Georgia on their mind - Albuquerque Journal

Georgia on their mind

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe has hosted its share of exhibits through the years. The museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Seen in the photo is Jake Dekker, from Rio Rancho, and Clifford Vance, from Santa Fe, who are both color blind, walking through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum wearing Enchroma colorblind glasses in 2019. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum opened 25 years ago with 94 paintings spanning 5,000 square feet of gallery space.

The number of artworks on view climbed to 116, if you include borrowed pieces.

Today the Santa Fe tourist magnet owns more than 3,000 works comprising 140 oil paintings, nearly 700 drawings, and hundreds of additional works dating from 1901 to 1984, including sketches, watercolors and 2,000 photographs. In 2025, the museum will expand to the site of an old Safeway at 123 Grant Ave., now its education annex, adding 55,000 to 60,000 square feet at an estimated cost of $65 million.

The museum will host a 25th anniversary block party on Sunday, July 17, complete with music, youth poets, dances, face painting and family activities.

It all started with Fort Worth, Texas cattle rancher/horse breeder and oil heiress Anne Marion, who traveled to Santa Fe every summer.

“Anne came up to Santa Fe as a kid,” museum director Cody Hartley said in a telephone interview. “She always had a home here in Santa Fe.”

After O’Keeffe died in 1986, interest in her work and life blossomed. The New Mexico Museum of Art only housed a few pieces. Original director Edgar Lee Hewett had angered the artist when she had tried to donate a painting to the institution.

“He said, ‘Why would I want a painting of flowers by that woman?’ ” Hartley said. “It took her a long time to get over that.”

Marion’s mother collected O’Keeffe’s work; she grew up in a home surrounded by the artist’s paintings.

“Anne had a small collection, and, of course, the resources,” Hartley said. Her husband John was a Sotheby’s auctioneer. The couple abounded in art world connections.

“They had the resources and the ability to create something,” Hartley added.

They bought the current location at 217 Johnson St. just off the Santa Fe Plaza. It had been the site of a Spanish Baptist Church. Architect Richard Gluckman designed the building. He also completed the renovation for SITE Santa Fe.

“Anne hunted across the country and bought as many (paintings) as she could find,” Hartley said. “She was very quiet and very private, but she was one of the country’s leading philanthropists. She loaned her own artworks and they borrowed a lot of paintings. They had just enough to fill the walls.”

The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation formed after the artist’s 1986 death to preserve and protect her work and her homes in Abiquiú and at Ghost Ranch. The foundation distributed her art to museums across the country.

“They were given a 20-year lifespan to do all that work,” Hartley said.

In 2006, they transferred everything, including O’Keeffe’s personal possessions – her clothing and her paints – to the museum.

The Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center at 135 Grant Ave. opened in 2001, becoming a hub for research on American Modernism as well as O’Keeffe. Nearly 70 scholars have received stipends in its fellowship program. The museum and research center also have published numerous books about the artist, her homes and her life.

Anne Marion died in 2020, leaving the museum a “significant” bequest, Hartley said.

Hartley said he was not sure what would become of the building at 217 Johnson once the expanded building is completed. It could be used for exhibition overflow, he said.

“The new building will be the heart of the experience,” he added. “We don’t really have an adequate facility for educational programs and public talks.”

A capital campaign has already raised 90% of the needed funding, Hartley said.

“We went from a collection you could fit in a closet to a collection that fits into vaults.”

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