Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Georgia O'Keeffe
Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Georgia O'Keeffe

Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Georgia O'Keeffe

Awarded by
President Gerald R. Ford
January 10, 1977

Painter, teacher, author, and artistic pioneer, Georgia O'Keeffe helped to shape and define the history of modern art in America. For over six decades her sensitivity and skill produced works of striking beauty that span a broad range of contemporary styles. Her country is proud to recognize her as an American of special distinction.

Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887, the second of seven children, and grew up on a farm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. As a child she received art lessons at home, and her abilities were quickly recognized and encouraged by teachers throughout her school years. By the time she graduated from high school in 1905, O'Keeffe had determined to make her way as an artist.

O'Keeffe pursued studies at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905�06) and at the Art Students League, New York (1907�08), where she was quick to master the principles of the approach to art-making that then formed the basis of the curriculum--imitative realism. In 1908, she won the League's William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot) . Shortly thereafter, however, O'Keeffe quit making art, saying later that she had known then that she could never achieve distinction working within this tradition.

Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Georgia O'Keeffe
Her interest in art was rekindled four years later when she took a summer course for art teachers at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, taught by Alon Bement of Teachers College, Columbia University. Bement introduced O'Keeffe to the then revolutionary ideas of his colleague at Teachers College, artist and art educator Arthur Wesley Dow.

Dow believed that the goal of art was the expression of the artist's personal ideas and feelings and that such subject matter was best realized through harmonious arrangements of line, color, and notan (the Japanese system of lights and darks). Dow's ideas offered O'Keeffe an alternative to imitative realism, and she experimented with them for two years, while she was either teaching art in the Amarillo, Texas public schools or working summers in Virginia as Bement's assistant.

O'Keeffe was in New York again from fall 1914 to June 1915, taking courses at Teachers College. By the fall of 1915, when she was teaching art at Columbia College, Columbia, South Carolina, she decided to put Dow's theories to the test. In an attempt to discover a personal language through which she could express her own feelings and ideas, she began a series of abstract charcoal drawings that are now recognized as being among the most innovative in all of American art of the period. She mailed some of these drawings to a former Columbia classmate, who showed them to the internationally known photographer and art impresario, Alfred Stieglitz, on January 1, 1916.

Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Georgia O'Keeffe
Stieglitz began corresponding with O'Keeffe, who returned to New York that spring to attend classes at Teachers College, and he exhibited 10 of her charcoal abstractions in May at his famous avant-garde gallery, 291. A year later, he closed the doors of this important exhibition space with a one-person exhibition of O'Keeffe's work. In the spring of 1918 he offered O'Keeffe financial support to paint for a year in New York, which she accepted, moving there from Texas, where she had been affiliated with West Texas State Normal College, Canyon, since the fall of 1916. Shortly after her arrival in June, she and Stieglitz, who were married in 1924, fell in love and subsequently lived and worked together in New York (winter and spring) and at the Stieglitz family estate at Lake George, New York (summer and fall) until 1929, when O'Keeffe spent the first of many summers painting in New Mexico.

From 1923 until his death in 1946, Stieglitz worked assiduously and effectively to promote O'Keeffe and her work, organizing annual exhibitions of her art at The Anderson Galleries (1923�25), The Intimate Gallery (1925�29), and An American Place (1929�46). As early as the mid-1920s, when O'Keeffe first began painting large-scale depictions of flowers as if seen close up, which are among her best-known pictures, she had become recognized as one of America's most important and successful artists.

Three years after Stieglitz's death, O'Keeffe moved from New York to her beloved New Mexico, whose stunning vistas and stark landscape configurations had inspired her work since 1929. She lived at her Ghost Ranch house, which she purchased in 1940, and at the house she purchased in Abiquiu in 1945. O'Keeffe continued to work in oil until the mid�70s, when failing eyesight forced her to abandon painting. Although she continued working in pencil and watercolor until 1982, she also produced objects in clay until her health failed in 1984. She died two years later, at the age of 98.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Georgia O'Keeffe Museum


The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, America's first art museum dedicated to the work of a woman artist of international stature, opened to the public in July, 1997 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Devoted to preserving and presenting the life work of one of America's preeminent artists, the 13,000 square-foot museum houses a permanent collection of O'Keeffe's art unsurpassed by any museum in the world. The new museum, situated in an adobe building being renovated by architect Richard Gluckman, brings to downtown Santa Fe an outstanding selection of work by the artist most closely identified with the city and the Southwest.

Collections, Programs and Publications:

The mission of the O'Keeffe Museum focuses on three major areas: the presentation and continuing development of the museum's permanent collection of paintings, drawings, and sculpture by O'Keeffe, as well as archival material related to her life and work; the support and creation of traveling exhibitions and educational programming that illuminate aspects of O'Keeffe's art, her lasting contribution to American culture and that of her contemporaries; and the support of new scholarly work on O'Keeffe.

The permanent collection of the O'Keeffe Museum includes more than 80 paintings, watercolors, drawings, pastels, and sculpture made by Georgia O'Keeffe between 1914 and 1982, tracing her artistic evolution as she moved among America's academic, modernist, and literary circles. Subjects range from the artist's iconic flowers and bleached desert skulls to nudes, landscapes, cityscapes, and still lifes. The work demonstrates O'Keeffe's remarkable facility with a wide range of media and the depth and breadth of her long, productive career.

The museum's entire permanent collection will be on view when the O'Keeffe Museum opens to the public. A centerpiece of the collection isJimson Weed (1932), one of the artist's quintessential large-scale flower paintings and among O'Keeffe's favorite flowers. O'Keeffe liked to produce paintings in multiple versions and this was the first of a particularly inspired group. The painting has been widely exhibited in major O'Keeffe exhibitions both in the U.S. and abroad.

Other highlights include Nude Series (Seated Red) , circa 1917; Dark Iris III, 1927; and In the Patio VIII , 1950, as well as paintings dating to significant moments in O'Keeffe's life such as Autumn Trees -- The Maple which was completed in 1924, the year O'Keeffe married Alfred Stieglitz and began experimenting with her first large flower paintings.

A recent gift of 33 works, donated jointly by The Burnett Foundation of Fort Worth, TX and The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, is the largest group of O'Keeffes ever given to a single institution. The gift comprises major paintings which remained in the artist's hands throughout her lifetime. In addition, the O'Keeffe Museum is developing an array of educational and outreach activities to enhance visitor appreciation of O'Keeffe's art.

The museum is publishing with Harry N. Abrams, Inc. a definitive catalogue on its permanent collection, featuring essays by such leading scholars and critics on American art as Lisa Mintz Messinger, Barbara Novak, Barbara Rose, and Mark Stevens. The publication, with all the works fully-illustrated in color, will offer new insights into O'Keeffe's art including the 19th-century underpinnings of her work and her influence on contemporary artists.

Other of the museum's research sponsorships include its support of the first comprehensive catalogue raisonn� on O'Keeffe, developed by the National Gallery of Art, The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc.; the development of a definitive oral history project; and a survey of O'Keeffe as a subject in American photography. The museum's long-range plans include the establishment of a study center on the museum premises providing scholars, students, and the general public with reference materials on the life and art of Georgia O'Keeffe and her contemporaries. To this end and as part of ongoing collection development, the museum is collecting by gift and purchase O'Keeffe-related manuscripts and photographs.


The new O'Keeffe Museum, located near Santa Fe's historic central plaza, is designed by architect Richard Gluckman. Recognized internationally for his work on art museums and galleries, he has designed such projects as the Dia Center for the Arts, the renovation and expansion of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and the gallery interiors for SITE Santa Fe's contemporary art facility.

The facilities of the O'Keeffe Museum comprise a former Spanish Baptist church in Santa Fe's trademark adobe style, which was adapted in 1990 for reuse as a contemporary arts gallery and will house the majority of the museum's permanent collection galleries; and a modest addition that will relate stylistically to the main building and surrounding streetscape and will facilitate visitor access and amenities. The main building will be divided into ten large exhibition galleries, which wrap around an outdoor courtyard showcasing sculpture by O'Keeffe. The addition will accommodate visitor reception and orientation spaces and a book shop, as well as museum offices on the upper floor.

Founders :

The new museum was founded in November 1995 by philanthropists Anne and John Marion, part-time residents of Santa Fe. Mrs. Marion is president of the museum and The Burnett Foundation of Fort Worth. Mr. Marion is honorary chairman of Sotheby's North America. Longtime patrons of the arts in Santa Fe, the Marions are also major benefactors of SITE Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Art Institute, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and The College of Santa Fe's arts department. For further information please visit The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum web site at The museum's phone number is (505) 995-0785.