Sunday, June 29, 2008

Woolf Pack in Santa Fe -- Days 1-2

The WoolfPack goes to Santa Fe:

Days 1-2

Sunday, June 22
We left Denver and the Woolf Conference at about 1:00, loaded into our capacious bus with cheerful Bob the driver, and distributed ourselves liberally across the many extra seats. We stopped at the local Safeway on the way out to load up on travel food—nuts and fruit, mostly -- which circulated around the bus at frequent intervals: “Here come the cherries! I’ve got the organic garbage bag now!” Our friend Stuart spent most of the trip curled up in the back as he was feeling very poorly.

We got to Santa Fe in pretty good time—checked into the Inn of the Governors: a nice hotel with big rooms and the usual amenities. We had dinner at the hotel bar, which some liked ,though I was underwhelmed. We were all pretty tired.

Monday, June 23
Next morning was an early breakfast at the hotel. Stuart was feeling even worse, so with the assistance of the hotel staff, a car was called and he and Stephen went off to the nearest Urgent Care clinic. The rest of us trooped the five or six blocks north past the Plaza to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, where the new exhibit was on Ansel Adams and O’Keeffe.

The Docent talked for a while outside in the courtyard, but there were too many people to take inside—so once in the museum we were on our own. The O’Keeffe museum currently owns about half (1,149), of the total number of O’Keeffe’s (1229 listed in the Catalogue Raisonne), so every time there is a new exhibit, they rehang the whole gallery, creating a new series of connections among pictures.

This time, the first room contrasted flowers and shells. For the first time I saw “White Sweet Peas.” (1926; CR563 )(I am only reproducing images that have already appeared on the Internet.) I knew it was a pastel, and was therefore astonished at how large and impressive it was—as big as an oil painting (25" by 19") and quite indistinguishable from one, except you can see where the paper was rolled and buckling a bit. As always, an in-person view of an O’Keeffe shows you many things you have never observed in reprints in books, chiefly the subtlety and intensity of the color. In “White Sweet Pea” what drew my attention was the one dark, s-shaped fold to the left of the center of the picture. In person it is a particularly vibrant dark green—not at all black—that seems in some strange way to be the hidden heart of the picture, the road inside to what is behind all that white frilliness. Also hung near the entrance was a later 0il “Pink and Yellow Hollyhocks,” (1952; CR 1232) whose title hardly does justice to the blending of salmons, delicate lemon and the vaguest of lime.

Juxtaposed to O'Keffe's flowers were a number of paintings of shells.
She started painting shells around the time that her relationship with Stieglitz was getting fraught. I always think of the shells as being about that--they are hard and dry and dead compared to the flowers, and sometimes have chips like this one. I also think of the HD poem, "There is a spell, for instance, in every seashell (see: which seems to me to be very much about boundaries in relationships--about the decision whether to be open or closed to people.

Another shell picture that several of us liked was CLAM AND MUSSEL (1926; CR 534) This tiny oil nestles a dark mussell shell inside a lighter grey clam shell. As someone remarked, the result looks very much like an ear and conjures up the same childhood memories of listening to the sound of the ocean in the shell as HD's poem.

The largest room of O'Keeffe paintings drew me past the comparative display of trees by O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams because it had so many of my favorites on display. Throughout the museum, if you are at all attentive you notice the care with which pictures have been chosen to echo and contrast with one another so that just looking at them educates you about O'Keeffe's methods and themes. Lots of our group were attracted to two paintings ABSTRACTION BLUE (1927; CR 573) and a later piece, IT WAS BLUE AND GREEN (1960; CR1444)

We tried looking at these on their sides and finding landscapes, and even had a talk with one of the security guards,who had his own theory about the line down the center of ABSTRACTION BLUE being a mirror, showing two side of the same image.

After a break for lunch, we gathered again at the Museum and then walked the block and a half to the Research Center. I had wanted people to know about the fellowship and study opportunties here, and also had seen the two glass boxes containing OK's painting box and pastels which I thought would thrill Suzanne. But we were all in for many thrills as the tour included being able to peer into the contents of the drawers which line one wall of the Center Library. These are filled with all sorts of materials--more tubes of paints and boxes of pastels (OK often made her own pastels, adding pigment to a base and a binder).

Perhaps the most exciting displays were the drawers which showed the meticulous planning that OK did for every painting, making color swatches of exactly which shades and hues she used.

There were drawers also displaying the rocks and bones she drew, set next to her sketches or painted renditions. And we saw her tennis shoes and several of her jackets which she had on when pictures of her were taken in later life.

Being pretty surfeited with O'Keeffe, we all split up and went our separate ways for an afternoon of shopping and/or visiting galleries. Some of the group gathered in my room after dinner where I did a presntation of My O'Keeffe and Woolf keynote speech from last summer at Ghost Ranch.

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