A new book chronicles the transformation of two New Mexico properties into distinctly O'Keeffian studios and residences
Georgia O’Keeffe, who grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, never really felt at home on the East Coast, despite her early fame in the New York art scene of the 1920s and her marriage to legendary dealer Alfred Stieglitz. When she discovered northern New Mexico in 1929, she began spending more time there, eventually acquiring two adobe houses. One was on the 11,000-acre tract known as Ghost Ranch, the other in the small town of Abiquiu, 18 miles away. The transformation of these two properties into distinctly O’Keeffian studios and residences is illustrated in the book Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Houses (Abrams), by Barbara Buhler Lynes and Agapita Judy Lopez.
Why two houses so close together? “The elevation at Ghost Ranch is higher than that of Abiquiu, and the landscape is totally different,” says Lopez, director of Abiquiu Historic Properties, whose mother and grandfather worked for the artist. An avid gardener, O’Keeffe cherished Abiquiu for its natural springs and fertile soil, and photos show her tending to the flowers that would make their way into her paintings. The houses themselves—doorways, windows, and patios—also became her subjects, as did the spectacular surrounding landscape. Photos of the interiors show that O’Keeffe had a knack for mixing Saarinen chairs and tables, Calder mobiles, African sculpture, and Native American textiles and pottery.
O’Keeffe’s numerous letters to Stieglitz and friends document her renovations almost step by step. “These references made it possible to understand how O’Keeffe transformed a traditional adobe house into a Modernist structure whose minimalist esthetic reflects that of her art and how she lived,” says Lynes, former curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Especially critical to the makeover of the Abiquiu house was O’Keeffe’s assistant Maria Chabot, who oversaw all the details while the artist was in New York to settle Stieglitz’s estate in the mid-1940s. An essay and drawings by architect Beverley Spears outline the floor plans and explain adobe construction. “She had studios at both houses, so both served her artistic needs,” says Lynes, “but Abiquiu shows her more domestic side, while Ghost Ranch fulfilled her adventuresome need to be in nature.” O’Keeffe spent winters at Abiquiu and summers at the more isolated ranch, which is the subject of her 1937 painting The House I Live In.