Twenty-eight recently discovered paintings by Georgia O'Keefe were exhibited for the first time in 1995. These watercolors, known as the Canyon Suite, were painted in 1916 and 1917 when O'Keeffe was the head and sole faculty member of the art department at West Texas State Normal College in Canyon, Texas.
As the resident artist at WT, O'Keeffe was pressed into duty designing scenery and costumes for the drama club. In that role she became acquainted with Ted Reid, an older student who was president of the drama club and an experienced cattle drover. With a shared affinity for the land and sky of the Texas plains, they took long walks through the country and became confidants. Because O'Keeffe was both inspired by the scenery and isolated from the artistic and immediate communities, Reid's support was significant to her remarkable creative development during this period. Before Reid reported for duty in World War I, the pacifistic O'Keeffe gave him 28 of her watercolors from the previous year. A few months later, as an outsider with influenza, O'Keeffe left Canyon and lost track of Reid who returned from the war, married, had children, and hid the O'Keeffe paintings from his family. Only after Reid and his wife had died did Reid's granddaughter learn of the paintings which had been wrapped in brown paper for 70 years.
For O'Keeffe -- an artist grounded in nature -- the images of the Texas plains were an important early influence. After studying art in Chicago and New York, she spent two years (1912-1914) on the plains as an art teacher in the Amarillo public schools. Following another year in New York as a student at Columbia, O'Keeffe struck out on her own as an artist: While teaching in South Carolina in 1915, she realized that she had "things in her head that are not like what anyone had taught me -- shapes and ideas so near to me -- so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down." So she decided to "strip away what I had been taught -- to accept as true my own thinking." Thus began her period of novel charcoal drawings and wonderful abstractions in watercolors. At this point O'Keeffe returned to the Texas plains and began to paint her first skyscapes, figure studies, and abstractions of nature. Many of the watercolors in the Canyon Suite represent the seminal concepts for some of her better-known early works as well as the foundation of her visual language.
In her centennial exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, 27 of O'Keeffe's early charcoals and watercolors from the 1910s were featured. Michael Bresnan of the New York Times singled out the "tough, delicate works" of 1916-1919 and other critics "succumbed to the power of the Texas paintings -- marvelling at the startling expanse of light and space that she evokes with a few drops of color on a page." Out of iconoclasm and isolation came invention and, as Bresnan says, "an almost mystical feeling for the union of the human body with the body of the natural world."
Fourteen of the watercolors and charcoals from the recently discovered Canyon Suite have been reproduced by the Kemper Museum. In addition, several watercolors and a few oils from 1916-1919 are available:
Abstraction IX (1916)
Evening Star (1916)
Special No. 21 (1916)
Sunrise and Little Clouds II (1916)
Train at Night in the Desert (1916)
Blue I (1917)
Blue Nude (1917)
Canyon with Crows (1917)
Evening Star, III (1917)
Evening Star IV (1917)
Evening Star No. VI (1917)
Nude Series (1917)
Nude Series VIII (1917)
Nude Series XII (1917)
Pink and Green Mountain #1 (1917)
Red Mesa (1917)
The Flag (1918)
Series 1, No. 1 (1918)
Black Spot No. 2 (1919)
Blue and Green Music (1919)
From the Plains (1919)
Music Pink and Blue (1919)
Music -- Pink and Blue, II (1919)
Red and Orange Streak (1919)
Series 1, No. 8 (1919)
At last count more than 100 of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings can be viewed on the web. Many links are given below. For a more comprehensive listing, you might want to visit the Safran or Artcyclopedia sites.
Red Canna (1924)
Corn II (1924), In the Patio VIII (1950)
Black Iris III (1926), Oriental Poppies (1927), Pelvis Series -- Red with Yellow (1945), Petunia (1925), Red Canna (1924), untitled skull
City Night (1926), Iris (1929), Old Maple, Lake George (1926), White Trumpet Flower (1932)
Cos Cob (1926)
New York, Night (1928-1929)
Oriental Poppies (1927), Oak Leaves, Pink and Gray (1929)
Red Poppy (1927), The Lawrence Tree (1929), Two Jimson Weeds (1938)
East River from the Shelton (1928), East River from the Shelton (1927-1928)
Grey Cross with Blue (1929)
Soft Gray, Alcalde Hill (1929-1930)
Bell Cross, Ranchos Church (1930), Fragment of the Ranchos de Taos Church (1929), The Lawrence Tree (1929)
Horse's Skull on Blue (1930)
Yellow Cactus (1940)
Canyon Country (1964)
Black Rock with Blue III (1970), Cow's Skull -- Red, White and Blue (1930), Ram's Head with Hollyhock (1930), View from My Studio, New Mexico (1930)
Georgia O'Keeffe was photographed many, many times. Several pictures by Stieglitz are available on the web: three emphasize O'Keeffe's hands (with accompanying text in Japanese), another shows her head and hands (with a brief biography in English), one was taken at O'Keeffe's exhibit in Stieglitz' gallery, two were taken in the early twenties (1920, 1923), and one shows O'Keeffe in 1929 after she returned from New Mexico. Another picture shows O'Keeffe with Stieglitz. In addition, there are three pictures by Van Vechten on the web. Other photographs show O'Keeffe in Taos in 1929, on a scooter, while smirking, in 1953, and exuding class.
As for books about O'Keeffe, you can read the first chapter of a biography by Michael Berry and learn more about Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O'Keeffe. Artcyclopedia lists all the books about O'Keeffe that are available at Amazon.com. Also, the U.S. Post Office has honored O'Keeffe by issuing a stamp of Red Poppy (1927). The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is now open in Sante Fe.