Celebrating Georgia O’Keeffe’s art legacy on the High Plains

Women's History

CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most beloved and renowned artists of the modernist movement—she also has important ties to the High Plains.

Local art experts told MyHighPlains.com her legacy and impact are huge, despite her brief time here.

“If you really want to understand modern art, then you really have to understand Georgia O’Keeffe,” said Bill Mercer, the curator of art at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum at West Texas A&M University.

Mercer said O’Keeffe was a pioneer in the art world.

“She’s often called the first mother of modernism. You know, and her work is really seminal in terms of the creation of the modern art movement,” Mercer said.

The museum is home to one of O’Keeffe’s great works, Red Landscape, which she painted in the Palo Duro Canyon. Mercer said her experiences here informed her later works.

“She really was there at the forefront at the very beginning, in terms of creating abstraction, and using objects, landscapes and creating these wonderful, abstract paintings out of them that really shift the paradigm in terms of the art world from being purely representational to then talking about emotion and feeling in art,” added Mercer.

However, before O’Keeffe was a famous artist, she taught at West Texas State University.

“She wasn’t a studio artist successful yet, but she’s been trained in the best teaching school in the nation, you know, Columbia University, and we got her here for a little bit is pretty cool,” said Amy Von Lintel, an associate professor of art at WTAMU. “So, I think that our claim to fame claiming her is worth it and then also she was incredibly inspired by this area.”

Von Lintel is somewhat of an expert on O’Keeffe’s time here on the High Plains. She said O’Keeffe moved to Canyon on her own. While O’Keeffe was still here, she began sending paintings to her dealer in New York, who would later become her husband.

“She was one of the ones that he believed was the best and she’s a woman, a teacher, in the middle of nowhere in America, and yet she really set off—she was right there at the center,” Von Lintel said. “She wasn’t on the periphery, in the art world, even though she was totally on the periphery geographically.”

Von Lintel says O’keeffe had the gumption she needed to succeed.

Von Lintel said, “O’Keeffe didn’t want to be called a feminist. Like, she wasn’t really interested in being called a woman artist. She wanted to be an artist. She wanted to be taken seriously as an artist above being a woman.”

O’Keeffe was taken seriously. Whether she wanted the title or not, her work would eventually lead her to be the highest-grossing, American female artist ever.

“Her work sold for $40 million for one painting, which is higher than any other woman ever, but still, you know, 40% of what men are making,” Von Lintel added. “So you know, it’s still like a gender-biased art world but she’s the leading, if you can see it, in just financial terms. She’s the leading artist—American woman artist,” said Von Lintel.

Von lintel told us O’Keeffe’s art lives on, especially in her classroom. Her students regularly use O’Keeffe’s works as inspiration for their own. She has also published two books about O’Keeffe. One has just been released.

For information on where you can buy the book, click here.

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