Culture

The Ghosts of Georgia O’Keeffe Are Everywhere


The Southwest has long beckoned artists and seekers. Where to wander in the footsteps of its most famous.

Words by KATY KELLEHER

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Georgia O'Keeffe seated in her home studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico | Balthazar Korab Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Updated

1 Apr 2024

Reading Time

6 Minutes

FROM THE MOMENT she arrived in New Mexico in the summer of 1929, Georgia O’Keeffe knew it was where she belonged. “I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly,” the modernist painter reflected late in life. “My skin feels close to the earth when I walk out into the red hills.” The land shaped O’Keeffe, and her work, in turn, defined and mythologized the New Mexico landscape.

Start a deep-dive O’Keeffe road trip at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Galleries, fittingly located in the Santa Fe Plaza District, the state’s historic heart. The museum—an intimate, adobe-walled space currently undertaking a big expansion— excels in showcasing O’Keeffe’s less appreciated works: pastels and watercolors, surreal and deeply layered drawings. To understand her influences, head across town to Museum Hill, where the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture is one among a cluster of institutions. Spend time with the pottery and kachinas there. Echoes of these forms are found throughout O’Keeffe’s work.

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Interior of O'Keeffe's home in Abiquiu in 1965, restored and expanded by architect Maria Chabot. | Balthazar Korab Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

In Abiquiú, north of Santa Fe, O’Keeffe spent her later career surrounded by the quiet majesty of red hills and black mesas. Tours of her home and studio start at the O’Keeffe Welcome Center. Pay attention to the empty spaces—she had an affinity for windows, doors and portals of all kinds. At the edge of town, hike through the white cliffs of the slot canyon called Plaza Blanca, a favorite O’Keeffe subject. The landowner, Dar al Islam mosque, welcomes visitors who register online in advance (you’ll need a gate code). For lunch, souvenirs and hard-to-find O’Keeffe books, head to Bodes General Store, where the artist bought groceries.

End the pilgrimage with a visit to Ghost Ranch, northwest of town, amid canyons and bluffs where humans have found refuge and inspiration for 8,000 years. O’Keeffe purchased the former dude ranch in 1940 and painted it often. Today, it’s a retreat center with guest rooms and a campground, and visitors can tour on foot or horseback. Bask in the desert light with a slow stroll through the maze of red rock. Rise with the sun to watch the cottontails frolic.

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A ladder leans on the exterior of O'Keeffe's home at Ghost Ranch. | Chelsea Oland
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A horse grazes at Ghost Ranch. | Chelsea Oland

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