'My Name is Georgia'

Story Time

August 08, 1999|By Jeanette Winter

Editor's note: The story of Georgia O'Keeffe and her life, from the canyons of steel in New York City to the red rock canyons in New Mexico.

For other suggestions on books about fine arts, see the Summer Reading List on Page 6L.

When I was twelve years old, I knew what I wanted -- to be an artist.

I rode to town every Saturday to copy pictures from the stack in the art teacher's cupboard.

At home, I looked out my window and drew pictures of what I saw.

Maybe I could make something beautiful. ...

At school in Chicago, I drew from statues in the museum.

At school in New York, I painted one still-life painting a day -- every day. At school, I painted my teacher's ideas.

But when school days were over, I went out into the wide world to discover my own ideas.

I went to the Texas plains, the Wild West of my childhood books.

... you have never seen SKY --

it is wonderful.

... I walked into the sunset.

I felt the wind across the plains.

And I painted the sunset and the sky and the wonderful loneliness and emptiness of the place. I painted day and night.

But I bundled up my paintings and went to New York City, to be where other artists lived.

I walked down in the canyons of steel.

I lived high up in the clouds and painted what I saw from my window.

I painted a garden in the city. I wanted everyone to see flowers the way I saw them.

I looked closely at the flowers.

I painted a camellia. I painted it BIG, so people would notice.

I painted a jack-in-the-pulpit. I painted it BIG, so people would see.

I painted poppies and petunias and sunflowers and jimsonweeds and irises and apple blossoms. My garden bloomed, until everyone saw the flowers the way I saw them.

But still, I looked to the sky.

The distance has always been calling me.

I went to the New Mexico desert. So far away that no one ever comes ... I was satisfied to be all by myself.

It was too dry for the flowers to grow. But there were bones.

I gathered the bones -- big bones, little bones, short bones, long bones, a cow's skull, a horse's skull, a ram's skull -- and brought the bones home to paint.

One day I held one up against the sky and saw the blue through that hole. I painted what I saw.

I saw the sky -- and the red hills. I walked in the hills at daybreak and twilight, at noon and in starlight.

I painted the arms to two red hills reaching out to the sky and holding it.

I painted the Pedernal mountain in the faraway. I painted it over and over and over again. And then again and again.

I drove my Model A across the desert and back, and up and down over the hills.

I painted in my studio on wheels -- until the afternoon bees chased me home.

Even in winter, I went far out into the faraway, and painted in the bitter cold.

I painted when the wind was so strong it nearly blew me away.

I did things other people don't do. I climbed my ladder to the night sky to wait for the sun.

I slept under the stars to see the morning sky when I woke.

I stayed in the desert. My hair turned from black to gray to white as white as the bones. I still walked the red hills.

My pile of bones grew, my flowers bloomed in the desert, and the Pedernal was mine.

And the sky -- oh, it was still wonderful! I painted the sky one more time. I painted my sky BIG, so people would see the sky the way I did.

I worked from dawn to dusk every day for weeks and months.

Then, as I painted the last cloud, the sun slipped behind the Pedernal. I laid my brushes down.

Kiss the sky for me ...

Copyright c 1998 by Jeanette Winter, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company.

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