The Rancho de Taos and Georgia O’Keeffe… Part 1 of O’Keeffe Country

The Rancho de Taos Church of San Francisco de Asis was painted by Georgia O’Keeffe and photographed by her friend of 50 years, Ansel Adams. This is a photo I took of the church from the back.

It was in the fall of 1915 that I first had the idea that what I had been taught was of little value to me except for the use of my (art) materials as a language… I had been taught to work like others and after careful thinking I decided I wasn’t going to spend my life doing what was already done. –Georgia O’Keeffe in her autobiographical book on her art.

Georgia is on my mind. I had stopped off in Reno to check out the city’s River Walk on my road trip down Highway 395 this past summer when I saw a poster that the Nevada Museum of Art was featuring an exhibit on Georgia O’Keeffe titled Living Modern. There was no question in my mind. I had to go. O’Keeffe had been a favorite artist of mine ever since the 60s when I had been a student at Berkeley and first encountered her paintings of flowers. The exhibit in Reno was excellent, including several of her well-known works, but it also looked at her life, right down to her unique style of dress and the camping gear she carried when she made her painting expeditions into the remote parts of New Mexico.

Georgia O'Keefe's Jimson weed painting used for curt Mekemson blogs on Georgia O'Keefe
Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of wildflowers are recognizable world-wide. This 1932 painting by her of Jimson Weed was bought in 2014 for 44 million dollars by Alice Walton, the heiress of the Walmart fortune. The painting had hung in George Bush’s dining room at the White House. Funds generated are being used by the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe.
To supplement a painting by Georgia O'Keefe
Like Georgia O’Keeffe I have found Jimson weed, or Datura, to be a beautiful plant. I took numerous photos along the American River Parkway in Sacramento. Besides its beauty, Jimson weed is a highly toxic hallucinogenic plant that was used by the the shamans to aid their journeys to other worlds. (More on this when I do my posts on petroglyphs.)
This is some of her original camping gear. Beyond my white gas Coleman stove, it doesn’t look much different that what I used on hunting and camping trips in the early 70s.
Here’s a picture of O’Keeffe on one of her many photographic expeditions in the backcountry of New Mexico. She called this the “Black Place” because of the color of the rocks and did several paintings of the area.
A painting by O’Keeffe of the Black Place that was featured at the Nevada Museum of Art.

One thing that surprised me at the museum was the number of photos of O’ Keeffe. Starting with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and including her friend, Ansel Adams, a number of world class photographers were enticed by her unique looks. It might be argued that she was the world’s first super model.

Alfrd Steiglitz met Georgia O’Keeffe in 1916 and was immediately taken by her art— and her. Steiglitz who was 24 years older than O’Keeffe was already famous for his photography and for his support of modern art. He would eventually marry Georgia and would continue to photograph her for the rest of his life.
This is another photo by Steiglitz that is a favorite of mine.
Arguably the most famous photo of Georgia, this was taken by Ansel Adams.
The 80-year-old O”Keeffe continued to attract renowned photographers as she aged. The English photographer Cecil Beaton captured her with a skull, contemplating it like philosophers of old. Or maybe she was contemplating the feather she had stuck in its eye. Her necklace, BTW, was made for her by Alexander Calder.
Photo of Curt Mekemson contemplating skull used to compare with Georgia O'Keefe contemplating skull.
Alas, poor Bucky, I knew him well. (Apologies to Shakespeare.) Seeing Georgia’s photo, I couldn’t help myself. Bucky once hung out in our neighborhood until he met his unfortunate demise down on the road. Peggy wanted me to go cut off his head. Being reluctant (I wonder why), she bribed our neighbor, Jim the hunter, with a can of beer to do the job. The skull now guards our garden, warning deer of their possible fate if they eat our plants. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

My visit to the Nevada Museum of Art started me thinking about our planned visit to the Southwest this fall. We would be traveling through O’Keeffe Country, as they call it in New Mexico. I —along with Peggy’s enthusiastic support— decided to make where she lived and what she painted one of the focuses of our trip, which we did. We stopped by the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, went to Taos where she was first introduced to New Mexico by Mable Dodge Luhan, and then visited her homes in Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. Today, I am going to start at Taos with a post on the Rancho de Taos and the Church of San Francisco de Asis. Its considered a must stop for photographers and painters who visit the town.

Like most photographers and painters who make the pilgrimage to Taos, O’Keeffe painted the historic and beautiful adobe church of St. Francisco de Asis. This perspective is from the back.
Ansel Adams photographed the church from the back.
And from the front..

Naturally, Peggy and I had to wander around Rancho de Taos and take our own photos. I included one of mine at the top of the post. Here are a few more.

I was fascinated by the soft angles of the church.
Here is another example.
If a church could be said to have feet, the Rancho de Taos church seems to. Big guys!
Walking around the church, I came on an interesting sculpture of Joseph, Jesus and Mary.
And peeked in a window.
A sideview of San Francisco de Asis including the sculpture and window.
While I was working my way around the church, Peggy focused on the front. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Playing with Peggy’s photo, I gave it more of an Ansel Adams look.
Peggy also stood back beyond the arched entrance way and took a photo focusing on the left side of the church. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Shooting up, she caught this shot of the belfry… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And noticed a pigeon, which I thought made an interesting photo considering the backdrop. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I took a shot lining up the front of the church and its crosses with the archway.
And two photos looking up at the front of the church.
I also caught a photo of people walking into the church for a Saturday service, a reminder that San Francisco de Asis is still a very active church.
Peggy took this photo of an adobe ruin on the square surrounding the church. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And this very red building. It’s for sale in case you are interested! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
I’ll conclude my post on Rancho de Taos with a final photo I took of the back of the San Francisco de Asis church.

Next Post: I’ll write about the unusual patron of the arts, Mable Dodge Luhan, who brought the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence to Taos. Peggy and I will visit the Taos Pueblo that was also painted by O’Keeffe and photographed by Ansel Adams.

32 thoughts on “The Rancho de Taos and Georgia O’Keeffe… Part 1 of O’Keeffe Country

  1. You spoke of your own camping gear, Curt. As I looked at that picture of her’s, I wondered how long it had been since I had seen or used a folding Sterno stove – and wondered how many people are still around who had ever seen one. Then i Googled it and found they are still available – it is not the stove that is old, it is me. 🙂
    Loved your pictures of the church.

    • Yep, sternos are still around. In fact, they now make backpacking stoves that use burning twigs for heating in much the same way stereo was used. I had seriously considered buying one. And thanks on the photos. Both Peggy and I love the unique beauty of the church. –Curt

  2. I’ve known that Taos is quite the culture center of that part of our country, but never really looked into their collections. Thank you for teaching me once again.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful and artistic post you given us.
    Both about Georgia O’Keaffe and Taos church.
    All is fascinating and beautiful. Yes, I have seen the glorious flowers and some of her art but never known her story.

    It is amazing what a human being can do with talent and courage. It is wonderful to have people like you and Peggy describing and photographing. I will save some of your images.


  4. merci – thanx, Sir! long story, short: I’ve loved Georgia O’Keefe since my University years and I walked in her footsteps in Hawaii, and before the end of this year, gonna walk to the Rancho de Taos… 🙂

  5. What beautiful photos! Like you said, the soft angles of the church are just…yeah, pretty fascinating! It almost looks like a gingerbread structure in some shots 🙂 (Or maybe I’m just hungry…) I love Georgia O’Keefe’s work, and am looking forward to the rest of this series. (I think I have some to catch up on, too. Nov has been crazy!)

  6. One of the tasks I had when I began packing for my move was sorting through my rock collection. One of my largest is a triangular red rock from the area around Abiquiu — a reminder that I was there, didn’t pay enough attention, didn’t know enough, and need to go back. After seeing the Crystal Bridges exhibition of her work, I wrote a couple of posts, and as you know, “a couple of posts” can barely scratch the surface.

    I’m hoping you stopped by the Lawrence Tree. As for St. Francisco de Asis, I’ve had a photo of the church in my kitchen since that trip — a view very much like many of O’Keeffe’s paintings.

    • I was intrigued by O’Keeffe’s rock collection at Abiquiu. And, of course there were the bones and antlers. I revisited my two art books on Georgia before I started writing my posts and spent a lot of time on the Internet, not only looking at O’Keefe, but the people in her life as well. I also enjoyed both the traveling museum exhibit in Reno and the permanent exhibit in Santa Fe.A fascinating woman, Linda, no doubt about it. And I found it pleasing that you photographed the church as well and have kept a picture of it in your kitchen. –Curt

  7. I’ve been aware, like most people, of O’Keeffe for many years, but I’ve never dug too deeply into her work or life for whatever reason. Now her environment interests me a lot more because the woman I work for (editing her memoir) spent much of her time in Santa Fe and Abiquiu, and she also had a third career designing and building adobe structures, of which these are so reminiscent!

    • Interesting Lexi. You may gain insights that most of us don’t have. O’Keeffe was a fascinating woman, both in her professional life and private life, as were the people who surrounded her. –Curt

  8. When I first glanced at your title, I thought it said “The Rancho de Tacos”. It sounded delicious, but I’m glad the post turned into something more sublime. Nice pics, all the way around.

  9. Always learning over here on your blog Curt. Love the series of photos of Georgia through the decades.Great captures of the church and I’m especially fond of the peeking in the window. Might say something about my curious personality.

    • “I’m especially fond of the peeking in the window.” Laughing, Sue. You and Peggy.
      Photographers never tired of photographing Georgia, for good reason. I had a hard time determining which ones to feature.
      Thanks on the church. Its unique look makes it a fun place to photograph. This was my second round. –Curt

  10. Its a remarkable church! I have seen the Ansel Adams photo from front on, but seeing all the different angles from both of your cameras has given me a much better impression of what I’m looking at. I especially appreciated O’Keefe’s painting from the back, exaggerating the swelling, fat walls so that they look like they’re built of something soft. Giant blocks of flan, bulging from gravity’s pull.

    • There are good reasons why every artist who makes it to Taos makes a beeline for the church, Crystal. It’s unique architecture makes it a national treasure. Peggy and I enjoyed photographing it. In fact, we enjoy photographing it each time we make it to Taos! 🙂 Thanks. –Curt

  11. Pingback: Georgia (O’Keeffe) On My Mind… Again: Her Home in Abiquiu | Wandering through Time and Place

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