When she gave birth to her daughter Georgia in 1887 on a dairy farm, Ida O’Keeffe had no idea her daughter would be named the Mother of American Modernism. However, Georgia Totto O’Keeffe knew by age ten that she wanted to be an artist. Of course, at that time, American art was very much a man’s world. Women, even those who were seen as incredibly talented, had a much harder time than men. She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and even won the Art Students League of New York City’s William Merritt Chase still-life prize in 1908, but O’Keeffe later decided that being an artist simply wasn’t an option. She couldn’t stand out from her fellow artists, so she moved to Chicago and began working as a commercial artist. She later took to teaching, and it was while she was serving as the head of the West Texas State Normal College art department that she was discovered.
When her artwork was first seen in 1916 by art dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, he had no doubt that she was going to change the world. Stieglitz saw some charcoal drawings O’Keeffe had mailed to her friend Anita Pollitzer, and he simply knew that he had to display her art. O’Keeffe had her first solo show in April of 1917, and Stieglitz convinced her to move to New York the next year. Six years later, the two were married.
O’Keeffe’s style was greatly influenced by her visit to New Mexico in 1929. It was here that she began painting the bold flowers that she would become known for. She soon began visiting New Mexico at least once a year. The paintings she produced from this point on were completely different. They were bold, colorful, and even hinted at sexuality in ways that no other artist did. However, even so, critics often passed her over for awards or gave her mixed to negative reviews. They simply weren’t sure how to evaluate her works because they were so diverse and so different. However, she finally gained the recognition she was due in 1970 at the age of 83. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York named O’Keeffe an artist ahead of her time. Today, her works are featured in museums around the world and at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.
Celebrate O’Keeffe and other women on International Women’s Day this Saturday, March 8, by sending them flowers in Washington, D.C.