1914–1918: An Artistic Revival
In 1914 Georgia was drawn back to New York City to attend Columbia
Teachers College and to study with Dow. She had benefited from
her experience in Amarillo, but she did not want to return to struggle
again with higher-ups in her position as art supervisor. O'Keeffe
carefully planned her finances so that she would be able to study
again. At Teacher's College, she continued to do well in creative
courses, but her grades in academic subjects such as English were
Now twenty-seven years old, Georgia was wiser, more experienced
and serious, and painting became her first priority. She was affected
by the New York environment, which had changed significantly since
she had been there in 1908. New ideas in art were more widely discussed,
and political activism–exemplified by Max Eastman's radical magazine, The
Masses–thrived along with artistic innovation and creativity.
Georgia attended Charles Martin's course at the Art Students League,
where she met her future friends Anita Pollitzer and Dorothy True.
Pollitzer, who was involved in the women's suffrage movement, also
interacted with Alfred Stieglitz and frequented his gallery, 291.
From 1913 to 1916, O'Keeffe spent every summer working
as Bement's assistant in Virginia. He acted as her mentor, exposing
her to important ideas such as those in Wassily Kandinsky's On
the Spiritual in Art, stressing the importance of inner
emotions. During the summer of 1915, O'Keeffe continued to paint,
socialize, and maintain contact with political debate by reading The
Masses while working in Virginia. She began to see Arthur
MacMahon, a professor from New York, who exposed her to more liberal
political ideas, especially about the position of women.
In 1915 she continued her teaching career at Columbia
College in South Carolina. Once again, her financial situation
did not allow her to continue with her education, and she had to
accept an offer to teach to earn money. O'Keeffe soon felt stifled
in the old Confederate city of Columbia, but she continued to create
artwork. Building upon her artistic influences, she began to produce
charcoal drawings according to her own feelings, acknowledging
what felt natural to her without adhering to accepted conventions.
She had intense feelings for MacMahon, who had visited her during
Thanksgiving, and she attempted to confront her sensual feelings
by drawing. This initial digression suited her artistic aspirations.
In 1916, when Anita Pollitzer introduced Alfred Stieglitz to O'Keeffe's
work, he immediately accepted to show it in his 291 gallery. When
Georgia received news of Stieglitz's response, she was surprised
but pleased. She wrote to Pollitzer:
"Anita–do you know–I believe I would
rather have Stieglitz like something–anything I had done–than anyone
else I know of"
Georgia was offered a position to teach at West Texas
State Normal College in the fall of 1916. However, this position
depended upon her attendance of Arthur Dow's spring course at Teacher's
College. Longing for the flat landscapes of Texas, Georgia committed
to accept the position, quit her current job, and moved back to
New York to attend classes despite her limited financial resources.
While studying that semester, Georgia received the disappointing
news of the death of her mother, an event that splintered her family.
Stieglitz did show O'Keeffe's charcoals in an exhibit
with other artwork, although he did it without consulting her.
Georgia rushed to 291 after one of her colleagues mistakenly informed
her that paintings by "Virginia O'Keeffe" were on display. O'Keeffe,
realizing that it was probably her artwork, went to verify her
suspicion. After confronting Stieglitz, she agreed to allow her
drawings to hang in the gallery.
The town of Canyon, Texas, was smaller than Amarillo,
but Georgia kept to herself, to her job, but most of all to her
artwork. The exhilarating desert sky excited Georgia, especially
when it was penetrated with the lightning strikes or the stars
that illuminated the night. Inspired by the steep slopes and the
colors of Palo Duro Canyon, she spent much time painting watercolors
which were later displayed at her first solo exhibition at 291,
between April 3 and May 14, 1917. O'Keeffe continued her correspondence
with Pollitzer and Stieglitz, sending them her artwork. One painting, Blue
Lines (1916), was hanging in Stieglitz's gallery in December
of 1916 when Anita went to visit him. This painting, which represented
the canyon, demonstrated that O'Keeffe had mastered the line using
nature as her guide. Georgia soon became ill with the flu, resigned
from her job, and, at the advice of Stieglitz, returned to New York
in June of 1918.