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118
MEETING GEORGIA O´KEEFFE
During my stay in New York 1981, a friend gave me an
article to read. It was about an elderly woman, who lived way
out in the mountains of New Mexico at a place called Ghost
Ranch. She had chosen to live there in total isolation in order
to get away from it all and dedicate herself to her paintings.
Evelyn, who gave the article to me, said: “You remind me of
her - you have the same character!”
Her name was Georgia O’Keeffe. Her reserved appearance
appealed to me and her story fascinated me in a special way.
In spring 1982 I read “Portrait of an artist, a biography of
Georgia O’Keeffe” by Laurie Lisle. I had no desire to leave
the world, the book opened for me. I was determined about
one thing: I had to meet Georgia O’Keeffe. She was born in
1887 and the biography was from 1980, I fgured, she might
still be alive.
I went to New Mexico and rented a car. After a week of
touring to get myself oriented, I decided it was time to drive
to Abiquiu to visit Georgia O’Keeffe. People who asked me,
why I wanted to go to New Mexico gave me a strange look
when they heard it was to visit Georgia O’Keeffe. They told
me to forget it, because she did not see any visitors. I under-
stood, she is a legend, a folk hero for Americans, who know
about her life and work. The day before I had decided to seek
her out, I visited a woman north of Taos in Arroyo Secco.
This woman kept lamas on the property around her self-
constructed adobe. There were six of us for lunch and again
I was asked, why I had come to New Mexico. They heard my
answer and one of the guests said, she was certain that I’d
meet Georgia, since I had my heart set on it. If it turned out
otherwise, I should just give her a call. The next morning I set
out towards my destination.
After around an hour’s drive the landscape shifted from
greyish green, beige mountains to red and pink. The contrast
between valleys and mountains became more pronounced.
High up on the extreme edge of a mountain slope was a large
adobe. A steep and narrow road wound around the mountain
and I drove into a little plaza in front of the tiny Abiquiu
church. A ring of equally tiny mud-grey houses surrounded
the plaza. Everything had an abandoned look about it. There
was total silence, when I cut the car’s engine. Before I could
look around, dogs began to bark. Enclosing the village centre
was a long adobe wall. There was a fence at the end of the
wall, and I could see Georgia O’Keeffe’s two chow-chows
- the one light brown and the other black. As they barked
I felt I had woken the entire village. I took a walk to pull
myself together. Two tourists drove slowly by in order to get
a glimpse of the house I myself had hopes of being invited
into. To be honest I was full of self-doubt, but I simply felt I
had to see her! I walked to the fence. A sign read: “Please by
appointment only.” The dogs stood barking. I watched.
“Can I help you?” a deep male voice asked. Juan Hamilton,
who I knew took care of Georgia O’Keeffe. I told him who
I was, where I came from, that it would mean a lot to me to
meet Georgia O’Keeffe. He told me, she received no visitors,
that lots of people tried to get to see her every day and a lot
more besides. Georgia had asked all those, who took care
of her, to turn visitors away. Her advice to me would be:
“Keep on working!” He said, he was sorry. So did I and said
goodbye. I heard a door slam and saw Georgia, supported by
Hamilton walking briskly across the farm yard. I admired the
view above the valley and drove slowly home.
That evening I called the woman, I’d met the previous day.
She said, she would try to get hold of Marilyn Gong, a
woman who worked for Georgia O’Keeffe. We were to meet
for lunch a few days later. We were introduced. Marilyn
heard my story and I her’s. She had read an article about
Georgia O’Keeffe at the end of the ‘60s, while she studied
in San Francisco, and she also went to see Georgia. She was
told, that Georgia was not seeing any visitors. However, 11
years later she moved to New Mexico and began working for
Georgia two weekends a month. Besides this job, Marilyn
worked at the museum in Santa Fe doing the layout of all the
museum’s publications.