If you thought Georgia O’Keeffe was only about flowers, think again. She was a fascinating woman, ahead of her time. The Georgia OKeeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu, NM attracts lots of visitors each year. If you’re an O’Keeffe fan and plan on visiting Santa Fe, a day-trip to her home and “O’Keeffe Country” is a must-do. To flesh out the day, visit Ghost Ranch where O’Keeffe spent her summers painting. Her home at Ghost Ranch is not open to the public due to its deteriorated and fragile condition, but the ranch offers a few interesting museums, great hiking and an O’Keeffe landscape tour. This tour takes you to the places on the ranch that inspired the artist and became legends in her paintings.
You arrive at the home’s Visitor’s Center at the Abiquiu Inn at the appointed time. A small bus (maximum tour size is 12) takes you to the house, on a mesa with expansive views of the Chama River Valley, the mountains and O’Keeffe’s beloved White Place. The guides are very knowledgeable and the tour is fun. The local folks still fiercely protect Miss O’Keeffe’s (as they still call her) privacy.
When she first saw the traditional adobe (circa 1796), it was a ruin owned by the local Catholic Diocese. After years of negotiation the Diocese relented and sold it to her in 1945. She was a tenacious woman. They stipulated that the original structure would be kept intact. Had they had not sold the house, which was in terrible repair, it would eventually have collapsed.
O’Keeffe wanted a second home in the area. She loved growing vegetables and the soil at her Ghost Ranch home was not conducive to gardening. She loved her gardens and canned and froze what could not be immediately 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.
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). O’Keeffe collected rocks and stones. They are an integral part of the décor as are some of her famous skulls.
The guided-tour is 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 Jimson Weed (Datura) and sculpted junipers create an unusual landscape. At the end of the hour, visitors reboard the bus and leave this well-preserved piece of the past perhaps feeling that they have 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, stop by on your way back to Santa Fe. The property, owned by the Dar al Islam, is open to the public. They ask 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 find at the beach. It is a place of quiet and beauty.
If you want to tour the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio, it is open March through November. Reservations are required. Plan in advance as the tours fill up early, especially in July and August. For information and reservations, call 505-685-4539.
Author’s notes: For more on Georgia O’Keeffe and Abiquiu, read about Ghost Ranch’s Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour.
Photo of O’Keeffe’s pantry is by Herb Lotz, courtesy of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Abiquiu is featured in 10 Places for a romantic outdoors getaway on the Online Travel Magazine, Striped Pot.