Monday, June 6, 2016

O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch

My photograph of Cerro Pedernal. Follow this link to see O'Keeffe's painting, Pedernal, 1941-1942.

Georgia O'Keeffe was an artist best known for her paintings of oversized flowers, New York skyscrapers and New Mexico landscapes.  There's a good reason for the last!  She lived here!

Can you see O'Keeffe's painting, Pedernal, 1941-1942 on my phone?

While we were in Santa Fe working on a Habitat for Humanity build, I visited the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.  The museum's collection displays her works in a way that helps you see her artistic development over the course of her life.  Of course, once I'd viewed her paintings, I wanted to see Ghost Ranch, the place that inspired her art.

O'Keeffe first heard of Ghost Ranch in 1929 on a trip to Taos, NM, but it wasn't until 1934 that she visited the dude ranch.  Once she did, she fell in love with its beauty and for the next decade, she spent her summers there and her winters back in New York where her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, a noted photographer, lived.  After Stieglitz died, she purchased a cabin and seven acres from the owner of Ghost Ranch and moved there permanently. For the rest of her life, she was inspired by its beauty.

Tim and I drove the 90 miles from Santa Fe to visit the ranch in northern New Mexico.  Highway 84 runs through a beautiful part of the Charma River Valley, the subject of O'Keeffe's painting Chama River, Ghost Ranch, 1937.  The river has carved intricate cliffs which are stunning for their variations of color, inspiration for her Red and Yellow Cliffs.  The scenery is gorgeous!  No wonder O'Keefe tried to capture these vistas in her work.

There are several hiking trails through the ranch which is now a retreat run by the Presbyterian Church.  

We chose to hike to Chimney Rocks, a prominent geological formation, captured by O'Keeffe in her painting The Cliff Chimneys, 1938.

The closer we got to the top, the steeper the trail grew.

I wondered how O'Keeffe was able to carry her box of paints and her easel up the trail. 

O'Keeffe's paint box is on display at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

Chimney Rocks

We were told that trail had the best view of Cerro Pedernal and the woman at the ranch office was right.

O'Keefe could see Pedernal, the distinctive chopped off mountain, from her kitchen window.  She once said, "It is my mountain.  God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it."

And so she did!  She painted Pedernal over and over again.  When she died at age 99, her ashes were scattered over its summit.

Cottonwood and Pedernal

My Front Yard, Summer

Pedernal 1941

Red Hills With Pedernal

Road to Pedernal

During the drought in the 1930s, ranchers in the area lost many animals to starvation.  As she roamed the countryside around Ghost Ranch, O'Keeffe picked up their bones.  She saw symmetry and beauty in these skulls so she packed several boxes of them and shipped them back East.  According to a docent at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, the boxes arrived with postage due, much to her husband's dismay.   Over the next several winters, she composed paintings of the bones like this one, Cow's Skull with Calico Roses

I wanted to find the area that inspired my favorite O'Keefe painting, Black Mesa, but that vista was not to be seen from the Chimney Rock trail. 

All the more reason to return to this land that Georgia loved!

Postscript:  We're now at my family's farm in Kansas.  We'll be here for the month of June, helping to harvest this year's wheat crop.  There won't be time for me to write blog posts, but I hope to pick this up again next month.  Thanks for reading!


  1. Getting caught up on "Jacobsons' Journey" today! What incredibly beautiful pictures and informative stories. Your blog will definitely be my "handbook" when we head to New Mexico! Enjoy your month with family!

    1. Thanks, Chris! After trying to write about every sight we've seen over the past 6 months, I'm ready for a blog vacation. I hope you are enjoying your stint as camp hosts.

  2. New Mexico is one of the last unknown treasures with majestic scenery. Looks like a fun tour of the local area.

    1. You're right, Terry! Northern New Mexico is beautiful!

  3. I saw this today at the Minneapolis Institute of arts and thought of you. I think you would enjoy the MIA!

    1. That's one of her paintings I have not seen. Thanks, Doug, for sharing it with me!

  4. Very interesting. Loved reading about Georgia O'Keefe and seeing all those pictures. Looking forward to seeing you two in August. Hope the harvest goes well.

    1. Thanks, Randy! We're almost done with harvest. Just one more field to cut; then, we'll take to the road again. Stay safe!

  5. Loved this review of O'Keeffe! Your travels are inspiring. I just missed you...was visiting mom & dad last weekend!

    1. I hope they are doing well! I saw them--or was it just your dad?--at Oktoberfest a year or so ago. (Memory fails me! That's why I'm writing these posts.) I hope our paths cross next time you're back for a visit.