Discovering Places – Georgia O’Keeffe Country

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I’m spending a fall week in southern Colorado and drove up north out of the Albuquerque area through Georgia O’Keeffe’s stomping grounds in northern New Mexico. I have never seen it more beautiful.

Georgia O’Keeffe lived in Abiquiu, New Mexico, for almost forty of years and was inspired by the surroundings. Here’s an example of one of her paintings from the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe….a view of Pedernal Mountain, one of her favorite landscape subjects.

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Abiquiu is a tiny village north of Espanola. There’s not much there and there was probably less back in the 1940s when O’Keefe bought a house there for her home and studio. She moved there permanently in 1949. The parish church, Santo Tomas el Apostol, is most notable today.  The church was established in the 1700s but the current building dates to the 1930s, built in the old colonial mission style.  Visitors need advance arrangements to visit O’Keeffe’s home and studio and I will do that on a future trip.

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Abiquiu offers an interesting perspective on old Spanish colonial life in northern New Mexico. It was the starting point for one of the trading routes between New Mexico and California. There are still artists and galleries scattered around the village.

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The Rio Chama flows through the valley and was dressed in beautiful yellows and gold of autumn. Rio Chama is one of the major trout streams of northern New Mexico.

O’Keeffe first came to New Mexico in 1929 and stayed in Taos with Mabel Dodge Luhan, who hosted a number of writers and artists. She bought a Model A Ford in 1929 and began exploring northern New Mexico and eventually discovered Ghost Ranch a few miles north of Abiquiu. She acquired a house at Ghost Ranch in 1940 and spent much of her time there until finally moving to the renovated adobe home and studio in Abiquiu. Georgia O’Keeffe used the colorful hills and cliffs of Ghost Ranch as subjects of many of her landscapes. Today Ghost Ranch operates as a retreat, nature and educational center.

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Pedernal, the prominent flat-topped mountain, dominates the horizon west of Ghost Ranch and dominates several of O’Keeffe’s paintings. She never seemed to get tired of it. The shapes and colors are highlighted by the bright light and clear skies of New Mexico, the changing seasons, and shadows of sunrise and sunset.

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Perdenal makes an interesting subject and creeps into the horizon even from a distance.

This was my second visit to the area since my initial trip back in 1979 or 1980. That trip was also in October but I don’t remember being awestruck by the beauty of the area. As I recall, we were on a tight schedule. Georgia O’Keefe was still living in Abiquiu at that time. She lived to be almost 100 and was in failing health and losing her eyesight beginning in 1972. She hired a helper in 1973 (Juan Hamilton) who became her companion and business manager. When she couldn’t paint any longer, Hamilton, himself a potter, helped her take up ceramics and sculpture for a while. Her health declined further and she moved to Santa Fe in 1984. She died in 1986 at age 98.

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(Todd Webb photo – c. 1961)

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