Georgia O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1929, and she continued to travel there to paint every summer until her husband, Albert Stieglitz, died in 1946. After settling his affairs in New York, she moved to New Mexico permanently in 1949, returning to the city only for visits. It’s during her time in New Mexico that I tend to think of her, seeing as how I can remember her in television interviews (60 Minutes?) that she gave from her homes in the desert.
After O’Keeffe moved to New Mexico, changes began to occur in her wardrobe. All of the existing early clothing is either black or white, but in the desert, color began to creep into her closet. Not wild, bright color, mind you; but colors of the earth and the sky.
Another change is that few of her garments from this later period are home sewn. It could be that she was too busy painting and running the two homes in NM. Or perhaps she was simply able to find suitable clothing for her lifestyle. One example of this was a fondness for Marimekko. There are four Marimekko dresses (including the one above) existing today in the collection. They are more muted colors like gray and brown and black and green. These dresses have the early 1960s Design Research label as well as the Marimekko one, so they must have come from the Design Research store, either in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or in New York.
Here’s another view of the striped Marimekko, along with another one in the middle. The dress in front is from Claire McCardell. O’Keeffe must have liked this dress, as she had a copy made in blue. There is another McCardell dress in the collection, though it is speculated to have been a gift, as it does not look like the other garments O’Keeffe choose for herself during this period (little flowers and stripes…)
It was at her desert homes that O’Keeffe also took to wearing rugged workwear. There were several denim shirts, plus that great gingham one that was a gift from a friend. She wore jeans, and there is an early pair of Levis for women in the collection. She also liked Keds and BF Goodrich sneakers.
It’s hard to tell, but in the photo of O’Keeffe (taken by Don Worth, 1958) she is wearing the same dress and jacket as in my photo from the exhibition. The jacket is a French worker’s jacket. The dress appears to be made from a sari fabric, as the purple parts and the red have the same weave pattern. It is possible that this one was made by O’Keeffe, or it could have been made by one of the local dressmakers who came to make her clothes in the later years of her life.
I really hated not being able to get a better look at this dress, though I can see why the exhibition designer wanted to show it as it was worn in the archival photograph. There is an excellent photo of the dress in the accompanying book.
Here was a surprise – this dress was from Emilio Pucci, 1954. What made this so interesting is how right next to the dress was this work by O’Keeffe:
This work by O’Keeffe, In the Patio IX, was painted around 1964.
And this was one of the real strengths of this exhibition. It clearly showed how O’Keeffe’s aesthetic was her life – in her clothing, in her surroundings, and in her art.
When you have good friends, you get really great gifts. Actually it’s not clear whether or not this was a gift, or if O’Keeffe commissioned it. You may recognize it as the work of Alexander Calder. Later, O’Keeffe had this piece copied by a craftsperson in India. She was always having the things she loved best reproduced.
There are many photos of O’Keeffe and her Calder pin. In this photo by Bruce Weber, 1980, she is also wearing what must have been a favorite belt, made by Mexican artisan Hector Aguilar, circa 195o. It is in many of her photos.
Beginning around 1960, O’Keeffe began to make the wrap dress one of the key parts of her wardrobe. In her closet were twenty of them, all pretty much of the same design. One has a Neiman Marcus Model’s smock label, and another one is labeled Sidran, Dallas. The others are copies made by her dressmaker in Santa Fe.
The shoes are also in multiples, the ones on the left being by Ferragamo, and the ones on the right a design labeled Saks. There are eight pairs of the Ferragamos, and to my delight, the ones on display were arranged so that the labels could be read. One pair has the older “Creations Ferragamo” label, and the others, a label, “Salvatore Ferragamo” that dates from the late 1950s. It is apparent that she bought these shoes over a long period of time.
This blue pair is a bit different from the others, which have a little leather tie. These must have been reserved for special wear, as they show much less wear that the others. Or maybe she decided they were not to her taste.
Starting in the 1950s, O’Keeffe did quite a bit of traveling. She brought back textiles and had clothing made for her in Hong Kong. She also shopped in Santa Fe for kimono and other Asian textile objects.
This silk suit was made for O’Keeffe in the late 1950s in Hong Kong.
You can see that O’Keeffe never gave up her beloved black. Most of the formal portraits she posed for continued to show her in black. This suit was probably acquired in Spain, as it has the Eisa label – the label Balenciaga used in his home country.
The hood on the right is unlabeled, but O’Keeffe is shown wearing it in a series of photos taken in 1952.
Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern will be at Reynolda House until November 19, 2017. It then travels to Salem, MA, where it opens on December 16, 2017 at the Peabody Essex Museum. If you can’t make it to either location, but are a big fan of O’Keeffe, I do recommend the accompanying book, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern by curator Wanda Corn. The book adds another dimension to the story, with views inside O’Keeffe’s New Mexico homes.
And finally, a big thank you to Reynolda House for bringing this fabulous show to North Carolina.