Georgia O’Keeffe Country Gives Clues to Her Art

December 20, 2010  
Filed under Travel

By Patricia Arrigoni

Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is an internationally famous art center that is home to one of the only museums in the world dedicated solely to a woman artist. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., honors a Midwestern girl who grew into a famous artist.

Georgia O’Keeffe spent a summer in New Mexico in 1929, then returned year after year to paint this fascinating high-desert country. The pure light and shimmering mountains gave her a feeling of exhilaration. She particularly loved the bigness and openness of the wide world she had discovered.

When I recently visited this museum, a special exhibit of her art titled “Georgia O’Keeffe Abstraction” was on display. While the exhibition was quite stunning, she is better known for her repertoire of enlarged flowers, paintings of the red hills of New Mexico, shells and skeletons lying starkly against desert sands.

Visitors to Santa Fe who enjoy O’Keeffe’s art may also tour the home where she lived about 50 miles north in the tiny village of Abiquiu. In 1945 O’Keeffe purchased the property, a 5,000-square-foot Spanish Colonial era compound on around three acres. She immediately employed Maria Chabot and put her in charge of having the property renovated, a task that took three years.

Meanwhile, O’Keeffe and her husband, the internationally known photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, were living in New York. Stieglitz had promoted his wife’s work with annual gallery showings for many years and was mainly responsible for making her famous. Twenty-four years her senior and with a history of heart attacks, Stieglitz died in 1946. It took O’Keeffe three years to close his estate, after which she moved to New Mexico permanently.

The house is located high on a hill with a stunning view of the Chama River Valley below. From the hilltop, we could see cottonwood trees along the river and multicolored mesas in the distance.

The house was starkly furnished in a decor of white with black chairs. Decorations were used sparingly and consisted of a mobile, oil paintings by an artist named Arthur Dove and several of O’Keeffe’s own paintings. There were also displays of the rocks and feathers O’Keeffe had collected over the years, plus the skeleton of a rattlesnake that had been entombed in a glass box and built into one of the adobe walls. Fireplaces had been added to each room, along with large panes of glass to feature the views. Adobe benches were built into the walls of the living room. A single bed had been added to the living room to accommodate a person hired to help O’Keeffe in her later life.

Her own bed was a single and placed so she had a view of the Chama River Valley and Route 84 that ran past her house between the town of Espanola and a property called the Ghost Ranch, where O’Keeffe owned another house.

This property, 15 miles farther north, was located at a former dude ranch where O’Keeffe stayed prior to purchasing the property in Abiquiu. At first she rented the house but later decided to purchase it when she arrived once and found it rented out to other people. Though she really enjoyed the property, she found it difficult to make the long runs by car to purchase food, especially during the rainy season, when roads could be flooded out. It was also impossible to grow a garden in the ranch’s poor soil.

The house at Ghost Ranch is not open to the public, but the larger property, now owned by the Presbyterian Church, welcomes visitors. There are bed-and-breakfast accommodations, five hiking trails and nearby museums that feature anthropology and paleontology.

Getting there: I flew US Air into Albuquerque and rented a car to drive to Santa Fe. You can also board a rail commuter train called the New Mexico Rail Runner, which connects Albuquerque to Santa Fe: 866-795-7245 or

Where to stay: Best Western Inn of Santa Fe, 3650 Cerrillos; 505-438-3822 or A double with two queens is $101 plus tax. Breakfast is included.

La Fonda on the Plaza, 100 E. San Francisco; 505-982-5511, 800-523-5002 or Doubles in this historic hotel in the downtown area start at $159.

What to see: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson St.; 505-946-1000 or

Admission is $10, students and seniors, $8. The museum offers revolving exhibits of O’Keeffe’s art.

Contact the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio Tour Office for  Abiquiu reservations: 505-685-4539. A one-hour tour allows visitors to see a replica of her vegetable garden, patio, a passageway, the laundry room, kitchen, pantry and half of her studio. We could only peer through windows to see her living room, bedroom and bath, and her book room was closed off entirely, as was the garage. No public restrooms are available; patrons are sent to use single men’s and women’s restrooms in the Abiquiu Inn. Admission is $30 per person or $25 for seniors over 65.

Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu and Santa Fe: 505-685-4333 or or

For general information: or
~ CNS .


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