A Week In O’Keeffe Country

In October of 2012 a friend and I drove west across the country.  Our ultimate goal and destination was to visit with friends in the highly anticipated and beautiful Santa Fe but, (no surprises here), we also found the journey along the way through ever changing terrain and color to be quite beautiful.  Those eleven days went quickly filled with beauty, newness and awakening.  So many memories were created that I revisit fondly and often especially on real life, daily grind, Columbus, Ohio February kind of days. Big blue skies, surreal landscapes of wind farms set against sunsets that could melt the coldest of hearts and an inspiring visit to O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu are my favorites.

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O’Keeffe. Standing where she stood, seeing what she saw, breathing in the same air, sun, sky that she did and seeing her pieces in the very real landscape that surrounded me was an experience that moved me and one that I hope to never forget.  It produced stomach butterflies, quickened my heart rate and at the very same time, enveloped me with a feeling of overwhelming peace.  In those moments I realized I was in the presence of greatness.  Also in those moments I knew I would return to this place again and again.

At Ghost Ranch we met the resident librarian (a friend of a friend) who told us of a recently published book by author and University of New Mexico grad, C.S. Merrill.  The book, Weekends with O’Keeffe, and related stories that we heard that day recount a young grad student’s first and once in a lifetime meeting with the artist and the companionship that followed.  The book is nicely strung together, built from pieces of journals kept, sound recordings taken and memories.  It replays the unbelievable account of Merrill’s first meeting with the artist, her weekend job of organizing O’Keeffe’s massive book collection and eventually the daily companionship that followed.  (I have goosebumps thinking about it.) O’Keeffe was in her 80s and Merrill in her 20s, O’Keeffe was strong, hard and closed and Merrill was open.  The relationship that followed was moving and proves to me in some way that magic does exist.

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You don’t have to be an O’Keeffe fan to enjoy this book.  It shares intriguing glimpses into the daily life of an aging artist, observations of another looking in at that mysterious life, and above all else an amazing connection between two women.

Weekends with O’Keeffe, C.S. Merrill, University of New Mexico Press, 2010

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