My Trip to Abiquiu, New Mexico: A Conversation With Georgia O’Keeffe

After months of planning, May first finally arrived. We packed the Tesla with all our gear, provisions, and most importantly, pillows. With the passenger window tripod securely affixed, we set out on a long-awaited journey. I’ve written countless times about my deep admiration for Georgia O’Keeffe, the iconic American modernist painter celebrated for her vibrant depictions of flowers and the desert landscapes, flora, and fauna of New Mexico. Though my studio and home are on Vancouver Island along the Pacific Northwest Coast, our path would take us diagonally across seven states, culminating in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On my way to have a conversation with Georgia O’Keeffe.

A Conversation With O'Keeffe

New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, 2024, Brandy Saturley

Our destination, New Mexico, particularly the enchanting locale of Abiquiú, has a rich history. Settled by Tewa Pueblo families and the Roman Catholic Church in 1742, Abiquiú is known as “wild chokecherry place” in the Tewa language. The vivid canyons and majestic mountains surrounding Abiquiú have served as the backdrop for numerous films, including Red Dawn, Silverado, Lonesome Dove, City Slickers, 3:10 to Yuma, No Country For Old Men, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Cowboys & Aliens, The Lone Ranger, and Breaking Bad.

Georgia O’Keefe studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico – Brandy Saturley 2024

We arrive in Santa Fe on Cinco de Mayo and are greeted by a parade of Chicanos and Mexican Americans proudly and literally rocking their meticulously painted low-riders. A lowrider is a customized car with a lowered body that emerged among Mexican American youth in the 1940s. Lowrider also refers to the driver of the car and their participation in lowrider car clubs, which remain a part of Chicano culture and have since expanded internationally. These customized vehicles are also artworks, generally being painted with intricate, colorful designs, unique aesthetic features, and rolling on wire-spoke wheels with whitewall tires. Lowrider rims are generally smaller than the original wheels. They are often fitted with hydraulic systems that allow height adjustable suspension, allowing the car to be lowered or raised by switch.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations 2024, Santa Fe Plaza, 2024 – Brandy Saturley

With Santa Fe as our home base for five days the plan was to begin with visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe home and studio in Abiquiu. A one hour drive from Santa Fe through valleys of brush and arid landscapes we came to a curve in the road and a destination between two mountain ranges. The O’Keeffe Welcome Centre, the meeting point to begin a guided tour of just over and hour. In the welcome centre there are a few exhibits of items from the O’Keeffe homes and her closet, some of her mid-century modern chairs, a short film and a library of books all about the artist. From her paintings, to pottery, photography, her relationships with designers from fashion to furniture and jewelry to her passion for growing her own food and cooking. There is also a gift shop that sells many unique items by local artists and of course copies of O’Keeffe’s work and her famous hats.

Georgia O’Keeffe Welcome Center, Abiquiu, New Mexico – 2024 Brandy Saturley

We board a tour bus, with a few other O’Keeffe fans and we head out with a tour guide who is not only a painter himself of forty years, but also a fine arts teacher. He tells us that he and his wife enjoyed the tour so much when they came, that he ended up taking on the job of tour guide, and what a wonderful, passionate and informative tour we enjoyed. We began with her garden and learned of the only two days per week local irrigation system called acequia, in this remote climate. I did not know she was such a committed gardener and she grew most everything she would need to sustain her in this desert locale.

A Conversation With O'Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe home garden, Abiquiu, New Mexico, 2024 – Brandy Saturley

After, we entered through a tiny side door to her inner courtyard, depicted in many paintings and photographs of the iconic artist over the years. It was a hot and windy day, the sand under your feet in the courtyard reflects the red and earthy tones of the adobe structure. It is here you begin to feel her presence, or at least I did, as I drifted off into the moment feeling and hearing the wind, inhaling the dry smells and noticing the shadows cast by the mid-day light. This indeed was a place for an artist to live and work, and that artist was Georgia O’Keeffe herself. After talking about her ultimate reason for buying this place in 1945, the door in the courtyard, which she painted many times over the years.

Georgia O’Keeffe Home – courtyard and door, Abiquiu New Mexico, 2024, Brandy Saturley

Having to leave the courtyard is difficult, but I knew it led to her living room and the beautiful picture window and skylights within, and I was ready to enter that home where she spent at least half her year every year until her death at 98 years old. A good long life, likely due to her mostly vegetarian diet of fresh foods and her active lifestyle in the garden, the landscapes and the studio. The dining room is next and comes with a window back into the courtyard, a small nook fireplace and a wooden table with sawhorses for legs. The style is modern, practical and minimalist, from mid-century modern furniture to simple wooden structures. All the lights hanging from the ceiling are just bulbs hanging from wires, with the exception of the hanging light in this area, it is simply and round paper shade of white, from her time in Japan, not Ikea.

A Conversation With O'Keeffe

O’Keeffe Home Abiquiu, New Mexico, 2024 – Brandy Saturley

From the dining room we can peer through another window that opens to another inner courtyard where her famous spiral sculpture sits, wooden slats across the roof and mostly open to the elements. The light here is magnificent and glowing, there is a real warm yellow cast to the light in New Mexico, quite the contrast to another favourite of mine and O’Keeffe’s, Hawaii’s light is much cooler blue in contrast.

A Conversation With O'Keeffe

O’Keeffe Home and Studio, Abiquiu New Mexico, 2024 – Brandy Saturley

From region to region, colors change dramatically. In New Mexico, the light encompasses a full spectrum of colors, reflected both in the landscape and the sky, offering a broader array of shades than almost anywhere else. I have personally counted around 50 shades of green in the landscapes, and the sky’s personality shifts daily. The seasonal changes are remarkably distinct, and the transformation of light is truly wondrous. Consider how changing the color of sunglasses alters your perception of light; that’s akin to how the light itself changes in New Mexico. However, while New Mexico’s light is captivating, it isn’t necessarily better for painters. North light, which is more neutral and blue, is often preferred for painting. The yellow tint of southern light can affect color perception. What makes New Mexico’s light so fascinating is its impact on the landscape, rendering colors unlike those found elsewhere in the country. Each season offers a broad range of colors: Winter presents stark contrasts, Spring bursts with green, Summer is rich with vibrant hues, and Autumn is golden and vivid blue.

O’Keeffe home in the kitchen, Abiquiu New Mexico – Brandy Saturley

Back on the tour we enter the kitchen with another beautiful view and gorgeous light with root cellar off the kitchen and O’Keeffe’s own plants lining the window like she still lives in this place today. Off the kitchen a big pantry where you can see her canning, some old linens, wine and champagne bottles, as she did have a dinner party now and then between her work and travels. Another interior courtyard and three private guest rooms, if only we could stay one day!

A Conversation With O'Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe studio view – Abiquiu New Mexico, Brandy Saturley 2024

Across this courtyard and parking garage we find the studio building, and it is truly an artist’s paradise. With another big picture window and view of the landscapes and mountains in the distance, the light is everything in this room, it is cooler than the rest of the house, an almost blue light in this room. We find remnants of the artist, some bones, and a collection of rocks. A fireplace, record player, books and a long table used for working. We find an easel, typewriter and storage for paintings. We find a telephone with a hand written contact list beside. The names Arturo and Ansel stand out to me, as her famous friend and iconic landscape photographer Ansel Adams is obviously the Ansel whose phone number is written here. Arturo was her assistant at the end of her life, an artist and potter, he taught her to work with clay when she was in her 80’s. Like I often say, Artists never retire. They may find themselves with limitations as they age, but this offers a challenge and the path to experiment with making art in new ways and new mediums.

A Conversation With O'Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe telephone contact list, Ansel Adams, 2024 Brandy Saturley

Then we walk through her ensuite and closet where her famous black dress hangs, along with many other dresses. A tall narrow door provides passageway into her bedroom, which is made for a bed and not much else and it comes with another iconic view painted by O’Keeffe. The curved road, landscapes, and mountains. This room is all window, and her bed is placed in a way so that she can see the view every morning. Though this was her primary residence and studio, O’Keeffe came and went between her other home at Ghost Ranch, which was her summer place.

Georgia O’Keeffe closet and clothes in Abiquiu home – 2024, Brandy Saturley

As an artist who paints and takes photos I can see why she settled here in her middle age, she knew it would be a place that would fulfill the vessel for years to come, and as she aged and could travel less, this place would sustain the artist impulses. The energy in this place is not only because it was hers, it is also because of the place itself, it feels old, the mountains have stories to tell from centuries of inhabitants and Earthly changes.  You can feel the universe here, it is spiritual, it allows you the peace to think and go within, while also being connected to the Earth and nature. I wanted to sit here all day and paint, observe, hike and explore. It is a special place, a scared place, worth many more visits. I can’t help but wonder what O’Keeffe would think of her home now a museum where strangers wander through listening to stories of her time in this place. Thank you Georgia, lovely to be in your presence once again.

A Conversation With O'Keeffe

View from Georgia O’Keeffe’s bedroom – Abiquiu, New Mexico 2024 Brandy Saturley

Read about my time following O’Keeffe on Maui.

See more photos from Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio Tour – Abiquiu, New Mexico

In The Steps of O’Keeffe – Artist on The Road to Santa Fe

If you have been reading this blog and following my work you know my obsession with Georgia O’Keeffe. It began in youth, intensified when I saw a retrospective of her works at the Vancouver Art Gallery. It then deepened with seeing her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Now, after many years and more paintings, I am on my way to Santa Fe, do you know the way? Beginning in Victoria, Canada and ending in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we are headed out on the next journey. This trip will take us to the heart of the southwest art world, and one of the largest art markets in the USA, after New York City and Los Angeles. I’m an artist on the road, once again.

Artist On The Road

Cow’s Skull: Red, White & Blue – Georgia O’Keeffe, 1931

Over the years I have painted homage works to many of the greats, beginning with Goalie’s Mask; red, white and Dryden. Known as the ‘Goalie’s Mask Painting’, it is a composition and comment inspired by a famous work by O’Keeffe. When I first saw, Cow’s Skull: Red, White and Blue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, I was surprised at how small it is, as with many famous works, grand in their infamy yet not in their size. Painted in 1931, this beautiful oil painting is visceral and moving, especially when you are close enough to see the scratches of the artists’ brush.

Artist On The Road

Goalie’s Mask: Red, White & Dryden, Brandy Saturley, 2011

Tired of the hustle and bustle of city life, O’Keeffe sought solace in the tranquil landscapes of Lake George, New York, and later, New Mexico. It was during her initial visit to the Southwest in 1929 that her artistic focus shifted from urban architecture to the natural wonders of New Mexico. In this particular piece, O’Keeffe captures the essence of a single skull, accentuating its rugged contours, weathered textures, and pale hue. To her, these bones symbolized the enduring allure of the desert and the resilience of the American ethos, hinted at by the striped backdrop. In 1949, O’Keeffe made New Mexico her permanent home, where she resided until her passing in 1986.

Artist on the Road

Georgia O’Keeffe, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 1968 – Arnold Newman

Georgia O’Keeffe in Maui – Artist on The Road

While Santa Fe is the homeland and final resting place, Maui was another favourite place the artist painted. I discovered a book written by Maria Ausherman from interviews with Patricia Jennings, about world famous painter, and one of my favorites, Georgia O’Keeffe. The book,  Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii  , focuses on three month’s in 1939 when O’Keeffe visited Hawaii including Maui, as guest of the Dole Pineapple company as they had commissioned her to paint an image for their advertising campaign. I retraced the steps of O’Keeffe and also came home with sketches and photos that would become a painting, a visual story, of my time soaking up Maui.

Artist on the Road

IAO, acrylic on canvas painting, 2018, Brandy Saturley

Connections with Lawren Harris

After this trip I began to dream about and see connections between the work of O’Keeffe and Canada’s luminary of the landscapes, Lawren Harris. While I have yet to find evidence of their world’s connecting, they certainly knew of one another. I found a paper online by Sara Angel, that explored the possibility of a connection between the two modernist painters. In the spring of 1938 Harris drove more than 3000km to relocate to Santa Fe, which is not surprising as the area is celebrated for it’s stunning landscapes.

Artist on The Road

Natural Affinities – O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams

This exhibition and the companion text, examine the connections and friendship between the iconic painter and landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Produced by The Smithsonian, Natural Affinities examines the friendship of two artists who were attracted to the distinct landscape of the American southwest and were committed to depicting its essence with modernist sensibilities.

San Francisco de Assisi , Santa Fe, Ghost Ranch New Mexico, Georgia O’Keeffe – Ansel Adams

It’s Good to Have Goals

Places I would like to live other than Vancouver Island – Maui, Santa Fe, Maui. I saw this pop up in my memories the other day, thank you Facebook, a reminder that I am on the path that I speak out loud, or at least to Facebook. While I have made my life and career as an artist on Vancouver Island as my home base, it has never stopped me from travelling for my art career. Now nearly twenty years in, I am looking at mid-career and where I would most like to see myself living and painting for the next twenty. Ideally the goal has always been  split between Maui and Vancouver Island, but I have longed to spend time in the high desert of Santa Fe and on some level deep down, I know I will feel at home in this Southwestern landscape filled with vivid Indigenous cultures and colours.

Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II, 1930 – Georgia O’Keeffe

The Time Has Come – Artist on The Road

After years of absorbing the wonderous world of O’Keeffe. Her passionate relationship with Alfred Stieglitz and her vibrating artworks, I am now only a week away from hitting the road to Santa Fe. Beginning in Victoria, BC with stops in Oregon and Moab Utah (serious photography and hiking time) I will arrive in Santa Fe in time for a few margaritas and a whole lot of art to see and create. There will definitely be some museums and a few other surprises.

Canadian Artist Brandy Saturley

On a side road somewhere in the Canadian prairies of Manitoba. Summer 2020 – self-photography Brandy Saturley

The next journey begins in May. Follow along with me on Facebook and Instagram.

Sincerely Yours,

Brandy Saturley

Making Art in Magical Maui – Georgia O’ Keeffe in Hawaii

About six years ago after my first trip to explore the landscapes and flora of Maui, I discovered a book written by Maria Ausherman from interviews with Patricia Jennings, about world famous painter, and one of my favorites, Georgia O’Keeffe. The book,  Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii  , focuses on three month’s in 1939 when O’Keeffe visited Hawaii including Maui, as guest of the Dole Pineapple company as they had commissioned her to paint an image for their advertising campaign. The book had been sitting on my desk and I had yet to crack it open, and with a December trip planned to the island paradise, I decided to pack the book up and read it on the plane on my seven hour flight to the island. It was the best way to begin this second journey and set me up for re-tracing O’Keeffe’s footsteps in Hana and the I’ao Valley areas of the island. This is my experience looking for signs of Georgia O’ Keeffe in Hawaii.

Georgia O' Keeffe's Hawaii

Helicona in Hana, Hawaii – photo by Brandy Saturley December 2017

The book is told from the perspective of a 12 year old girl by the name of Patricia Jennings who had served as O’Keeffe’s personal guide while in Maui in 1939. “Less than three years after O’Keeffe’s visit, Pearl Harbour was attacked. The world suddenly changed and Jennings memories of her time guiding O’Keeffe on Maui sustained her through this difficult period in US History. As long as we keep our stories, friendships, and our art, we will not lose the joy of being alive.” (excerpt from the book, April 2011 NYC) The story is an entertaining and vivid recollection from the perspective of a child and a famous artist, known for her sometimes difficult nature. Jennings spent 10 days with O’Keeffe and from this experience bloomed, much like O’Keeffe’s flower paintings. Jennings credits her time with the artist as schooling in becoming a more confident girl and woman. Coming off the plane in Kahalui and breathing in the plumeria laced air, I was ready to let the sentiments and recollections in the book, lead me to the places that inspired more than twenty paintings, including the final piece for Dole.

Georgia O' Keeffe in Hawaii

Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting of a baby pineapple bud for the Dole Company.

Beginning with the flowers, I was on the lookout for the Heliconia, which appears on the cover of the book. The flower is flamingo-like in it’s colours and shapes. There are many varieties of this flower, all beautiful, unusual and substantial. I found this particular flower in Hana, on Maui. Hana is located at the eastern end of the island of Maui and is one of the most isolated communities in the state. It is reached mainly via the Hana Highway, a long and winding, 52-mile-long (84 km) highway along Maui’s north shore.  The charm of Hana is the fact that little has changed over the last 20 years. Untouched by the major developments of the other side of the island, the Hana community has managed to perpetuate the small town atmosphere, Hawaiian culture and most of all, its natural scenic beauty. Unspoiled, serene and mystical; Hana is truly Maui’s last authentic Hawaiian place. Polynesians arrived in Hawaii in 500-800 AD and built the Pi’i-lani Heiau temple – the largest in the state of Hawaii.

Lava Bridge in Hana, Hawaii

I then ventured to the rugged lava created coastline exploring one of the area’s red sand beaches, which offers a view of a lava bridge, famously painted by O’Keeffe. It is a significant structure that offers a keyhole view from from a distance. O’Keeffe also painted many of the valleys and waterfalls in the area, most found along the Hana Highway through short hikes from the roadside.

Waterfalls in Hana, from Maui Air helicopter vantage point – Brandy Saturley, 2017

Thanks to Maui Air I was able to get up and achieve an overhead perspective of the many valleys and waterfalls in the area, inducing the one’s that inspired O’Keeffe. From 50ft to 400ft and more, these waterfalls and turquoise pools against emerald green lushness, sets your soul at ease. Breathing in the eucalyptus and the tropical flowers sends you into a foggy headed trance, you find yourself in a place you never want to leave.

Georgia O' Keeffe in Hawaii

I’ao Valley and Needle | Brandy Saturley, 2017

After soaking up the beautiful coast and rainforest of Hana I was excited to explore the I’ao Valley. An emerald and lime green valley in Wailuku and including the West Mountains and volcano. Perhaps the most lush and most green place on Earth. The mountains change throughout the day as their wrinkles or valleys light up as the low hanging clouds pass by revealing their beauty, but only a little at a time.

Georgia O' Keeffe's Hawaii

For Georgia O’Keeffe and Lawren Harris | study for a painting Brandy Saturley, 2017

This trip offered numerous opportunities to soak in the lush colours & shapes and the intoxicating sounds and smells. From eucalyptus to plumeria blossoms, from salty air, to sand – Maui puts you in a trance that you do not wish to leave. I spent a few days at a condo in Kihei sketching on my lush garden patio, listening to birds and watching plumeria blossoms dropping daily to my feet. Breathing in Maui and breathing out my expression of this cinematic place on my sketch pad and canvas. As with any adventure, I am looking forward to seeing what this trip produces in my art. The sketch shown here, which is a study for a future painting, is titled; for Georgia & Lawren – two of my favorite painters and both icons of symbolic landscape painting. Aloha from paradise and thank you Georgia O’Keeffe, Patricia Jennings and Maria Ausherman for the inspiration. What if Georgia O’Keeffe and Lawren Harris met and made art together? A question to answer in my next post.

Georgia O' Keeffe in Hawaii

IAO, 48×36, acrylic on canvas, 2022, Brandy Saturley

Update 2024:

Brandy Saturley continues this journey with exploring O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico and the O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, where the artist lived her final years before her death at age 98.