A friend of mine just posted on FaceBook that she and her husband were visiting the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It brought back memories of Larry and I attempting to chase down this American legend’s paintings!
In January 2016, Larry and I attended a lecture on Georgia O’Keeffe, part of an artist series offered in our Florida community. It was a relief to drive only three miles to the lecture. You see, we have been chasing Georgia across the country for years.
Growing up in Keeseville, New York, I had little opportunity to visit museums and galleries, much less to develop art appreciation. In college, I avoided “killer” Art History 101 as I was too obsessed with my grade point average to venture out too far beyond my literature and education courses.
Larry took some art courses at Northeastern University and spent time in Boston museums. One of our first dates was a trip to the Sterling Clark Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Our interest in art grew along with our marriage. Fall leaf peeping trips included the Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses museums. In New York City, we explored the Metropolitan, the Guggenheim, and the Museum of Modern Art. As our travels expanded, we visited museums in San Francisco, Lima, and London. We knew what we liked: We walked quickly past Renaissance art with its stiff and tortured religious images and headed for the Impressionists—Monet, Manet, Degas.
Although we had seen and appreciated Georgia O’Keeffe’s work when we viewed her occasional pieces in major cities, our interest was heightened as a result of a college visit. One of our nephews was accepted to St. Johns’ College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Larry offered to fly out with him to see the school and explore the area. When they returned, Larry could not stop talking about the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and its collection of her paintings. He loved the colors and the creativity. He promised that we would travel to Santa Fe together so he could share his find with me.
Less than a year later, we made plans to visit Santa Fe as part of our annual summer visit with Julie and Sam in Colorado. We researched lodging, restaurants, the art district, the historic downtown. On top of the list was the O’Keeffe Museum and Ghost Ranch, O’Keeffe’s New Mexico residence for many years.
Fate intervened from the start. A series of wildfires had hit New Mexico. As we traveled south on the highway, an ominous cloud of smoke loomed above us. At one point, we considered completely abandoning our plans and going back to Colorado. As we learned more about the situation, we scaled down our expectations. We would skip Ghost Ranch, which was closer to the fires, and limit our visit to just the historic city.
Our destination on our first full day in Santa Fe was the O’Keeffe museum. As we walked the short distance from our bed and breakfast, Larry chatted about diverse subjects that O’Keeffe painted—the New York cityscapes, the flowers, the Northern New Mexican landscapes. When we got there, however, we saw a huge sign announcing that the majority of O’Keeffe paintings were on tour in Europe. Instead, the museum was proud to present an exhibit of Norman Rockwell sketches and paintings. We could not believe that we had traveled so far to see O’Keeffe only to view drawings by the popular New England artist. Yes, we liked Rockwell and his iconic Saturday Evening Post covers. But we experienced his work every fall as part of our annual leaf peeping tour of New England. We had to drive less than one hour across the New York border to go to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
We soon had another chance. In 2014, the Hyde Museum in Glens Falls, less than an hour north of us, was sponsoring a special exhibit entitled “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George.” The family of O’Keeffe’s husband Albert Stieglitz owned a place in Lake George, and O’Keeffe had spent summers there during their marriage. We knew we weren’t going to be seeing many flowers, but seeing her interpretations of Lake George would be interesting.
The exhibit opened in the summer. Friends reported back to us that lines were long and the place was jammed. We decided to postpone our visit until after Labor Day when the crowds thinned. Stymied again! Larry tore his Achilles tendon. He underwent surgery and sported a bulky cast on his leg for eight weeks. By the time Larry felt up to going, the exhibit was long gone.
The following February, Larry and I flew out to San Francisco to visit our son Adam. On the plane, we met a couple from the Capital Region. She had been involved in art and served as a docent for the Hyde Museum. We shared with her our sad saga of thwarted attempts to see the O’Keeffe exhibit. “Did you know the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco currently is running the same exhibit?” she asked. No, we didn’t know. As soon as we arrived in Adam’s apartment, we suggested to him that we go to the DeYoung together. It was a surprisingly short walk from his apartment to the museum, and we actually got to see the exhibit. We lingered over the paintings and portraits and even listened to a lecture. Our chase was over.
Larry and I enjoyed the lecture down in Florida. Forty minutes into her talk, however, and the speaker was still focusing on Stieglitz and his work. Only the last fifteen minutes focused on O’Keeffe. Maybe we are just not meant to experience Georgia up close and personal. Or maybe, just maybe, we need another trip to Santa Fe.
Photo of Georgia O’Keeffe painting taken by Christine Grossman at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.