Georgia (O’Keeffe) On My Mind… Again: Her Home in Abiquiu

Everything about Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu seems to reflect the artist.
A view of the surrounding scenery from the entrance to Georgia O’Keeffe’s home.
Looking in. Note the ladder against the wall.
Looking up. O’Keeffe would paint many things around her house…
Including the ladder which she loved to climb up to the roof. Here, it is reaching farther up to the moon. The mesa top below it is where Georgia’s ashes are scattered.

Last summer when I was traveling down Highway 395 through Nevada and California, I discovered an excellent exhibit on Georgia O’Keeffe at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. It encouraged me to visit the places she had lived in New Mexico as one of the focuses of our Southwest trip last fall. Peggy, who likes O’Keeffe’s art as much as I do, readily agreed. In November, before Peggy and I climbed on Amtrak and made our way east to Virginia, I did two posts on Georgia and her time in Taos. In the first (go here), I featured relevant photos I had taken at the exhibit in Reno and then photos that Peggy and I had taken of the Church of St. Francisco of Asis church in Taos, a church that O’Keeffe had painted and her friend Ansel Adams had photographed. In the second (go here), I featured Mable Dodge Luhan, the famous art patron who persuaded Georgia to visit Taos, and the 1000-year-old Taos Pueblo, which O’Keeffe also painted and Adams photographed. 

Today, we are going to visit O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. When she first visited her the place in the mid 30’s, it was an old Spanish-Colonial compound that was basically in ruins. But she fell in love with it, and according to Georgia, a particular door. She had to have it. Acquiring it took ten years, which she did in 1945. It was up to her friend, Maria Chabot, working as the general contractor for four years, to turn it into a home.  ”It took six months just to get the pigs out of the house,” Chabot would claim. O’Keeffe lived in the house up until 1984 when ill health forced her to move to Santa Fe where she died in 1986 at the age of 98.

This cat welcomed us to the Georgia O’Keeffe Welcome Center in Abiquiu.
Not so welcoming was this sculpture of a rattlesnake by Joe Spear on loan from the rattlesnake museum in Albuquerque. (I really wanted to go to the museum but we ran out of time.)

Peggy and I signed up for a tour of the home and studio with Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. It started at the O’Keeffe Welcome Center in Abiquiu and then progressed up to the house. We were allowed to take photos outside but not inside. (I suspect that’s to encourage people to buy the tour instead of just going on-line.) One of the more interesting items inside was a piano that Georgia bought so Ansel Adams could play when he came to visit her. We learned that he had trained as a classical pianist instead of a photographer. The house and surroundings inspired a number of her paintings including the door that had originally attracted her, which she painted some 20 times. Another focus, the cottonwoods growing in the Chama River Valley that her house overlooked, she painted 24 times

One of her 20 paintings of the doors in her patio.
One of the doors she liked to paint.
Looking in toward the door.
I took a photo of the other door along with one of the picturesque bushes growing in the patio.
Here I found one of the bushes in the sun and the other in the shadow. Peer into the dark and you will see antlers that O’Keeffe loved.
It’s an impressive rack of a bull elk.
Close up.
O’Keeffe was known for her paintings of antlers and other bones she found out in the desert. At first her husband and agent, Alfred Stieglitz, objected to her sending bones back to New York to paint. When the paintings started to sell like crazy, he told her to send all the bones she wanted. She sent a barrel full.
I also found this partial mountain sheep skull at Georgia’s.
She also liked to collect rocks and sea shells. They are found throughout her house.
Including on the sill of her living room window. She also found dead wood worthy of painting. I think the piece on the right may have served as a model.
As Georgia O’Keeffe grew older her eye sight started to go and she took up sculpture. Her young handy man had been trained as a potter and taught Georgia how. It was quite the scandal of the time that Juan, who was 58 years younger than Georgia, was also handy in other ways. Georgia left him her two houses and $17 million, which he didn’t keep.
While we could only photograph the sculpture at Georgia’s house from the outside, there was one of her sculptures at the exhibit in Reno that I was able to photograph.
Another perspective.
One of the things that O’Keeffe treasured about her home was its garden. Fruits and vegetables are still harvested from it today. These apples are ready to pick! I might have had one had the guide not been watching me. (Grin)
I find the adobe look of southwestern homes like O’Keeffe’s very attractive. Had Peggy and I retired to New Mexico instead of Oregon, we would have had one. The contrasting trees here are a plus.
The surrounding countryside provided inspiration for many of Georgia’s paintings. As I noted earlier these included over two dozen paintings of the cottonwoods that grew along the Chama River below her house. This one of them.. It is quite close to being abstract.
I’ll conclude my post today with a photo a cottonwood near her home.

NEXT POSTS: On Wednesday it’s time for another photographic essay. This time I will post photos of some quite humorous elephant seals Peggy and I found on the beach near Hearst Castle in Southern California. On Friday, I will conclude my Georgia O’Keeffe series with a trip to Ghost Ranch, about 15 miles north of Abiquiu where Georgia also lived and painted.

28 thoughts on “Georgia (O’Keeffe) On My Mind… Again: Her Home in Abiquiu

  1. Oh, the famous door.
    We have a museum exhibit poster of that painting of floating skull and antlers in our dining room.
    Her paintings are so mysterious yet calming. She was so good at showcasing surroundings and the environment. Quite an observer of small things. Really a fan.

    • That’s neat.
      She had a unique way of looking at the world that was totally her own, which I guess all great artists do. ‘Mysterious yet calming’ is also a good description of the land she painted. It’s a way I feel when I hike into the more remote parts of the Grand Canyon. And to see the rocks and shells and bones she collected through out her house reinforces the ‘observer of small things’ concept. And then she would apply her magic to them. Thanks. Much appreciated. –Curt

      • I had sculptural “finds” like large cow vertebrae and tiny skulls (We still had access to family farms/ranches then) and a few woven wall hangings with found objects like leg bones, but they apparently freaked out buyers when we were selling our house so they had to be packed away. Not everyone has the same vision.
        Have loved the SW lands since traveling them every summer camping parks as a child. Old pawn Turquoise is finer than diamonds to me.

      • I have a deer vertebrae sitting on my porch right now and a deer skull with antlers attached decorating our honeysuckle. I’m jealous about your youthful journeys. Ours always involved going to see grandparents. There was an advantage that they lived on the Pacific Coast near Monterey, however.
        Love your statement about pawn tourquoise. Thanks. –Curt

  2. I’ve heard of this house of hers. Definitely unique.
    But just WHY would you want to go to the rattlesnake museum? We have diamondback and pigmies down here if you want to see them. Yuck.

  3. You make an excellent and artistically varied case for a fresh look at this artist – i’d not heard of her – dubbed, I notice, ‘mother of American modernism. Just seen google images and she has a beautiful and distinctive style …

    • I’ve liked O’Keeffe for about as many years as I’ve appreciated art, Dave, dating back to my college years. Leaning more about her, as I have this past year, only increased my appreciation. Thanks. –Curt

  4. I think I may plan a trip to New Mexico just to see this. Her artwork is so compelling! I’d love to stand and look out a window that she looked out of and gained inspiration from. But I will NOT be visiting the Rattlesnake Museum. That sculpture gave me the heebie-jeebies. I’d pass out if I had to look at a museum full of snakes, real or not.

  5. You know how much I enjoyed this. Every time I read about her, or see photos, I want to go back, particularly since I roamed the mesas last time, but never saw the house. She’s a fascinating character, and her years in Texas were just as interesting, even hough she was much younger then, and her work quite different (and in many ways undeveloped).

    I didn’t know, or had forgotten, about your fascination with rattlesnakes. There’s still time to get to Sweetwater for the annual rattlesnake round-up.. have you ever been?

    (That reminds me of this: “West Texas is the only place where a woman can bathe in Sweetwater, dry off in Plainview, and dress in Seymour.”)

    • She developed her love of the west in Texas, Linda, although Texas found her a little too independent at the time. 🙂 Never been to the Sweetwater rattlesnake roundup. But I would certainly find it interesting. Laughing at your ditty. –Curt

    • As her vision deteriorated, she moved on, still taking joy in creating. Probably a lesson for all of us, Annika. I’m reminded to the great impressionistic paintings that Monet gave us as he lost his sight.
      It was fun for me to look at the art and the scenes that inspired it. Thanks. –Curt

  6. She is one of my favorite painters. For me her paintings often express the essence of what she was looking at, and she did made them big, as if magnifying the presence of the objects in the desert setting.

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