Not everyone, can own a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, but everyone can visits the museums, studios and environs that inspired her interpretations of the stark New Mexico landscape.
It’s easiest to start your safari in Santa Fe, with the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, where her works are on permanent display along with some traveling exhibits.
It’s always refreshing and sparks your curiosity when you see a sampling of her works secured in a modern windowless museum, which also houses a gift shop of medium priced memorabilia. It is located a bit off the main square, which might be a symbolic interpretation as to the rural nature of her works ~ and it seems appropriate.
She must have reveled in her New Mexico solitude after her time in New York City with Alfred Stieglitz. Her history is well documented so I won’t go into her story, but the Museum also has a short film, giving a capsulated synopsis for the uninitiated.
I always visit this small but impressive museum when in Santa Fe, and usually stop next door at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum café, with its appropriate décor and upscale menu and service. But sad to say, it is now no more. It was privately owned and had no affiliation with the museum next door, even though it was an asset for O’Keeffe Museum patrons.
As a different alternative you can still enjoy the singing wait staff at the Cantina of La Casa Sena, where nightly the talent of the chef is only equaled by the variety of the singing staff. Some performances are extra ordinary, some are mediocre, but such is the fate with the performing arts.
For a surprisingly gourmet meal the indoor outdoor restaurant at the Santa Fe Hotel is a treat, especially when the weather is appealing, as you experience the Santa Fe blue sky, pinion scented air and wild garden flowers. I had a trio of meats as an entree one night that included beef, buffalo and rattle snake sausage. The accommodations are also a treat, and worth an overnight or two stay to let you soak up more of the Santa Fe spirit so congenial with that of O’Keeffe.
While in Santa Fe you should visit 2 contemporary artists and their art: Poteet Victory paintings at the Mc Larry Gallery (www.mclarrymodern.com) and the bronzes of Joshua Tobey at the 882 Gallery (www.gallery822.com), both on canyon road.
But for the real flavor of O’Keeffe you must visit the attractions way north of Santa Fe at the area known as Abiquiu. This was her stomping grounds, with the Abiquiu studio and home on a hill top overlooking a valley, and her Ghost Ranch situated with her views of the beloved and inspiring rock cliffs and distant mountain top. Both of these are by appointment and reservation only, as only limited numbers of visitors are permitted each day. The fees are minimal but the preservation of these locales is intense. Of course photography and note taking are not allowed at the Abiquiu home, while the tour at Ghost Ranch is a bit more congenial with the chance to photograph the cliffs and vistas. Her low slung ghost ranch home here is not open to the public at the moment. Both locales are a one time must. The Abiquiu home she built (expanding an age old adobe structure) is unique and for a single person with help staff and two black dogs, and with the expansive “Picture” window, it would be quite comfortable. The hill top walled in garden with its once a week watering canal system seems ecologically sound and evidently quite sufficient for her summer time needs.
The hills at Ghost Ranch are enchanting. In 1940 O’Keeffe purchased a house on eight acres at Ghost Ranch. From her front door the flat toped mesa of Cerro Pedernal is seen and the backyard faces seven hundred foot high striated cliffs. It is enlightening to see the subjects for some of her most famous works. She would take a detail of a cliff, pinnacle or rock slide and paint it as if it was the most important part of a vista. The tour points out such iconic sights from the dirt road where a small bus tours the visitors with occasional stops. The Ghost Ranch is the essence of the real Georgia O’Keeffe. And to my delight there are cabins available for rental, even though they are a distance away from the gated tour road of famous cliffs. Still a respite here amid the breeze heard through the trees and the occasional sight of a distant dust devil is a memory for the ages.
Taking the High road from here over to Taos is another experience that lets you soak up the views of unspoiled raw beauty. In Taos you might want to stay at the rambling Taos Inn, in what appears to be one of the first adobe styled motel/haciendas. Down the way off the square is the Harwood art museum where a time line of New Mexico artists and exceptional traveling exhibits (I saw one on R.C. Gorman) is informative. If you can arrange a docent or staff to give you an over view it will help you grasp the Harwood’s importance.
The staff recommended Lamberts on Bent Street, for my dinner, and while the main dining area and courtyard was over booked, I opted for the upstairs Treehouse Bar, where the same food menu was offered. Here the entrée I ordered was vastly overshadowed by the congenial and eccentric patrons. Spending an hour or so there was the highlight of my Taos visit, and I hated to leave, but the full moon over Taos was calling.
Of course a tour of the famous Taos Pueblo is a must where free guided tours are available, but I opted to tour own my own. Ducking in to adobe shops and talking with the local artists/inhabitants, again was a congenial experience. I was privileged to have Jeralyn Lujan Lucero let me photograph her as she was crafting one of her clay pots. (A nominal camera/photographic fee is charged upon Taos Pueblo entry- but well worth it.)
I bid my farewell to O’Keeffe country with a cactus Margarita at Old Martina’s Hall and bar opposite the famous San Francis de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos. The exterior of the church was famously interpreted in O’Keeffe paintings. An extended road trip such as this gives a genuine perspective of the visual cues that inspired Georgia O’Keeffe.