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Georgia by Dawn Tripp

A Literary retrospective of the life and work of Georgia O’Keefe

 

This spring a major retrospective exhibition of the work of Georgia O’Keefe will open at the Art Gallery of Ontario. So, the publication of the novel Georgia by Dawn Tripp is well timed and provides and overview of the life of and work of this pioneering American painter. The novel will give even those who think they know a fair amount about the life and work of Georgia O’Keefe, a much deeper understanding of her work and it’s place in American art.

Georgia O’Keefe was born in 1887 and raised on a farm in Wisconsin. She studied art in Chicago and then in New York City. She taught school in South Carolina and Texas, until finally in 1915 she began to once again do her own work. She produced a series of Charcoal drawings that made their way to Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery in New York City. He exhibited her work for the first time in 1916, and spent the rest of his life promoting her art.

An exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2009 captured the imagination of author Dawn Tripp and resulted in her novel Georgia. In a work of historical fiction she brings to life the artist Georgia O’Keefe, as well as that of Alfred Stieglitz and their circle. 

In 1916 Alfred Stieglitz was already a well known and well respected photographer who mentored others and exhibited their work in his New York City gallery. When he was presented with the early work of Georgia O’Keefe he knew he must exhibit the work and meet the woman who produced such exceptional pictures. The rest, as they say, is history. Though Stieglitz was married, and 23 years older than the 29-year-old O’Keefe, they fell in love, embarked on a passionate affair that lasted the rest of his life, and set the course for the rest of hers.

The novel follows the trajectory of the love affair, the years when they lived together in New York City and at the Stieglitz family compound on Lake George. O’Keefe became not only Stieglitz’s lover, but also his model and his muse. Theirs was not always an easy relationship – Stieglitz was very protective and controlling – we might very well call him a narcissistic misogynist now. As Georgia O’Keefe grew more confident as a woman and an artist she found herself needing some distance from Stieglitz and his stifling protection.

Eventually, for the first time in 1929, she went alone to New Mexico where she found the same stark open landscape and sky she knew as a child on the prairie.  She continued to travel each year to New Mexico, extending her time there, and eventually buying a home of her own, before moving there permanently in 1949. O’Keefe and Stieglitz managed in their last years together to spend time separately and together without dissolving their relationship.

The novel essentially ends shortly after the death of Alfred Stieglitz in 1946. Georgia O’Keefe died in 1986 at the age of 98. Georgia is narrated by an elderly and somewhat crotchety O’Keefe. As she looks back upon her life, she considers the path not taken and the consequences of the choices she made or allowed others to make for her. Georgia is, in effect, a literary retrospective of her life and work.

 

 

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