Georgia’s Country

A few years ago, I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to a tiny village in New Mexico. Abiquiu takes up barely four pages in the local phone book; with its one General Store and gas station, plus post office and library, it is about as rural as it can get. So I was quite surprised to realize, upon a visit to San Francisco about a year after my relocation, that my new home town was rather famous — due to the fact that Georgia O’Keeffe had chosen Abiquiu as her abode, settling here permanently after the death of her husband Alfred Stieglitz in 1946. Before that, she’d divide her time between New Mexico and New York — spending a few summer months here, and then returning to the East Coast. But the inspiration for her paintings stemmed from this remote and isolated area to which she felt deeply connected.

What drew Georgia to the landscape around Abiquiu — the Piñon- and Juniper-studded mesas; the glorious rock formations that change color with the light of the day, displaying every shade of pink, orange, copper, reddish browns and creamy beiges, offset by the dusty greyish green of the sage brush; the sky with its intense deep blue during the day and its brilliant, profuse display of sparkling stars at night; the majestic cottonwood trees that line the Rio Chama all along the valley, each one with its own distinct personality — has attracted many artists since she first came here. The beauty that nature unfolds with such abundance draws and keeps those who have a strong visual sense, who love colors, shapes, textures.

How must it have been to move here over sixty years ago, when there was absolutely none of the convenience she must have been used to? Nowadays there’s even a Trader Joe’s in Santa Fe, but friends of mine remember the not-too-distant days when they had to drive to Albuquerque for anything but the most essential goods. And to buy land in Abiquiu when the local Hispanic community wasn’t all that eager to welcome Anglos in their midst must have required determination and a strong will. Maybe her single-minded, passionate conviction that it was here in the Southwest where she must live and work and paint swept away any prejudices. The older locals who still knew her certainly remember her fondly.

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe is preparing the installation of “Living Artists of Distinction: Sherrie Levine, Abstraction” which opens Friday, January 26, 2007.

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