|"My first memory is of the brightness of light...light all around. I was sitting among pillows on a quilt on the ground...very large white pillows..."
Georgia Totto O'Keeffe was born in a farmhouse on a large dairy farm outside of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin on November 15, 1887.
Education for women was a family tradition. Georgia's own mother, Ida had been educated in the East. All the daughters but one became professional women, attesting to her influence on them.
When Georgia was in the eighth grade she asked a daughter of a farm employee what she was going to do when she grew up. The girl said she didn't know. Georgia replied very definitely...
One particular teacher, Elizabeth Willis encouraged her to work at her own pace and afforded her opportunities that the other students felt unfair. At times she would work intensely, and at other times she would not work for days. When it was brought to the attention of the principal, she would reply..."When the spirit moves Georgia, she can do more in a day than you can do in a week"
After receiving her diploma in 1905 she for left Chicago to live with an aunt and attend the Art Institute of Chicago. She did not return to the Institute the following year after a bout with Typhoid Fever. Instead, in 1907 she enrolled at the Art Student League in New York City.
While at the Art Student League, Eugene Speicher, a student at the League asked Georgia to pose for him. Seeing her annoyance at the offer he commented, "It doesn't matter what you do, I'm going to be a great painter and you will probably end up teaching painting in some girls' school." She latter agreed to pose for him. The image at the top of this page was painted by Speicher in 1908.
Discouraged with her work, she did not return to the League in the fall of 1908, but moved to Chicago and found work as a commercial artist. During this period Georgia did not pick up a brush, and said that the smell of turpentine made her sick.
She moved back to her family in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1909 and later enrolled at a nearby college. In 1912 a friend in Texas wrote that a teaching position was open in Amarillo, Texas for a "drawing supervisor". Georgia applied for the position and was hired for the fall semester. She would remain here till 1914, making trips to Virginia in the summer months to teach at the University of Virginia.
After resigning her job in Amarillo, Georgia moved to New York City to attend Columbia Teachers College until accepting a teaching position at Columbia College in South Carolina. Having a light schedule, she felt it would be an ideal position that would give her time to paint. Here she was to strip away what she had been taught
to paint and began to paint as she felt.
Needing a job, and missing the wide, flat spaces of northern Texas, Georgia accepted a teaching job at West Texas State Normal College in the fall of 1916.
She would often make trips to the nearby Palo Duro Canyon, hiking down the steep slopes to observe the sandstone formations with white gypsum, and orange mudstone above the rich green canyon floor. At least 50 watercolors were painted during the time spent in Canyon, Texas.
During the winter Georgia became ill with the flu that was sweeping the country. She took a leave of absence from the teaching job and later resigned. It's possible that there was pressure from the community to encourage her resignation, as she had what was considered radical views about the United States entry into the war in Europe...along with other non-mainstream opinions shocking this small Texas town.
She was encouraged by Stieglitz to return to New York. By this time he had fallen in love with Georgia and wanted to pursue a relationship. He being in an unhappy marriage, had moved out from the family home and into his studio.
She boarded a train in June of 1918 to return to New York and Stieglitz...and to a new life that would make her into one of the most important artist of the century.