Georgia O’Keeffe is synonymous with New Mexico. The famed artist spent the last forty years of her life living in the Land of Enchantment. She painted its dramatic landscapes and iconic formations in her own unique style. O’Keeffe is regarded as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, and her work is treasured worldwide. People from all across the globe travel to New Mexico to see the place that offered her so much inspiration. For many, the trip is a pilgrimage, made in homage to the great American modernist.
A major destination for visitors is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. The museum, which is dedicated to the artistic legacy of O’Keeffe, her life and American modernism, opened in 1997, eleven years after the artist passed away at the ripe old age of 98. Its collection of over 3,000 works by O’Keeffe spans from 1901 to 1984. As you tour the museum, you’ll not only get insight into the artist’s paintings, but also into her creative process and the light, colors and shapes of the land that stirred her soul.
A selection of O’Keeffe’s paintings, drawings, pastels and watercolors, representing each decade of her life, are on display within the museum’s nine galleries. Included are her well-known large-scale depictions of flowers, along with bones, leaves, rocks, shells and various other natural forms, New York cityscapes, northern New Mexico landscapes and architectural elements and works inspired from her travels around the world.
Those interested in seeing where O’Keeffe lived and worked can tour her home and studio in the village of Abiquiu, about an hour northwest of Santa Fe. When O’Keeffe bought the place in 1945, it was in ruins, but the location on the edge of a mesa was spectacular. Plus, she would be able to have a garden, something she dearly desired. Over the next three years, the artist worked with her friend, Maria Chabot, to renovate the property.
Today, the house remains in much the same condition as O’Keeffe left it in 1984. Furnishings and décor are simple and large windows in the studio and bedroom open out to nature. You’ll see many specimens from the artist’s collection of desert treasures, such as rocks and skulls, on window ledges and other surfaces. In the pantry and kitchen are the plain bowls and utensils she used each day, as well as the special tea she so enjoyed.
Make sure to look for the black door through the patio of this adobe dwelling. It was another one of the reasons O’Keeffe bought the house. Over the years, she painted the door more than twenty times, in various renditions. She also drew inspiration from the picturesque view she had of the cottonwood trees below and the road that curved through the valley.
Further up the road lies Ghost Ranch, where O’Keeffe’s other home is located. Though the house is closed to the public, the ranch itself is open to visitors. Now an education and retreat center, the property is also a mecca for aficionados of the artist, who go to soak up the magnificent, multilayered cliff walls, red hills and mesas that are featured in her work. It’s hard to miss Pedernal, the flat-topped mountain to the south, which was probably her favorite subject.
The ranch offers a number of landscape tours that explore the scenes and locations of some of O’Keeffe’s paintings, on foot, by horseback and via minibus. Other tours delve into the archaeological and paleontological aspects of the environment, which are further detailed within the two museums on site. And hikers will find several trails that lead across the rocks, atop the mesas, past dinosaur quarries and even into a box canyon.
To further enrich your O’Keeffe experience, consider taking an O’Keeffe-centric cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Located in the heart of historic downtown, this internationally acclaimed school offers numerous hands-on and demonstration cooking classes, an intensive 3-day cooking program (Southwest Culinary Bootcamp) and chef-led restaurant walking tours.
In the three-hour demonstration class, you’ll explore some of O’Keeffe’s ideas about food and cooking. One of the school’s chefs, such as Lois Ellen Frank, a renowned culinary anthropologist, will then guide you through some of the artist’s recipes from the book, A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe by Margaret Wood. A companion to O’Keeffe for five years, Wood has personal insight into the artist’s life and her perspective on food, which she shares with the class.
According to Wood, O’Keeffe appreciated simple foods that were in season and grown locally. Her pride and joy was the organic garden at her home in Abiquiu, where she grew such vegetables as lettuce, radishes, snow peas, carrots, cucumbers, corn, beans, broccoli and of course, green chile, a New Mexico staple. Her garden also included a variety of herbs, as she believed in their inherent health-enhancing properties. Surrounding the area was an abundance of fruit trees.
O’Keeffe was influenced by the beliefs of such modern health gurus of the time as Adelle Davis, one of the most highly regarded nutritionists of the early to mid-20th century. Davis was a proponent of better nutrition for improved health, and she advocated eating natural foods. Having a garden allowed the artist to exercise control over the way her food was grown and handled. And having the convenience of this bounty at her fingertips was invaluable.
O’Keeffe ground flour from wheat berries to make bread, collected watercress from along the stream for salads and soup and picked dandelion greens to put in her mashed potatoes. Among her favorite treats were thinly-sliced garlic sandwiches and fried locust flowers. She also was fond of wheat germ squares with homemade yogurt for dessert. Though she certainly enjoyed her veggies, O’Keeffe wasn’t a vegetarian. She relished a good T-bone steak, as well as organic chicken.
Everything she ate was of good quality, and if she didn’t grow it, she got it from the local farmers and purveyors. They supplied her with honey, goat’s milk, eggs (always brown), meat and poultry.
Working for O’Keeffe was a fascinating experience for Wood, but initially, it was intimidating. O’Keeffe was very particular about the way she liked things done. Once Wood learned the artist’s habits and preferences, though, the job got easier. She also came to appreciate O’Keeffe’s unique sense of humor and the way she looked at things, ever so closely, noticing the tiny details that most people would miss.
As the cooking class is demonstration-based, you’re able to comfortably sit back and watch as the chef and her assistant prepare a full meal. The menu typically features Arugula Salad, Corn Soup, Lemon Chicken, Fried Potatoes and Norwegian Apple Cake with Rum Sauce. Each step in the process, from start to finish, is narrated, with information provided regarding selection of ingredients, preparation and cooking techniques, and any special equipment utilized. The session is casual with much banter and interaction between the chef and the group. Questions and comments are highly encouraged.
You’ll glean such nuggets as the rules of high altitude baking, the purpose of a micro planer, what type of cut defines “airline chicken,” the process of de-glazing with whole corn cobs, the benefits of cooking in Micaceous clay pots, how to wow your dinner guests with the easiest raspberry jam vinaigrette and the wonders of a sauce made with Captain Morgan Rum!
The class is educational and informative, as well as fun. And most important, you get to reap the rewards of the chef’s hard work with a delicious multi-course meal. As you waddle out, make sure to peruse the on-site store for all sorts of cooking and kitchen-related items with a southwest twist.
If you go:
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: www.okeeffemuseum.org
Ghost Ranch: www.ghostranch.org
Santa Fe School of Cooking: www.santafeschoolofcooking.com