Let there be no doubt about it; Santa Fe is in love with Georgia O’Keeffe. She’s the spiritual godmother of the town. A perusal of the shops which line the downtown Plaza reveal a wide variety of goods. Take your pick of O’Keeffe postcards, refrigerator magnets, posters, coffee table books, and scarves. Then there’s the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum — the most visited attraction in town. What’s surprising is that Ms. O’Keeffe never lived in Santa Fe. She spent her days at one of her two residences in Abiquiu or at the Ghost Ranch — both over an hour away.
So what accounts for O’Keeffe’s psychic hold on Santa Fe? The answer may lie in her greatest creation; her persona. The mere mention of her name puts a visitor in an expansive state of mind. While there’s little doubt she was an exceptional painter, her real genius lies in the lifestyle she created for herself. O’Keeffe is as well-known for her personal style as she is for her art. So much of her mystique lies in her black dress, Aguila silver and leather belt, and the broach she wore that Alexander Calder designed for her.
Who can resist her life story of spending an ever-increasing amount of time away from her mentor/husband Alfred Stieglitz to tromp around the Canyonlands of New Mexico? Back in the 1929, O’Keeffe visited the Land of Enchantment for the first time and discovered a world that would enthrall her for the rest of her life. In 1940, she bought the Ghost Ranch and made it her permanent residence.
During this period, she became the O’Keeffe of legend. Readers of Life magazine were inspired by the sight of an independent woman living alone, wandering the high desert, picking up bleached cow skulls and smooth river stones. The cumulative effect of O’Keeffe’s art and life had a powerful effect on the viewer; a romantic vision of a world filled with haunting beauty and mystery. It remains Georgia O’Keeffe’s true legacy and an invitation for all of us to explore the natural world.