By Jelane A. Kennedy
This fall we had the rare opportunity to see an exhibit at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York about Georgia O’Keeffe’s early work called “Modern Nature”. What made it so rare is that most people would not consider the subject matter of the Adirondacks her forte. When I think Georgia O’Keeffe I think big flowers and skulls from a desert landscape. It was not until my friend Kitty told me about this other work that I had any idea. Later as Kitty found prints and posters of her Adirondack work and had them framed for her office, I started to gather glimpses of this other repertoire.
I remember hearing about Georgia O’Keeffe’s work in art classes both in high school and college. It was so rare to learn about a female artist that even though I didn’t resonate much with her art at the time, I still was in awe with the idea of a woman artist making it. As a matter of fact the last time I had been to an exhibit of her work was back in 1988, some 25 years ago. My friend Susie and I had presented at a conference in Chicago. It was my first big national conference as a new professional and it had been a wild experience. As a treat to ourselves for our accomplishment Susie had suggested we go to the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit. A favorite experiences of the exhibit was in a room that was filled with large canvases of paintings of clouds and how pulled into the experience of being in the clouds was magical. As a reminder of Chicago I purchased in the gallery store a poster of the Empire State Building (yes I knew that was in New York City but to me it symbolized a big city). The poster was later framed and it has been in either my workplace office or home office since that time.
My other connection to Georgia O’Keeffe was from my students. A couple of years ago some of my graduating students got together and presented me with a framed print of Lake George in the Fall done by Georgia O’Keeffe. It was a wonderful gift and they all signed the back. When I look up from my desk I am reminded of them.
So it was with anticipation that I looked forward to see what I would learn. I had gotten the sense that Georgia O’Keeffe had always down played her time in the Adirondacks. That she many times dismissed her experience there and the role it had in her art. It wasn’t always a happy time in her life.
What I saw that day in the gallery was sublime! I was ahead of Eileen as we started the exhibit, as is usually the case. I have a tendency to dart a head and then circle back whereas Eileen moves a bit more methodically through exhibits. But that day as I began to move ahead I was drawn back to Eileen, I wanted to experience each painting with her. Maybe it was because of the art work we produced together over the winter last year for John Boyd Thacher State Park, creating new duplicate paintings of one of the waterfall’s along the Indian Ladder Trail for the North and South entrance signs. Or just feeling compelled by the spirit of the Adirondacks that I felt illustrated in each of O’Keeffe pieces that I wanted to share it with Eileen as we both share a love for the region. Whatever it was we slowly moved together talking in whispers about each piece and marveling at the technique and feeling captured by the essence we saw of nature. It was heart felt and dazzling.
Whether it was leaves seen through the surface of the lake or a starry night, each canvas drew out a special quality. It was hard for me to contemplate that Ms. O’Keeffe could dismiss her love of the mountains, lakes and sky’s when her love of that very place exudes from each piece. I can only guess that her relationship with Stieglitz was more the cause of her feelings rather than a dislike of Upstate New York and the Lake George Region. Each time I drive up I-87 into the mountains I can’t helped to be inspired, it can be a bright shining day or one filled with fog and mist. O’Keeffe’s pieces brought up those same feelings of inspiration. Which led me to buy another poster print and have it framed for our home.
If you are interested in seeing this rare exhibit it is currently at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico until January 26, 2014 and will make a final stop in San Francisco at the de Young starting February 15, 2014 to May 11, 2014.
(c) 2013 Jelane A. Kennedy