Georgia O’Keeffe was an artist of world renown but a person of mysterious
character. She lived a unique life which was not accepted as moral by most people. She
surrounded herself with artistic, creative minds and carefully selected her friends and
confidants. Events in her youth influenced her actions and artwork for almost 100 years.
O’Keeffe moved about the country, a lover of travel who never was satiated. She came from an eccentric family with mixed ethnic heritage, and the women around her were
strong and self- confident. Her life was an epic tale, worthy of retelling.
On November 15, 1887, Georgia was second born of seven children to Ida and
Francis O’Keeffe. Living in rural Wisconsin, her father came from a typical Irish Catholic matriarchy, where mother’s word was final. Ida O’Keeffe was an ambitious woman
“whose dream of becoming a doctor was laid to rest...by her marriage to the tenant farmer
Frank...in a loveless union (Hogrefe 13).” Perhaps it was the stifling of her ambition that led Ida to treat Georgia so badly. As a young girl, the artist was described as precocious, mentally mature, and “queen of the castle“, whether it be in relation to her siblings or fellow students in the studio. Either way, her mother was generally a cold person who offered little affection to her oldest daughter, even going so far as to lock her in the back room, alone, when company came. Thus, Georgia turned to a close relationship with her father. The family knew that Georgia was Frank’s favorite, and he took her on excursions and gave her special privileges.
All this came with consequences, though. It is a widely accepted fact that she was sexually abused by her father, older brother, or both, which accounts for many of
O’Keeffe’s “unorthodox” behaviors throughout her life. For example, in boarding school
she was known to kiss and touch her female classmates frequently. When enrolled in
classes at the Art Students’ League in New York City, she ran, terrified, out of a figure
drawing class where stood a male nude model. In all her years, Georgia surrounded
herself with ineffectual males who were frequently homosexual. Perhaps she liked them
because they posed no threat to her. On the other hand, she adored her female
counterparts, having friendships with some and sexual relationships with o...
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... were simply together because it was convenient and mutually beneficial, and they had few emotional ties. After all, why would a woman who had such lesbian tendencies suddenly attach herself to a man of such strong personality who seemed to dominate her? Stieglitz was a demanding hypochondriac who always needed care, right up to his dying day. Theirs was an unusual union, and after he passed on, Georgia continued her life in earnest.
This is far from the entire volume of Georgia O’Keeffe’s lifetime. It was a long, frequently lonely life, even when she was surrounded by people. She chose to isolate herself from a growing, modernizing country where every mark she put on paper
supposedly represented the whole of the female gender. She sought to escape the
criticism and pressure of the city, and to create artwork freely, with no limits or
boundaries. O’Keeffe never aligned herself with any particular movement, such as the
cubists, surrealists, or expressionists. She simply painted what she saw, and the beauty of her reality existed in its perfect state in her own mind.
Hogrefe, Jeffrey. O’Keeffe: The LIfe of an American Legend. New York:Bantam Books, 1992