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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch

A Stoic loner, Georgia O'Keefe found the isolation of
Abiquiu, New Mexico suited her perfectly.
When we think of the iconic American painter, Georgia O'Keeffe, we usually associate her with art and artist of Taos, New Mexico and her famous Ghost Ranch. That's something of a misconception. Actually O'Keefe's near legendary Ghost Ranch is some sixty-one miles WSW (a 90 minute drive) from Taos. It's located just outside the tiny (so tiny it's unincorporated)community of Abiquiu, New Mexico (you have to be from that state to pronounce that name correctly). In 2010, the population was a mere 232 souls. Actually, Abiquiu is closer to Santa Fe, New Mexico, (only an hour's drive some forty-seven miles NNW), although the legendary Georgia O'Keeffe and the equally legendary Santa Fe are not so closely linked. The O'Keeffe Museum is, however, located in Santa Fe.

Chimney Rock, Ghost Ranch. Part of the landscape
which attracted Georgia O'Keeffe to the remote
wilderness of New Mexico as far back as 1929.
Any association Georgia O'Keeffe had with Taos dates back to the 1930s when she was a frequent guest of Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy heiress, hostess, art patroness, writer, and self-appointed savior of humanity. Mabel had recently married Tony Luhan, a Native American. For O'Keeffe, the visits presented a new palette, not just for her art, but for her life. She fell in love with the open skies and sun-drenched landscape, returning every summer to travel and paint. When her husband, New York gallery owner, Alfred Stieglitz, died in 1946, O’Keeffe took up permanent residence in Abiquiu.

Ram’s Head Blue Morning Glory, 1938, Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe first visited Ghost Ranch in 1940, recuperating from a nervous breakdown. At the time it was something of what we'd call a "dude ranch" catering to easterners with a taste for western adventure. That was manifestly not what attracted O'Keeffe to the place, though. For several years she rented, then purchased a small, adobe dwelling and about seven acres of the property. She wanted more than anything to buy the entire 21,000 acres of the ranch, but when the owner died, he willed it to the Presbyterian church, which upset O'Keeffe to no end.

Obviously remodeled since the 1940s, O'Keeffe had
large, expansive windows added to bring her beloved
southwestern landscape into her home at Ghost Ranch.
Thus, in 1945, O'Keeffe moved into "town," (Abiquiu) purchasing a falling-down, totally uninhabitable structure, which she spent the next four years rehabilitating. From that point on, until 1984 (when her health deteriorated significantly) she split her time between Ghost Ranch (just outside of town) and her Abiquiu studio home. Georgia O'Keeffe died in Santa Fe in 1986 at the age of ninety-eight. Therefor when we seek to discover the artist through her home, we are actually talking about two homes. The two were quite similar in size and appearance so, in some cases, I may have mislabeled some of the photos seen here.

O'Keeffe's bedroom at her Abiquiu home is so small it can only
be viewed by visitors through a window.
When visiting O'Keeffe's homes, even those familiar with the modernity of her paintings, are often struck by the austere, mid-century modernism of O'Keeffe's tastes in the design and furnishing of both homes. Ghost Ranch is a bit more "western" in style while the Abiquiu home/studio is somewhat more minimalist--white on white with only the bare necessities. Both are preserved as they were at the time of her death. Both would be quite comfortably livable for most artists today. Both are open to the public.

A landmark near Ghost Ranch. It's doubtful O'Keeffe
ever rode in such a conveyance. She did however
paint from the rear seat of a Model A Ford (arranging
for it to face backwards).


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