Thursday, May 31, 2012

Painting in O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu Garden

cover of bookNow there are many kinds of O’Keeffe fans. There are those who venerate the woman. Those who idolize the painter. And those like me who look to her for inspiration in my painting, but do not have to see her clothes on display or follow her recipes to try to understand the “whole” O’Keeffe.

But a week or so ago, I had the opportunity to be one of the first artists to paint in her garden at Abiquiu. I have painted many times at Ghost Ranch and feel its draw. But to paint in her garden struck a chord, maybe like painting in Monet’s garden at Agenteuil. A special shared experience.

Only six artists took part—from NY, Texas, California and Albuquerque. For some it was a pilgrimage, some curiosity, but mostly just the opportunity to paint where O’Keeffe lived and painted. There was also the prestige of being the first to paint there, ever. Some were awestruck and some were nervous. But all entered the garden and grounds with a quiet openness and respect for the home and garden.

It was watering day, the day the acequia was opened to flood the yard and grounds. The thin spring grass sprung up through the two inches of water. The water saturated ground sparkled in the sunlight. The acequia gurgled past our easels as we set up to paint the house and old orchard trees. An acequia is a water channel that runs through a garden or farm and the landowners have shares of that water in inches or feet. When a person’s watering time is over, they divert the water on to the next plot or farm. Large flat stones acted as bridges over the acequia giving us access to the entire garden area.

Mounds of hollyhock leaves were already three feet tall against the warm, sun splashed adobe walls. Only a few iris and a lone orange poppy were in bloom. Mid-afternoon clouds popped up in the cerulean sky like popcorn above the adobe walls of the house. A window with three latillas placed vertically in it was a painter’s dream on the adobe wall.

The window with the latillas became the focus of my paintings. I do not remember an O’Keeffe painting with that particular window in it. It had full sun and as the afternoon grew late the shadows stood out deeper than the window itself. There was a signature ladder next to the window, leaning against the adobe wall. Who could resist painting it to prove I was in close proximity to O’Keeffe’s home painting ground?

It was a fulfilling experience. I think I enjoyed painting there even more than making all of my painting buddies envious. Well, if I am really truthful, maybe it was equal parts of enjoying painting there and making them green with envy.

Read more about the image of Georgia O'Keeffe at the Library of Congress.
PCH at Main

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