A case of O’Keefe

Near the entrance to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe.

The streets of Santa Fe are lined with art galleries and, since they can’t all fit at street level, the second and third storeys of most commercial buildings are also jammed with galleries and their well-dressed proprietors. Most of the offerings are not that good, to put it charitably, and that’s to be expected. The sheer volume is ridiculous. But a remarkable proportion is very good.

Santa Fe is drunk on O’Keefe, and for good reason. She was just one of the many artists and writers that transformed Santa Fe, back in the 1920s and 1930s, into a desert Mecca for painters, photographers and collectors. But among those first, her star has risen the highest.

On our second day here, we made a pilgrimage to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, where we viewed some fine paintings and learned about her early life, before she became an industry. Then on the weekend we visited the Georgia O’Keefe Welcome Center, in Abiquiu. Her home and studio at Abiquiu, where she lived from 1943 until her death in 1986, is just minutes from the Center, but we lacked the required tickets.

Instead, we trailed through the gift shop, where we had the opportunity to buy Georgia O’Keefe walking sticks, like the ones she carried in the desert; black, flat-topped gaucho hats, which the artist favoured; as well as the loose scarves and garments that gave the artist a gnomic presence among the rocks and rattlesnakes. We had pictures of the artist’s kitchen to look at, and a book that will make you cook like O’Keefe. There were archival-quality prints to buy, as well as stunningly produced portraits and photo books.

The lady was photogenic.

Before mandated access ramps, Georgia O’Keefe lived at this cottage at Ghost Ranch for several summers.

Ghost Ranch

To get to Ghost Ranch, where O’Keefe had a small cottage for some years prior to Abiquiu, we drove through a hot, dusty landscape of rocks and low scrub, with always a string of mountains rising in the distance. The 21,000-acre former dude ranch enchanted O’Keefe as soon as she saw it, and its owners eventually allowed her to buy the Rancho de los Burros cottage and its adjoining seven acres. She returned every summer for years, until she bought and renovated her more famous home in Abiquiu.

Today, Ghost Ranch is a Presbyterian retreat and a stop along the 4,873 km. Continental Divide Trail, which begins at the border of Chihuahua, Mexico, and ends at Alberta.

Ghost Ranch has many outbuildings and places for quiet retreat. As we sat to admire the landscape, two men set up folding chairs under a tree and began tuning their banjos.
(For you non-Greeks, agape means love.)
Another view of Ghost Ranch. On the way out, we stopped at a corral where a young girl gave us apples to feed the mules and horses.
Yet another view of Ghost Ranch.

The New Mexico landscape is austere and beautiful, but also an arena of vague dread, of menace and sudden criminal violence. When your first, formative impressions of New Mexico are through TV shows, such as Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, it’s hard to get the menace out of your head. By the time you get to New Mexico, it’s already too late. For the mind is already colonized.

Nor do the Presbyterian administrators of Ghost Ranch help to declutter the mind and refocus it on nature: I find a room whose walls are covered with posters of movies filmed in the area; movies packed with six-guns, blood and murderous Indians. (On my second day in Santa Fe, Michael Shannon and I strolled past each other. Google says he’s in town on a shoot.)

The planet is burning, part 4

Yesterday, on our way home from Cerillos and Madrid, both located on the Turquoise Trail, we pulled over to take the photo above. When we finally arrived in Santa Fe, the city smelled like a house fire. At night, the lunar eclipse was barely visible and the stars, normally bright, had vanished.

The other lady of Santa Fe.

6 thoughts on “A case of O’Keefe”

  1. So love reading you, the myriad of images you conjure up, make it a delectable treat each and every time. Thanks again Spyrrrr


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  2. Have you gone to any super markets on the other side of the tracks? You’ll meet the extras from Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. Worth finding.


  3. Great to read all this!
    The Ghost Ranch gift shop sounds a bit sad. I guess that’s just the way things go. Capitalizing is part of capitalism.
    Having never watched Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul I was not burdened with that dread when I visited NM, thankfully.
    Sad to see all that smoke. Impossible to escape the burning.
    Love all your photos. The adobe structures are also very photogenic, n’est-ce pas?


    1. Hi, Alison. Sorry I’ve missed your comments. Some kind of tech issue, I’m sure. You don’t have to have seen those TV shows to feel the dread. Simply look at the horizon and the approaching firestorm. Yes, about adobe structures in photos. I find that ordinary (i.e. non-adobe) architecture needs strong shadows from early- or late afternoon sunlight. Here, adobe looks good at all hours, and the irregular surface adds further texture in the light.

      Liked by 1 person

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