“I found I could say things
with color and shapes that
I couldn’t say any other way –
things I had no words for.”
~ Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887 on a farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. As a 10-year old girl, she declared she would be an artist. Her mother, being the daughter of an artist herself, saw to it that Georgia and her sister received art lessons from a local watercolorist, and her art study continued at Sacred Heart Academy high school in Madison, Wisconsin.
After graduating, Georgia studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a year, but became sick and had to leave. In the fall of 1907, she enrolled in the Art Students League in New York, where she won a prize for one of her still lifes which allowed her to attend their summer school in Lake George, New York.
In New York City, she often visited artist exhibitions held at Gallery 291, which was owned by photographer, Alfred Stieglitz. There she was exposed to many famous artists such as Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse.
For four years, Georgia worked as a commercial artist in Chicago, but in 1912, she decided to focus on her own art once again. In 1912, she attended drawing classes at the University of Virginia’s summer school where she learned under a teacher who was heavily influenced by artist, Arthur Wesley Dow.
Later, she would begin to experiment with Dow’s theory of self-exploration through art, taking natural forms such as ferns, clouds and waves, and creating abstracted drawings of them, focusing on shape and line.
After Georgia completed this series of charcoal drawings, she mailed a few of them to a friend and former classmate, who showed the drawings to gallery owner, Alfred Stieglitz. He immediately recognized O’Keeffe’s artistic talent, and exhibited the drawings in his gallery without her knowledge or consent.
When she found out, Georgia was infuriated. However, she ultimately forgave him since it was Stieglitz who helped her to become a famous artist. Their meeting began a mutual friendship, and eventually, romance and marriage, which was fueled by an abundance of letter writing between the two of them.
The couple bought a house on Lake George where they would spend their summers. Georgia particularly loved it there. She set up her studio in an old barn, painting many beautiful pieces inspired by her natural surroundings.
It was here that she began creating the paintings she became famous for – huge, oversized flowers in bright and bold colors, emphasizing details that most people never took the time to notice.
“If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small. So I said to myself, ‘I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.’”
In 1929 Georgia took a trip to New Mexico. She loved it so much that she traveled back and forth for years. Although there were no flowers in the desert, she was able to paint mountains, adobe houses, and animal bones.
And after Stieglitz died in 1949, she decided to move to New Mexico permanently.
In her later years, her eyesight began to fail, yet she continued to paint – sometimes with the help of others. Georgia O’Keeffe died in Santa Fe, New Mexico on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98. She played an important role in the development of modernism. In fact, she is known as the “Mother of American Modernism.”
Want to experiment with American Modernism? In my Mixing with the Masters, Volume One lesson on O’Keeffe, we learn even more about her and create three pieces inspired by some of her masterworks.
Purchase the entire course (including six master artists) for $60
or just the O’Keeffe lesson for $12:
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*Linking up with my friends at iHomeschool Network for November Birthday Lessons.
Alisha Gratehouse is an artist, art instructor, minister’s wife, and homeschooling mom of three. Her days are filled with creating, painting, writing, drinking lots of tea, laughing with (and at) her family, and spontaneously bursting forth into song. Alisha is the author of several books including, A Life That Flourishes.