It’s spring again in Santa Fe. One of the ways you can tell; the Georgia OKeeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu, is open for tours. The iconic artist’s winter home is open from March 15th through November 22nd. For O’Keeffe fans visiting the area, a day-trip including the home and “O’Keeffe Country” is a must-do.
Tours of the home are by reservation only. To be sure to get a space, make them early. Tour groups are small and a lot of people are fascinated by the artist and want to see where she lived and worked. Arrive at the home’s Visitor’s Center at the Abiquiu Inn a little early; tours operate on a tight schedule. A small bus (maximum tour size is 12) takes you to the house. Set on a mesa, it has expansive views of the Chama River Valley, the mountains and O’Keeffe’s beloved White Place. The guides are local and very knowledgeable about the artist, her home and the area. But if you ask a really personal question about Miss O’Keeffe (as they still call her), you’re apt not to get an answer. They are still fiercely protective of her privacy twenty-five years after her death.
When Georgia O’Keeffe first saw the traditional adobe house (circa 1796), she knew she had to have it. The property, then a ruin, was owned by the local Catholic Diocese. Initially, they refused to sell it. O’Keeffe was a tenacious woman. Finally, in 1945, after years of negotiation, the Diocese relented and sold it to her. They stipulated that the original structure be kept intact. It was a wise decision. Had they had not sold the house to her, it eventually would have collapsed.
O’Keeffe already owned a home up the road a piece at Ghost Ranch. She wanted a second home in the area to grow vegetables. The soil at her ranch home was proving difficult to farm. Her gardens were a visual pleasure and offered subjects for painting. They were also a source of fresh food. She late the seasonal bounty; canning and freezing what could not immediately be consumed. O’Keeffe’s kitchen and pantry are a tribute to 50’s modernity. Her appliances (which she retained until she left the home in 1984) were top of the line when she moved in. A large freezer stored much of the garden’s bounty for use during the year.
The home’s sparse furnishings represent the big names in Mid-century design. Pieces by Herman Miller, Charles Eames, and Eero Saarinen are scattered throughout the house and a Noguchi rice-paper shade reigns over the simple dining-room table (it is the only lampshade in the house, O’Keeffe favored bare bulbs). She was a collector of rocks and stones; they are an integral part of the home’s décor as are some of her famous skulls.
The guided-tour takes an hour. Some rooms are accessible to visitors, and some, because of fragile flooring, are glimpsed through windows and doorways. The gardens and grounds are beautiful. The salt cedars, poisonous jimsonweed (Datura) and sculpted junipers create an unusual landscape. At the end of the tour, visitors reboard the bus and leave this well-preserved piece of the past, hopefully, with a better understanding of the artist and her work.
If the view of the White Place (Plaza Blanca) from O’Keeffe’s studio window intrigues you, it’s easy to visit while you’re in Abiquiu. The property, owned by the Dar al Islam, is open to the public. Their only request; that you respect the place and leave it as you found it. Park and take a short hike. The eerie white rock formations here appear in a number of O’Keeffe’s paintings. She loved this place. This was ocean once; the sand you walk on is as fine as what you might find at the beach. It’s a place of quiet and beauty.
Flesh out the day with a visit to Ghost Ranch where O’Keeffe spent her summers painting. While her remote home is not open to the public due to its deteriorated and fragile condition, visitors can see the places and views that inspired the artist. There are two O’Keeffe tours available. Georgia O’Keeffe and the Ghost Ranch Landscape Tour, is a one-hour bus-tour of places the artist painted and painted from. The hour-and-half Walk in Georgia O’Keeffe’s Footsteps – A Walking Landscape Tour, is essentially the same tour, done on foot. Perhaps, the highlight for visitors is the view of the Pedernal, the mountain they may be familiar with from the artist’s work. She wrote and spoke about and frequently painted her beloved mesa. “It’s my private mountain, it belongs to me,” she was heard to say. ” God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” Reservations are required for both tours and space is limited.
The ranch also has two museums. The Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology showcases some of the Triassic Era treasures discovered in the ranch’s quarries. The Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology tells the story of twelve thousand years of successive human habitation of this area. The museum also displays contemporary work by Indian, Spanish and Anglo artists and artisans carrying on the traditions of the peoples that have inhabited this area.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio, is open mid-March through late November. Reservations are required. Plan in advance as the tours fill up early, especially in July and August. You can also arrange a private off-season tour. For information and reservations, call 505-685-4539.
Author’s notes: If you enjoyed reading this, you may enjoy reading about the Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour at Ghost Ranch.
Photos of O’Keeffe’s home are by Herb Lotz, courtesy of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.