December 10, 1997 - February 21, 1998
The Book Room: Georgia O'Keeffe's Library in Abiquiu
Curated by Ruth Fine, Elizabeth Glassman, & Juan Hamilton
Sponsored in cooperation with the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, in December of 1997 the Grolier Club presented an exhibition of more than 100 books, periodicals, and ephemera from the private library of Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986). The exhibition provided a remarkable opportunity to explore the intellectual and personal life of one of America's most significant 20th-century artists.
The "Book Room" was O'Keeffe's designation for the library she maintained in her adobe house in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Consisting of some 3,000 volumes, the library represents a cross section of O'Keeffe's extraordinary range of interests-from the mundane to the esoteric. The objects selected for the exhibition illuminate not only O'Keeffe's personal interests, but also, through the authors represented, they reveal the complex web of relationships that O'Keeffe sustained with the most important writers, artists, and intellects of the 20th-century.
Foremost among these was Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), the great promoter of photography and modern art, and O'Keeffe's early champion and, later, husband. O'Keeffe's Book Room contains items that she saved from Stieglitz's own impressive library after his death. Highlights included in the exhibition were Gertrude Stein's idiosyncratic Portrait of Mabel Dodge at Villa Curonia, privately printed in Florence by the author and inscribed to Stieglitz, and an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind copy of Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol, inscribed in 1903 to Stieglitz's mother by Edward Steichen, who embellished the edition with his own exquisite pencil illustrations in the Symbolist mode.
A substantial section of the exhibition focused on the influential circle of writers and artists drawn to Stieglitz in New York City, all dedicated to the creation of a distinctly American expression in the arts. Represented in the Stieglitz library and subsequently in O'Keeffe's Book Room are the literary efforts of those whom Stieglitz either encouraged directly or inspired by his example-among them, Sherwood Anderson, Waldo Frank, Marsden Hartley, Sadakichi Hartmann, Louis Mumford, Paul Rosenfeld, and Marius de Zayas. The works from this group amplify O'Keeffe's position as a central member of the Stieglitz circle and a major participant in the discourse of twentieth-century arts and letters.
Apart from O'Keeffe's public life with Stieglitz, she shared with him a richly collaborative personal life. Aspects of the O'Keeffe-Stieglitz relationship are revealed through Stieglitz's gifts of books to O'Keeffe over the years, ranging from Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Carl Jung to Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays by D. H. Lawrence. Often Stieglitz personalized his gifts with meaningful inscriptions to O'Keeffe, as in a 1926 copy of Goethe's Faust in which he wrote, "to one who has given me much when I needed Faust and [the] Lake," likening O'Keeffe's effect on him to the solace he received from Goethe's classic and from his Lake George summer retreat.
As the focus of the exhibition changed from the broader cultural context to a more intimate one, O'Keeffe's discretely personal interests emerge in sections devoted to her books on organic gardening, nutrition, cooking, and travel, and perhaps most significant to her artistic development, on Asian art, literature, and philosophy. O'Keeffe's ability to pursue her own interests increased with her move to northern New Mexico in 1949. Far from the demands of the New York art world, O'Keeffe could turn her attention more fully to pleasures other than cultural. She planted an enormous vegetable garden and collected government brochures on agricultural techniques. She became a devoted owner of chow dogs, dutifully subscribing to the bulletin of the Chow Chow Club. The exhibition includes materials documenting these most private of pursuits, helping to create a more complete picture of O'Keeffe the person, in addition to and apart from the iconic persona of Georgia O'Keeffe the artist.
The Book Room: Georgia O'Keeffe's Library at Abiquiu was organized by Ruth Fine, curator of modern prints and drawings at the National Gallery of Art; Elizabeth Glassman, president of the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation; and Juan Hamilton, nationally known sculptor and Miss O'Keeffe's assistant from 1973 until her death in 1986. The books were on loan from the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation based in Abiquiu, New Mexico, whose mission is to perpetuate the artistic legacy of Georgia O'Keeffe for the public benefit. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue designed by award-winning graphic artist Eleanor Caponigro, who worked often with Miss O'Keeffe on her own publications.