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Bridges and Waterfalls: Georgia O'Keeffe in Hawaii

November 8 - December 31, 2006


Bridges and Waterfalls: Georgia O'Keeffe in Hawai'i is being presented in the Holt Gallery at the Honolulu Academy of Arts November 8 through December 31, 2006. (right: Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986, United States, Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast-No. II, 1939, Oil on canvas, 6 x10 inches (15.2x25.4 cm). Gift of the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, 1994 [7893.1].Photo © Honolulu Academy of Arts)

The late 1930s were a time of great change and upheaval in the life of Georgia O'Keeffe. Her mentor and husband, the famous photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, became romantically involved with a wealthy young married woman named Dorothy Norman. Even after O'Keeffe suffered a nervous breakdown over the stress of his infidelity, the love affair continued.

The nervous breakdown so incapacitated O'Keeffe that she did not pursue her art for almost two years. An essential part of her recovery was travel. She renewed her regular summer trips to Abiquiu, New Mexico but also went to Maine, Bermuda, and Hawai'i. These trips took her away from her husband's ongoing relationship with Norman and introduced her to fresh subject matter. In the late 1930s, more than one critic had written that they were getting tired of her Southwest images. O'Keeffe's three-month sojourn in Hawai'i was at the invitation of the New York advertising agency N.W. Ayer. Ayer executive Earl Thomas, who had arranged an honorary doctorate for O'Keeffe from William and Mary College in Virginia, sent the artist to Hawai'i on the Matson oceanliner S.S. Lurline. The Ayer company had previously commissioned Charles Sheeler to photograph a Ford plant and Edward Steichen to photograph the oceanliner itself for Matson. Dole Company was the client that underwrote O'Keeffe's expenses in exchange for a painting of a pineapple.

During her stay, O'Keeffe traveled around Oahu, Maui, and Hawai'i. She painted landscapes in the Iao Valley, numerous flowers, including bella donna, hibiscus, plumeria, ginger and lotus, surreal pictures of fishhooks, and formations of black lava. These paintings were featured in the Academy's 1990 exhibition Georgia O'Keeffe: Paintings in Hawai'i. (left: Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986, United States, Waterfall-End of Road-'Iao Valley, 1939, Oil on canvas,19x16 inches (48.3x40.6 cm). Purchase, Allerton, Prisanlee and General Acquisition Funds with a gift from The Honolulu Advertiser, 1989 [5808.1].Photo © Honolulu Academy of Arts)

This small exhibition features five of the many paintings completed while she was in Hawai'i including natural bridges of black lava and waterfalls, from the Academy's permanent collection. Significantly, she did not paint a pineapple plant or its fruit. Instead, she sent the Ayer company a painting of a papaya tree, the fruit sold by Dole's competitors. She also sent them paintings of a green and pink heliconia plant and a pink ornamental banana. Exasperated Ayer executives finally air-shipped a pineapple plant to O'Keeffe's New York City penthouse. After two more months of procrastination, O'Keeffe completed the painting of a pineapple bud nestled amidst long green leaves and a painting of a red crab's claw ginger plant, which has been generously loaned for this exhibition from a private collection. Both pictures were featured in advertising campaigns extolling the health benefits to be derived from pineapple juice.

While in Hawai'i, O'Keeffe met many prominent local figures including Atherton Richards and Richard Pritzlaff, Hana Plantation manager Willis Jennings, and painter Robert Lee Eskridge, to whom she gave her paints when leaving the islands.

Photographs of O'Keeffe smiling broadly are evidence of her own assertion that she considered Hawai'i one of the most beautiful and remarkable of places. When the Hawaiian paintings were exhibited at An American Place in 1940, her exhibition statement was no less emphatic: "If my painting is what I have to give back to the world for what the world gives to me, I may say that these paintings are what I have to give at present for what three months in Hawai'i gave to me."

Guest curator Hunter Drohojowska-Philp is a journalist and art critic specializing in the topics of art, design and architecture. Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, her first book and the most definitive biography of the artist to date, was published by W.W. Norton in September of 2004. The paperback was published in November, 2005. Many of her articles on O'Keeffe were originally published in Art News magazine, where she is a West Coast contributor. Over the years, she has also written for Art in America, Artforum and Art Net and contributed catalogue essays on the work of contemporary artists such as John Baldessari and Alexis Smith. In addition, she is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Western Interiors and Design and Metropolitan Home.


(above: Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986, United States, Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast-No. I, 1939, Oil on canvas. Gift of the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, 1994 [7892.1] .Photo © Honolulu Academy of Arts)


(above: Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986, United States, Papaya Tree-Iao Valley [Papaw Tree-Iao Valley], 1939, Oil on canvas. Gift of the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, 1994 [7894.1 ] .Photo © Honolulu Academy of Arts)


(above: Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986, United States, Waterfall-No. III-Iao Valley, 1939, Oil on canvas. Gift of Susan Crawford Tracy, 1996 [8562.1] .Photo © Honolulu Academy of Arts)


Editor's note: readers may also enjoy:

approximately 280 other Resource Library articles and essays citing Georgia O'Keeffe, including these selected texts:

online audio:

The National Gallery of Art offers on its web site O'Keeffe on Paper. Barbara Buhler Lynes, co-curator of the exhibition, author of Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and Emily Fisher Landau Director of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center, discuss new insights on the stunning watercolors, charcoals, and pastels presented in the exhibition of O'Keeffe's most innovative works on paper. Aired May 6, 2000. (description courtesy NGA)

online video:

The WGBH/Boston Forum Network includes a number of videos on Art and Architecture. Partners include a number of Boston-area museums, colleges, universities and other cultural organizations. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston partnered with the Forum Network for Modern Art in America, (43 minutes) in which Heather Cotter, Museum of Fine Arts Gallery Lecturer, gives an overview of the roots of American modern art using examples from the Museum's collection. This talk in the galleries of the Museum of Fine Arts investigates the foundations of modern art in America, focusing on works by Georgia O'Keefe, Arthur Dove, Charles Sheeler, and Stuart Davis. [September 28, 2003]
an Arts4All Ltd. video. Go to ArtsPass > Video on Demand > Arts Pass Library and select "O'Keeffe, Georgia (1887-1986) (Visual Arts) (15:44) This vivid visual presentation of one of America's most important and successful artists, Georgia O'Keeffe, offers insight into her exhibitions in New York, her life in New Mexico, and her relationship with the internationally known photographer and art impresario, Alfred Stieglitz. Her works include oils, charcoals, pencil sketches, and watercolors as well as objects in clay produced in her later years. Written by Paul Foster"

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Georgia O'Keeffe was produced by Perry Miller Adato in 1977 by WNET for The Originals: Women in Art series and distributed by the Educational Broadcasting Corporation. The video is 59 minutes long and is self-narrated by O'Keeffe. The artist talks candidly about her work and life, showing how nature and the mountains and desert of New Mexico figure prominently in her work. The video includes comments by sculptor Juan Hamilton, who was her assistant, and critics Barbara Rose and Daniel Catton Rich.

Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life in Art Adato, Perry Miller, producer and director. A 2002 video from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe. The Museum's orientation film created by the acclaimed, award-winning filmaker Perry Miller Adato. The film presents O'Keeffe's life and the origins and development of her art. VHS and DVD.

Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz 60 minute / 1998 / CTC - "Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe, companions in life and art in spite of a 23-year age difference, symbolize the juxtapositions characteristics of the American modernist period. In this program, Professor Wanda Corn from Stanford University uses O'Keeffe's paintings and Stieglitz's photographs to show the impact each had on the other's work and on the evolution of American art. Corn emphasizes the artistic collaboration between the couple and points out O'Keeffe's modernist style of abstraction in her use of strong form and color and unusual vantage point on a traditional subject. As O'Keeffe is influenced by her sojourns to New Mexico, so does her art consciously change in subject matter as a reflection of her strong artistic spirit and determination to reconnect with traditional America." Quotes are from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Georgia O'Keeffe: Women in Art 1977, 60 minutes. A sensitive presentation that goes beyond the Georgia O'Keeffe legend to reveal a woman who was full of warmth, humor, and practical wisdom. O'Keeffe appeared for the first time on camera to talk candidly about her work and life. Her paintings figure prominently, showing her wide range of style and how nature continued to inspire her. (text courtesy Georgia Museum of Art)

Great Women Artists: Georgia O'Keeffe is a 45-minute video by Kultur Video which says: Georgia O'Keeffe was an American abstract painter, famous for the purity and lucidity of her still-life compositions. O'Keeffe moved to New Mexico in 1949, and is best known for her large paintings of desert flowers and scenery, in which single blossoms or objects such as a cow's skull are presented in close-up views."

O'Keeffe and Texas Takes a look at American Modernist Georgia O'Keeffe during her years in Texas. Explores how her experiences as a teacher and how the natural forms of the area around Amarillo and Canyon, Texas, influenced her emotional states and her art. 15-minute video. Description source: Amon Carter Museum Teacher Resource Center

Southwest of Georgia O'Keeffe, The ia a 11 minute 1995 video from Lucerne Media that covers the paintings of flowers, bones, and airborne images made during the lifetime of the noted American abstractionist Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), especially the Southwestern themes and landscapes for which she became most famous. She saw an abstract universe everwhere in the flowers, the city, the desert, and exploring the aerial view of the world

Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye is a 90 minute 2000 American Masters series WNET video directed by Perry Miller Adato. From the Back Cover: "Stieglitz, who is revered as one of the most innovative photographers of the 20th century, played a primary role in fostering new talent. Through his three galleries in New York City, he mentored emerging artists such as Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter and Georgia O'Keeffe; and introduced avant-garde Europeans such as Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso.... This revealing look at "The Father of Modern Photography" features a rare interview with Georgia O'Keeffe, Stieglitz's wife and muse, as well as archival footage of other artistic giants he inspired, including Edward Steichen and John Marin. Additionally, the film presents countless images from the Stieglitz archives, ranging from early European peasant life to later views of New York's urban landscape." VHS/DVD

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