Painter of the Desert

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) first lay eyes on the “Land of Enchantment” in 1929 at the age of 41. It cast a spell on her that nothing but death could break – if that:

“When I think of death, I only regret that I will not be able to see this beautiful country anymore, unless the Indians are right and my spirit will walk here after I’m gone.”

One of the colorful rock formations near her adoptive home

Whenever her tumultuous marriage to noted photographer and art dealer, Alfred Stieglitz, and her blossoming career in New York City as America’s foremost abstract painter allowed, she escaped to the remote reaches of New Mexico’s little known and less developed desertscapes. Like many artists, she came at the behest of Mabel Dodge Luhan, legendary Taos patroness of the arts. Unlike many, she kept returning, and after her husband’s death in 1946, relocated there permanently. She possessed a house-cum-studio in the town of Abiquiú as well as a small parcel of land and cabin on the Ghost Ranch, located 14 miles farther west. Privately owned until 1955, the ranch has since been administered by the Presbyterian Church as a spiritual retreat center, and continues to profit from its lengthy association with the painter who kept returning as long as her health permitted.

Her house and studio in Abiquiú, built in the widespread adobe style

Entrance to the Ghost Ranch off US Highway 84

Away from throngs and distractions, Georgia O’Keeffe, often portrayed as a recluse, was able to forget the noise of the East Coast, drink deeply of the silence, partake of the colors, shapes and silhouettes of a sere, stark land, and capture its soul on canvas like few artists before or since. When exploring this region and sensing its heartbeat today, it is easy to relate to the urge to evoke its essence through brush – or pen. We saw O’Keeffe’s house in Abiquiú only from the outside (tours are offered, but must be prescheduled), and tread only on portions of the Ghost Ranch property open to the public which did not include her refuge, but everywhere we encountered motifs she immortalized.

The mountain Cerro Pedernal, one of her favorite motifs, seen from the Ghost Ranch

Our visit coincided with a string of astonishingly auspicious autumn days during which we eagerly absorbed the sun’s warming rays like the local lizards. The color of cottonwood trees lining the rare but vital waterways set the desert ablaze, while competing with a riot of multi-hued rocks.

Rio Chama near Abiquiú

For eight nights in a row, we slept in our tent without a rainfly, gazing at the same star-studded firmament and milky ribbon that Georgia would have peered at. Coyote songs serenaded our slumber, the no less moving melodies of birds our waking hours.

Sunrise near one of our campsites along the Rio Chama

Like Georgia O’Keeffe we were fortunate to set foot on this sunbaked and sandy earth, and like her, we fell under its spell.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

Malerin der Wüste

22 thoughts on “Painter of the Desert

  1. Neulich war eine tolle Ausstellung von ihr im Kunstforum Austria in Wien. Ich fand nicht nur ihre Werke, sondern auch ihr Leben faszinierend. Deine Bilder geben die Schönheit der Landschaft, die sie in ihren späteren Jahren inspiriert hat, perfekt wider. Danke für den sehr schönen Beitrag! Liebe Grüße, Andrea

    Liked by 2 people

    • Danke, liebe Andrea. Ihre Lebensgeschichte finde ich auch faszinierend. Ein Teil ihres Leben wurde von ihrer problematischen Ehe bestimmt, aber sie lebte ja noch 40 Jahre nach dem Tod von Alfred Stieglitz.
      Die Landschaft, die sie so beeinflusst hat selbst erleben zu können war ein besonderes Erlebnis.


  2. What a beautiful place once again. And a gorgeous fall weather! You’ve really piqued my interest in the US, I should definitely visit its magnificent parks one day. Your outdoor camping experience in such location sounds absolutely amazing. Were there any animals you had to watch out for??

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pooja. I can highly recommend a visit to the southwestern states. We did not have any problems with animals. There were no mosquitoes, but fellow travelers saw rattlesnakes at some of our destinations, we did not. We have never had any serious encounters during our camping trips.

      Liked by 1 person

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