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The Day I Met Georgia O'Keeffe

By | March 2, 2009
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I first met Georgia O’Keeffe on a spring morning. I had been invited to meet her because of my job as Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of New Mexico. I had studied her and knew that she could be cranky and that younger women fawning over her was one of her pet peeves. Nevertheless I could not resist bringing her some white lilacs from a beautiful old bush that had been planted by one of her old enemies, Edgar Hewett*.

So, like so many others, I watched as she came out of her Abiquiu house, dressed in black, looking exactly as she did in the famous photos, and wearing the spiral Calder brooch. I was struck speechless.

As I was introduced, she looked hard at me and said: “Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, how did they let that happen?” I had no idea what to say, so I didn’t say anything, and she went on: “A woman, how did they let that happen? Come in.”

“I brought you some lilacs.” I finally ventured.

“They are dead,” she said. She was right; they were. It had been a hot drive from Santa Fe and I didn’t have the stems in water. “We have very good lilacs here in Abiquiu.” “I know,” I said, “but these are the last lilacs from a bush planted by Edgar Hewett.”

“Oh, then I like them very much,” she smiled.

I decided then that I wouldn’t talk anymore, having gotten out of that tricky situation, I was going to be more careful. But O’Keeffe continued to talk to me. I know now that she was pretty deaf, and that she liked talking to one person more than listening to a group.

“Would you like to see the house?” she asked. I assumed that she meant the group of lawyers and other men who were also there to see her. I stepped back so they could follow her. “No, I just mean her,” she snapped at them, and off the two of us went to see the famous Abiquiu house.

This was the beginning of a little friendship. O’Keeffe invited me back to see her in Abiquiu and I was amazed and flattered. She was funny and sharp and well aware of her place in the art world, not, as she was quick to say, as a woman artistbut as an artist.

*Edgar Hewitt, archaeologist and director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, famously feuded with O'Keeffe.

Click here to learn more about Georgia O'Keeffe.

Click here to experience the life of Georgia O'Keeffe for yourself.

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Ellen Bradbury Reid

Ellen Bradbury Reid grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Following graduate work at Yale University, Ellen served as Curator of Primitive Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Upon returning to Santa Fe, she became director of the Museum of Fine Arts, and later director of the Santa Fe Festival of the Arts. Ellen then founded Recursos de Santa Fe about 20 years ago. As director, she has organized seminars and tours on fine art, architecture, archaeology, history, and science for museums and universities.

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