Traveling O'Keeffe Country

See New Mexico Through the Eyes of the Artist

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, NM
JannHuizenga / Getty Images

Georgia O'Keeffe is well known for her love of New Mexico as depicted in her art. As you learn about her, you'll find Georgia O'Keeffe to be a fascinating person. She came to New Mexico in 1929 as a guest of Mabel Dodge Luhan who was part of an arts and literary circle in Taos.

Beginning in the mid-30s she lived and worked at her home at Ghost Ranch. In 1945, she purchased a second home down the road in Abiquiu.

She walked in the desert and painted the New Mexico landscapes until her failing eyesight forced her to stop in 1984. She died,in Santa Fe in 1986.

You can visit Ghost Ranch, which is now a retreat center, and her home in Abiquiu.

First, Visit the O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe

To begin to understand the complex life and personality of Georgia O'Keeffe, it's important to do a little research. You can read a book about her, check out a few websites or visit the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

When I first visited the museum there was a marvelous exhibit entitled Georgia O'Keeffe, The Art of Identity. It was an exhibit that included photography of O'Keeffe as she lived and worked interspersed with her paintings. The exhibition chronicled changes over time through photographs of the young O'Keeffe in the 1910s and ending with Andy Warhol's 1970s images of O'Keeffe when she was well established in the art world.

This pictorial history also helps you understand how O'Keeffe, a fairly introverted person, became so well known. It was through her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz, whose photographs of O'Keeffe are featured in the exhibit, that she became known throughout the world. Stieglitz was 54 when Georgia arrived in New York, 23 years her senior.

Stieglitz was Georgia's most ardent supporter. He arranged shows, and sold her paintings, moving her work into the realm of highly collectible art.

After Steiglitz' death in 1946, O'Keeffe moved permanently to her beloved New Mexico where she enjoyed the sun, arid climate and stunning beauty of the landscape.

So we recommend starting your exploration of O'Keeffe country with a visit to the O'Keeffe Museum. The exhibits are always changing. The museum cares for 50% of the O'Keeffe pieces of art and rotates them for viewing. The museum shop has great books about O'Keeffe so that you can continue your exploration of the life of this fascinating artist.

Ghost Ranch

You can drive from Santa Fe to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu. It's only 70 miles from the airport in Albuquerque but you'll feel as you are way out in the countryside.

It is beautiful there and you'll soon see why O'Keeffe loved northern New Mexico. Contrary to popular belief, she never owned the ranch but did come to buy a small home from Arthur Pack there.

You can take a guided tour of the ranch with a guide who will tell you all about O'Keeffe and stop at places where she painted. You'll enjoy comparing the landscape of today with prints of her paintings held up by your guide.

They tell great anecdotes such as how O'Keeffe would climb a ladder to the roof of the home to gain a better perspective on the land, the sunset, and the starry sky (she did this well into her 80s).

Visiting O'Keeffe's Home in Abiquiu

The home, now owned by the O'Keeffe Museum Foundation, has been left as it was when O'Keeffe lived and worked there.

O'Keeffe purchased the Abiquiu property from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1945. Abiquiu is a simple little village that was settled in the 1740s. The plaza retains the flavor of Spanish settlements in the New World. There is a simple church that you can tour with a guide.

Tours of the O'Keeffe home and studio are limited and can be arranged through the O'Keeffe Museum.

Consider timing your visit to New Mexico so that you can visit this very important Southwest art site.

You'll leave with a feeling admiration for, and desire to know better, the woman who became one of the best known artists in the United States.