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georgia o’keeffe & me

by | May 11, 2019 | Uncategorized

My first time visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was in 1997, soon after they opened.

Yesterday was my first time back.

Outside the Georgia OKeeffe Museum, Santa Fe. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Did I mention the Georgia O’Keeffe museum is two miles from my house?

Yet it took me twenty-two years to walk through the doors again.

Two decades!

Georgia O'Keeffe 1988 MET retrospective poster

Yes. I’m pretty embarrassed by that. And really, I can’t tell you why it took me so long. There’s a list of poor excuses. Part of the blame may be because my first visit there — right when they opened — I was unimpressed.
With the arrogant air of a freshly minted MFA student who had experienced the massive 1988 O’Keeffe retrospective in a real museum in a real city, I was oh so quick to judge. This Santa Fe building? This museum? This was…. oh so quaint….

And, well…. I just never made it back. Which is kind of shameful for one who loves museums.

It wasn’t a decision not to go back.

It just didn’t ever happen. Part of that was the Truth that we so often don’t visit the sites in our own town. Why that is, I don’t know, but it’s likely because we figure we have all the time in the world to go, but then never make the point of going!

Then there’s lazy stinginess: If I’m going to pay $2 to park downtown, well, I have more urgent priorities ( like, ummm…. going herehere…. here…. and here ).

Then there’s the fact that somewhere in the middle of those two decades I read a biography of O’Keeffe that left me with a sour impression. I got the sense that the woman was kind of unpleasant. Really though, that probably reveals more about me at the time of my reading that particular bio than it says about her. Or maybe it says more about the tone of the biographer than of O’keeffe’s essence.

But mostly I hadn’t made it back to the O’Keeffe Museum because I felt I already knew a lot about her and was already familiar with her work. Seemed like everywhere you looked there was her art featured on a poster….

Georgia O'Keeffe poster for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival 1978.

So I didn’t feel a particular need to see more of it in person any time soon.

Yet please don’t think these “negatives” mean I disliked her work. Quite the contrary, I had always rather admired her work. In fact, there was a time about a decade ago when, on the other side of the globe in an autumnal European City, Georgia O’Keeffe carried me back home to New Mexico.

Still, I didn’t go to the O’Keeffe museum.

Till yesterday. Yesterday I went.

It was splendid.

Museum exhibit banner of Georgia Okeeffe carrying a canvas outside

And I’m kicking myself for taking so long to get back there. Indeed, my sophomoric dismissal of the museum 22 years ago says a whole lot more about me and my snooty attitude than it served as a worthy critique of the fledgling museum.
Now, in the two decades since, the museum and its collection has grown into a marvelous center for viewing and exploring creativity in general and of one of the great artists of the 20th century in particular.

Walking into the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was like walking into the salon of a friend — a sister. A compatriot. Simpatica.

I felt like she was speaking to me — directly to me — through her paintings, her sketches, her collections of brushes, tubes of paints and sticks of color; her desert bones.

Georgia O'Keeffe, 'Untitled' (Red and Yellow Cliffs), oil on canvas, 1940.
Georgia O'Keeffe, Untitled (Abstraction), black pen on paper, 1963/64
Georgia OKeeffe's paint brushes.
Rattlesnake skeleton displayed in banco at Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Through her work she was saying to me It’s OK — what you’re doing with your work is OK — it’s all OK.

OK meaning perfect.

OK meaning just right.

For here is what struck me particularly, what I wrote in my journal there in the last gallery of the museum late yesterday afternoon:

Dawn Chandler's notes in her journal when visiting the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

OK meaning keep doing what you’re doing.

OK meaning keep on looking, keep on listening, keep on noting, keep on painting.

I was struck by the fact that she didn’t seem to be haunted by critics pushing her to choose between styles and interests. That she painted her version of “traditional” landscapes with just as much studied interest as she painted her abstractions. If those critical voices tried to haunt her, she left them like bones to dry out in the desert.

OK meaning keep on with your “traditional” “representational” landscapes.

Georgia OKeeffe 'Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back of Marie's II, oil on canvas, 1930

OK meaning keep on with your abstractions.

Georgia O'Keeffe 'Blue-A' oil on canvas, 1959

OK meaning keep on loving and painting and celebrating your cranes. Your clouds. Your skies. Your words. Your sketches. Your hearts. Your everything.

OK meaning just keep on keeping on.

And, while you’re at it, sanctify your blessed, creative solitude, your focus. Turn off the phone.

Carry a sketchbook.


Honor your creativity. Your vision.

And Be.

Dawn Chandler's digital grid of several Georgia OKeeffe paintings from the Georgia OKeeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

psssst: To my Tuesday Dawnings subscribers — keep an eye out for my next edition for some O’Keeffe-inspired sketchbook musings!
Not yet signed up for Tuesday Dawnings? Go here for more info.


Artist Dawn Chandler enjoying coffee and journalling time by the Rio Grande.

Thank you for reading my blog and appreciating my musings.
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~ Dawn Chandler

You can find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website,, as well as on Instagram and Facebook. Peruse and shop for my art here, and sign up for Tuesday Dawnings weekly deep breath of uplift & insight here.