When a Sun City Lifelong Learners participant asked instructor Allen Reamer whether the mastery of Georgia O’Keeffe as an artist was due to genius or instruction, Reamer said he really couldn’t answer that question. He said the artists in his production class (Painting Cactus with Ink and Watercolor) “all see the same thing, but every result will be different.”
As the Feb. 6 class at the Fairway Recreation Center progressed, members were convinced that O’Keeffe had both an aesthetic visual talent as well as superb teachers. Early pencil drawings showed her mastery of drawing sharp edges and delicate, gradual shading and Reamer said “she will do the same thing with paint!”
Born in Wisconsin in 1887, the second of seven children in her family, O’Keeffe did indeed have fine instruction. She attended the Art Institute in Chicago, and by 1907 she attended the Art Student League in New York where she studied with William Merritt Chase. In 1908, she attended an art exhibit on Fifth Avenue managed by photographer Alfred Stieglitz who “brought all kids of crazy art to America from Europe: you know, artists like Rodin, Matisse, Cezanne and Picasso,” Reamer joked.
Though O’Keeffe didn’t meet Stieglitz at the time, he would become a major figure in her evolution. After working both as an art teacher and a freelance artist, O’Keeffe began working in charcoal, and she sent some of those abstractions to her friend, Anita Pollitzer, who took them to Stieglitz, and in 1916, he featured O’Keeffe’s work in a show. When he was 54 and she was 31, she moved to New York and a few years later; Steiglitz divorced his wife and married O’Keeffe. Though her work is increasingly abstract and modernist, among her productions at this time were flowers. Among her many paintings of canna lilies, poppies, iris, petunias and jinson weed, one of the finest is a vibrant presentation of “Red Canna,” which can be seen at the University of Arizona Museum of Art.
In fact, the southwest became an enormous source of inspiration for O’Keefe when, in 1934, she visited New Mexico. O’Keeffe owned even acres at Ghost Ranch, where her main home still stands. It is private property that is managed by the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, and is not open to the public.
The desert beauty inspired her to paint a series of mountains, cottonwood trees and feathers. After Steiglitz died in 1946, O’Keeffe traveled extensively and began to paint skyscapes and clouds. As she aged and her vision was compromised, she turned to sculpture. Now an American icon, President Gerald Ford awarded O’Keefe a Medal of Freedom (1977) and President Ronald Reagan awarded her a National Medal of Arts (1985). She died a year later at the age of 98.
Reamer’s presentation of the life and work of Georgia O’Keeffe is among hundreds of discussion lectures he offers. He gave the class a list of some of those and asked that they vote on what they would like to learn in March. An artist himself, Reamer jokes that he had no choice since he was born into a family of artists. Active in teaching and production of art in the District of Columbia, after retiring in Sun City, he said he got restless “after about four days” and started teaching again. Later this month, he will teach classes about Leonardo da Vinci and “his genius as a painter, but his life was a soap opera!”
Lifelong Learning is a chartered Recreation Centers of Sun City club. Visit suncity az.org/rcsc, email Vice President Mary Jo Tietge (tietgemj@gmail,com) or email President Michael Powell at email@example.com for more information.