Georgia O'Keeffe's Abiquiú Home
Kara Town, a creative based in South Australia, recounts her visit to artist Georgia O’Keeffe's house in Abiquiú, New Mexico, U.S. for My Chameleon.
The first thing you’ll notice about Abiquiú, is the unrelenting dry heat. Its inescapable intensity signifies we are deep in the desert. To me, the desert feels like home. For American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, it did too.
Just a short car ride from Santa Fe, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiú home has become, for her devoted fans, a pilgrimage of sorts; we are all there to experience a little O’Keeffe. Tours of her residence are conducted in intimate groups of like-minded people, eager to relish in the unassuming lifestyle O’Keeffe worked so hard to perfect and protect. Standing in the group you can tell that for most of us her art is secondary to our unwavering interest in the lifestyle she chose to lead; which was, in the end, a quiet, contemplative existence between two homes in the desert surrounding Santa Fe.
Welcomed by O’Keeffe’s garden, we instantly understand her deep love for the land. Though faced with the restrictions of heat and water, O’Keeffe found ways to plant and harvest small crops for her own use. Her vegetable patch, still exists and is subtly structured, yet quietly free. It’s the first, short glimpse we get into the life of Georgia O’Keeffe. Though some of us, a little overcome by the heat, compete for the shade provided by few of the courtyard’s trees, we are all utterly intrigued.
The Abiquiú home itself is an adobe structure sitting comfortably in the rocky desert outcrop, a landscape O’Keeffe painted over-and-over again with great reverence and insight. With low ceilings, the interior provides some respite from the heat. It feels instantly cooler, calm. Though allowed inside, photos are not permitted in the residence. More and more I appreciate this sentiment, it encourages us all to be in the moment, to really observe and learn from the O’Keeffe experience we are all here for. And, we do. To be honest, as a group, we rarely talk. Filtered through the silence is just the odd question here and there asked discreetly of our tour guide. It’s all a little overwhelming, in the best of ways.
O’Keeffe’s interior is ordered with minimal furniture (both collected and custom-made) and makes the most of the bounty of natural desert light. All-in-all, a wonderfully considered use of space. The busiest room is perhaps her kitchen, where O’Keeffe would (often with help) prepare meals with vegetables, fruit and herbs harvested from her garden. Her collection of utensils and tools are hung, stacked and shelved, nothing out of order. Each item is treated with such great respect you can imagine it being carefully used, lovingly washed, and placed gently back. Another space of note, is the wardrobe in O’Keeffe’s bedroom. Her few looks, created multiple times in varying fabrics are meticulously hung with shoes ordered below. It’s clear O’Keeffe understood the art of dressing, a woman who stuck closely to her own style. The dining and living rooms, though we are unable to enter, from the periphery provide insight into the aesthetic O’Keeffe is best known for; in an O’Keeffe space, there is absolutely no room for the unnecessary. But, perhaps the most interesting room is O’Keefe’s studio. With large linear glass windows that look out onto the back of the property and directly into the rocky landscape of the Abiquiú mountains, it’s an open, peaceful space. With areas to create, contemplate and work diligently and dutifully under the eye of the land, you really can imagine O’Keeffe here. It is in this room, that O’Keeffe made her art.
Ending the tour at the rear of the property, standing among some of her famed rock collection, looking back into the studio and her bedroom next door, you notice the muffled reflections of the land. In front of your eyes, just briefly, the two overlap quite symbolically. There is a meditative pause. It’s then you suddenly realise once again you are standing outside in the hot dry desert heat, only this time grateful to have walked, even just for an hour, in O’Keeffe’s shoes.
Reflections of Abiquiú mountainsO'Keeffe's rock collection
Images and words by Kara Town