In 1929, at the age of 42, Georgia O’Keefe traveled from her home in New York City to northern New Mexico. There she fell in love with the landscape and culture and returned each summer for 20 years. She learned to drive and bought a Ford Model A that she used to explore the region, and in 1940 she bought a small house in Ghost Ranch. In 1945 she bought a larger home in Abiquiú, and in 1949, after her husband Alfred Stieglitz died in New York, she became a permanent resident. She lived in New Mexico until her death in 1986 at the age of 98.
In early June, we traveled to northern New Mexico where we visited Ghost Ranch, her home in Abiquiú (a short distance south of Ghost Ranch), and the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. Although best known for her paintings of flowers, as a geologist, on this trip I particularly admired her paintings of landscapes with brightly colored rocks.
The name “ghost ranch” is derived from “El rancho de los brujos” (“ranch of the witches”), the name Spanish cattle rustlers applied to the area to discourage neighbors from visiting. When Georgia O’Keefe arrived it was a dude ranch owned by Phoebe and Arthur Pack. In 1955 the Pack family donated the land to the Presbyterian Church, which continues to operate the ranch as a retreat center. A skull that, early on, marked the entrance to Ghost Ranch, was painted by O’Keefe and eventually became the ranch’s symbol. O’Keefe described the rock walls of the ranch as “her curtains”.
Georgia O’Keefe Home and Studio (designated National Historical Landmark in 1998)
We were fortunate to get last-minute reservations to tour O’Keefe’s permanent home in Abiquiú, a small settlement 22 km (13 miles) south of Ghost Ranch and 80 km (48 miles) north of Santa Fe. The original structure, in ruinous condition, dated from the 18th century. O’Keefe rebuilt and expanded the buildings and the exterior gardens.
Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe
After seeing the places O’Keefe inhabited during her nearly 60 years in New Mexico, we needed to see her art work exhibited in a Santa Fe museum.