touch’ to a whole new level.

It is hard to imagine what Georgia O’Keeffe was like in person. In her biographies she is an odd mix of daring and prudish.  She often painted outside in the nude in upstate New York. She married photographer Alfred Stieglitz and allowed him to publish dozens of nude photos of her (some almost gynecological). She took male and female lovers throughout her life (including at age 87 taking up with 28 year old Juan Hamilton). But if anyone dared to say that her early flower paintings were sexually suggestive, she threw a fit and protested her innocence.

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