Can You Go Back?

Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in the village of Abiquiú, New Mexico

Do you remember what you got for Christmas thirty years ago?

For me, it was One Hundred Flowers, a coffee-table art book of Georgia O’Keeffe’s floral paintings. I was such a fan of her work that Magellan bought this for me in 1987, the year it was first published, the year Georgia O’Keeffe would have celebrated with 100 birthday candles.

In 2005, our artist friend Pat and I made a pilgrimage to Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in the village of Abiquiú, an hour’s drive northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. When Magellan suggested we add Abiquiú to our itinerary this spring, I wondered how the second visit would compare.

The year I was born, Miss O’Keeffe, as she preferred to be called by people who didn’t know her personally, began spending the winters and springs in Abiquiú, For 35 years she lived in the house and painted in the separate studio, moving to Santa Fe in 1984 to be nearer to medical facilities.

If my memory can be trusted, only a handful of tours were offered per week and reservations had to be made six months in advance when Pat and I visited. Today, tours are offered consecutively Tuesday through Saturday and at multiple times throughout the day. Photos were prohibited in 2005. Today, exterior photos are allowed.

The Abiquiú home and studio is a very personal space. Because Georgia O’Keeffe’s personal effects have been left intact, you feel like you’ve been invited for coffee, that at any moment Georgia will slip back into the room with a new book she wants to show you. (She often had the Oppenheimers over for dinner; imagine the conversations.)

“I remember feeling very privileged and excited to be standing in the very SAME space she worked and lived in,” I remember Pat saying. Sitting in her living room, we felt her presence as we admired the plywood table Georgia had made herself, the white coverings on her furniture, the serenity of her space. Back then, we were free to wander through her monastic bedroom, its only ornamentation a small brass sculpture of the Buddha’s little hand mounted on the wall, fingers in a mudra signifying “Fear Not.”

You can’t tour the living room anymore because of its flour floors. Yes, flour.

Barb, our tour guide this spring, who grew up in Abiquiú, explained why. “People used to mix livestock blood with plaster before spreading it on their floors. But that created a dark colour and Miss O’Keeffe wanted lightness throughout her home. So she mixed flour into the plaster.”

The bedroom is off limits now, too. “It almost has the feeling of a convent,” said Magellan, as we peaked through the windows.

Did you know Georgia O’Keefe was keen on growing and preserving her own food? Barb, told us about Georgia’s book on the subject of healthy living: How to Live to be 108.

I remember Pat and I marveling at Georgia’s huge garden and her spacious kitchen with its shelves of large, carefully labeled jars of dried herbs and assorted spices, her collection of hanging pots and pans and the capacious deep freeze. I’d forgotten about her yogurt makers. And her bell. “The housekeeper or cook would vigorously ring this bell at lunchtime so Miss O’Keeffe could hear it from her studio,” said Barb.

Pat and I don’t recall hearing about the bomb shelter, which Barb pointed out on our visit this April. Having had Irish setters for years, Pat does remembers the stories about Georgia’s beloved blue Chows, Bo and Chia. And her huge collection of books, the number verified in Pat’s diary: 3,000 volumes.

I asked Pat for her favourite memory. “The courtyard. She painted that door so many times, it’s become an iconic image of her work. I can visualize her sitting with her easel in the gorgeous painters’ light at varying times of the day over the years.”

It was also Georgia O’Keeffe’s favourite spot. “That wall with a door in it was something I had to have,” wrote Georgia O’Keefe. “It took me ten years to get it— three more years to fix the house so I could live in it—and after that the wall with a door was painted many times.”

I still like Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of flowers. But by 2005, it was the door she painted with such affection, the desert abstraction she infused with longing and the horse skull she hatted with a rose that commanded my attention.

And now? A small bronze lacquered in white that she created and likened to the eye of a goat. A photo of Georgia O’Keeffe sorting lettuces.

“I imagine it felt like you were giving Magellan a present and knew what was about to unfold,” says Pat. “What did he think of the place?”

“Her house was very minimalistic for someone who was such a creative artist,” was his first comment. “I was also impressed with how she got out into the country in her car and on her horse to explore the area.”

Toward the end of our tour, Barb told us about hearing her parents talk about Miss O’Keeffe paying for the school’s gymnasium, eschewing any acknowledgement whatsoever. She told us that over the years, Miss O’Keeffe made similar gifts to the town. “Do you remember her?” someone asked Barb. “I was too young to know her,” said Barb, “But I remember her strong presence. And although she wasn’t religious, I remember her slipping quietly into the church at Christmas.”


You can book a tour of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiú here.

Magellan and I recommend the Abiquiú Inn as a great place to stay. The adobe rooms are lovely and I think Georgia herself would approve of the delicious food (Agave wine and prickly pear margaritas with chile rellenoes for dinner and blue cornmeal piñon pancakes with rosemary syrup and sausages for breakfast.)

Pat pointed out this article about the Abiquiú home and studio from Architectural Digest.


6 Responses

  1. Enjoyed reading very much. Hope to make a visit there one day and would definitely stay at the Abiquiu Inn. Thanks Marsha

  2. I also wonder if you can go back! Glad to hear that you can, just sometimes need a new perspective. Thanks for sharing. Heather

    1. As long as you are prepared for the experience to be different. As Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Goes for women, too.

  3. Very good question and one we often ponder,wondering whether the magic can still be there for the place being revisited.
    Sounds like revisiting Abiquiu with Magellan was as exciting and maybe even richer than our first.
    Revisiting again vicariously through your words and pictures has replayed the magic of that trip for me.
    Many thanks

    1. One thing about our trip that could never be repeated was the fun we had in renting a convertible and carrying on to Ghost Ranch to see Georgia’s other house followed by the I-never-want-to-repeat-that return trip on the back road to Santa Fe during a lightning storm.

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