Exploring Grief and Change With Georgia O’Keeffe

NEARLY EVERYONE I know is moving. Homes that were once beloved, or at least tolerable, now represent forced encampment. Like rats departing a sinking ship, many of us are running from the wreckage of 2020 with little more than the clothes on our backs and enough money for a security deposit. Change is in the air. Yet, as the adage goes, “The more things change …” Cells renew, but bones remain.

The image on a postcard on my desk, taken by the infamous Carl Van Vechten, is Georgia O’Keeffe next to one of her iconic cow skulls. Her eyes are closed as she cradles the skull in her hand and leans her head against it. The gesture, almost reverent in its grace, seems to acknowledge the animal who once was. The picture is a study in contrast, much like O’Keeffe’s life. According to the postcard, the photo was captured at O’Keeffe’s New York penthouse in 1936. By this point, she’d already made her first pilgrimages to the American Southwest, a region that would provide her with artistic inspiration until her death in 1986. It was also a refuge from the stress of her marriage to the influential photographer and philanderer Alfred Stieglitz. Maybe it’s fitting then that one of the few O’Keeffe pieces I’ve seen in person is related to her attempts to find sanctuary.

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