Book Review - Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George

October 25, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Art runs deep in my life. I started drawing as a child and when I was very young, my father took me to a local well known artist and tried to enlist me for lessons in his studio. I think the artist told my father to bring me back when I was older, but that encounter was always close in my childhood memory. I was illustrating and designing ads before I became a commercial photographer, but I used a camera to help me draw things like cats that would not sit still. During two different college encounters, I was an art history major mostly because I enjoyed the slide shows. Looking at art and studying art history has helped me become a better photographer, and I encourage other photographers to do the same; have a library of art books besides all those photography books!


georgia O'Keeffe

Brown and Tan Leaves, 1928 Georgia O'Keeffe | Oil on canvas


Georgia O'Keeffe is an artist I admired since childhood and her books shared space alongside Vincent Van Gogh on my bookshelf. I have been to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe and hope to revisit it again. What is there not to like about her work? It is full of color with a mix of abstraction and reality. O'Keeffe lived a life that I understand; she was a free-spirit. She devoted her life to her work and chose to live independently. How her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, fit into her life was an area that I wanted to understand. Stieglitz was 23 years older than O'Keeffe, but their age difference did not stop their attraction for each other as well as Stieglitz's marriage when they first met.


georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe, 1918 by Alfred Stieglitz | Public Domain


As a photographer, I have been a follower of Stieglitz for many years through biographical books and collections of his photographic work. Stieglitz is thoroughly cemented as a major figure of the modern art movement and photographic development before photography was regarded as an art form. O'Keeffe left behind a legacy not only as an incredible artist, but also as an independent woman way ahead of her time. My interest stirred for this book when I realized it was based on the body of work O'Keeffe developed from 1918-1934 during a series of summers and autumns while staying at the Stieglitz family estate on Lake George in upstate New York. Long before O'Keeffe made the desert her home, she stayed over a period of sixteen years creating a body of work in this lush green mountain area. The body of work shown in Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George, is from an exhibit that was drawn from three dozen collections and shown at The Hyde Collection in Glen Falls, New York in June 2013.


Modern Nature

Apple Family 2, 1920 Georgia O'Keeffe | Oil on canvas


The book is hardback, 200 pages and was printed by Thames & Hudson in 2013. It contains more than seventy color plates of O'Keeffe's lesser known work. What is most notable about O'Keeffe's work during this time is the magnificent and large flower paintings. This is where O'Keeffe began developing the large flower portfolio she is known for besides her desert stones and bones paintings. After research was completed by Erin Coe, the Hyde Collection's chief curator, she found that about 200 works related to Lake George, or about a quarter of O’Keeffe’s paintings. That is a lot if you consider O'Keeffe is recognized for her desert work and not the work she created while staying for months in the lush landscape of the Adirondack mountains. It cost The Hyde about $750,000 to assemble the exhibit, and what a delightful and informative exhibit it is to an O'Keeffe fan such as myself. The text is broken down into three parts by: Erin B. Coe (Chief Curator at the Hyde Collection), Bruce Robertson, (Professor of Art History at the University of California, Santa Barbara), and Gwendolyn Owens (Liaison Officer in the Office of the Provost at McGill University and a curator and critic who writes on North American art and architecture). 


Modern Nature

Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George


The text is an interesting read into the life of O'Keeffe and Stieglitz during their stays at the family estate over many years. It discusses O'Keeffe's work in a new light and how she found place and spirit at Lake George for her modern approach to the natural world. We can easily determine the time O'Keeffe spent at Lake George was a prolific and transformative period in her seventy year career. Besides the beautiful catalog of O'Keeffe paintings, there are many photographs of O'Keeffe made by Stieglitz included in the book. I highly recommend this book for anyone that enjoys O'Keeffe's work or if you are interested in the years Stieglitz and O'Keeffe spent together.


georgia O'Keeffe

Petunias, 1925 Georgia O'Keeffe | Oil on board


Personal Update

I want to add a personal update. In September I broke my left leg in a fall. This has changed my life in many ways. Besides having a heavy cast, I am not able to produce new work because I cannot put pressure on the leg. If I am not getting around with a cast scooter these days, I am hobbling around on crutches. Also, I accepted a full-time photography teaching position in August which is taking up a lot of my time, but I do enjoy teaching and am grateful for the opportunity. I do not enjoy being restricted with physical activities and can only express this has been harder than I ever imagined, so photography projects have been placed on hold until my leg is healed.

I am looking forward to a few months from now when I will be back in the landscape or working on a new project. I am spending my current down time thinking about new projects and places while consuming a few books. There is one such book I recently enjoyed and wanted to share, Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George.



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