Happy Birthday Georgia O’Keeffe

 

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Today we celebrate the life of Georgia O’Keeffe!  She was an American artist, most famous for her abstract paintings of flowers, bones, and natural landscapes. She herself was a force of nature as well, leaving an imprint and legacy not easily forgotten.

Once you experience her artwork — well — flowers will never look the same again!

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Born on November 15, 1887, in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia was the second of seven children. Her parents were dairy farmers who valued education and encouraged their children to explore various interests. The wide Wisconsin landscape, with its vibrant hollyhocks, lilies, irises and greenery, no doubt influenced the young Georgia.  Artistic talent seemed to run in the family, as two of her grandmothers had been amateur painters.

Georgia attended college at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, quickly climbing to top of her class. Later she studied at New York City’s Art Student’s League. It was in New York that she was first introduced to modern art movements of the early twentieth century. She visited galleries, in particular Gallery 291, founded by photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen.

Located at 291 5th Avenue, 291 frequently introduced new work of modern European and American artists.

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It was Alfred Stieglitz who first displayed O’Keeffe’s work — a series of charcoal drawings — at a gallery exhibition in 1916. The unusual drawings were an overnight success. Within two years, Georgia, who had earned her living through teaching, moved to New York City and became part of a group of avant-garde artists.

For a woman, recognition in the male dominated art world was dubious and rare. Nonetheless, Georgia held her own, winning recognition among critics and patrons. She became the highest paid female artist in the US. O’Keeffe, however, never considered herself a ‘feminist’. She wanted to be thought of as simply ‘an artist’ rather than ‘a female artist’.

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Although Alfred Stieglitz was a married man, and twenty three years older than O’Keeffe, the two became lovers. In 1924 Alfred left his wife to marry Georgia.

Like all aspects of his life, Alfred made his new bride into a work of art.

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Georgia continued to develop her craft. She began to experiment with perspective, painting close-ups of flowers. The first of these was Petunia No. 2, which was exhibited in 1925, followed by works such as Black Iris (1926) and Oriental Poppies (1928).

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“If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because… the flower is small. So I said to myself –  I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

I should mention that these are no quaint little blooms, but more like Alice Through the Looking Glass, grow-so-incredibly-high jungle blossoms, painted on canvasses big enough for you to walk into.

For almost a century, art critics have been insisting that O’Keeffe’s flower paintings were meant to resemble female genitalia. Georgia herself vehemently denied this. What do you think?

Georgia O'Keeffe art

“I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

In the 1930’s, Georgia found new inspiration in the American west and Navajo culture when she began to visit New Mexico. She found simple yet sublime beauty in the desert, frequently painting landscapes and animal skulls. Cool, huh?

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Meanwhile, back in New York, Stieglitz had begun to mentor a young photographer named Dorothy Norman. The two developed a close relationship and – you guessed it! The married Stieglitz began an affair with Dorothy. Georgia became jealous and suffered  bouts of depression. In 1933 she was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown and did not paint for a whole year.  The nervous breakdown was reportedly due to ‘a broken heart’.  (Oh Alfred, you philanderer!)

Her recovery lead her back to New Mexico where she eventually bought property at Ghost Ranch and lived there permanently.  However, she never divorced Stieglitz who remained her one true love.

In his later years, Stieglitz’s health deteriorated. He died of a stroke in 1946 at the age of 82. Georgia was with him when he died and was the executor of his estate.

In 1949, Georgia was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In the 1950s and 1960s, she continued to paint and travel the world, finding inspiration in places she visited.  In 1970, a retrospective of her work was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

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“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing.  It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis — that we get at the real meaning of things.”  — Georgia O’Keeffe

Unfortunately, as Georgia became older she suffered from macular degeneration and began to lose her eyesight. She painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972. However,  she never los her love of art and her desire to create. She still continued to create art in the form of sculpture and writing. Her bestselling autobiography Georgia O’Keeffe was published in 1976.

Georgia died on March 6, 1986 at the age of 98.  Her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered, as she wished, on the land around Ghost Ranch (perhaps becoming its final ghost?)  The spirit of Ms. O’Keeffe will remain influential forever!

“I have lived on a razor’s edge. So what if you fall off? I’d rather be doing something I wanted to do. I’d walk it again.”  — Georgia O’Keeffe

Happy Birthday Georgia!

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Happy Birthday Queen Bess!

 

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If you read my blog regularly you already know about my big obsession with Queen Elizabeth I.  Born on this day, September 7, 1533, she was one of England’s greatest monarchs, successfully ruling for forty five years.

Bess, however, started out as an unlikely candidate for the throne. She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn. With a shaky upbringing that included her dad Henry beheading her mother Anne when Elizabeth was just three years old, the girl went in and out of favor with the King.  Her title changed often. The precocious child  was aware of this, often questioning her caretakers:

“For why yesterday I was the Princess Elizabeth and today only Lady?”

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When Henry died, Bess was third in line for the crown. Her brother Edward became king at the tender age of nine and ruled until his untimely death just six years later. Her older sister Mary then reigned for five years. Mary, a devout Catholic, was often at odds with Elizabeth, a staunch Protestant. When Mary died in 1558, Bess  finally took the throne.

The new queen was twenty five years old, highly intelligent, tall, red haired, lovely and possessing much of her father’s strong will.  Her status (bastard or not a bastard?)  was still considered questionable. Nonetheless, Bess became a much beloved monarch.

Fun facts:

Elizabeth served time in the Tower of London, arrested for treason after she was wrongly accused of plotting to overthrow her sister Mary. It was, ironically, Phillip of Spain, Mary’s husband, who pled for Elizabeth’s release.  His intentions were not entirely noble, as he knew his own wife was sickly and he planned to gain favor with Bess and wed her after Mary’s inevitable death. Needless to say, Bess refused him.

Her nicknames were Gloriana, Good Queen Bess and The Virgin Queen.

The Virgin Queen was also an astrological Virgo! She had many typical characteristics of the sign — pragmatism, good money management, discretion and concern for others.

Although most historians agree that Bess actually was a virgin, she had a long romantic involvement with her courtier and horse master Robert Dudley. This caused rumors and gossip. However, although there was great anticipation  for her to be wed, Bess never married and produced no heirs. (At least not any legitimate heirs that we know about.)

The whiteness of her skin, as it appears in many portraits, was achieved through a makeup combination of eggshells and lead. (Yes lead! Its effects were apparently unknown at the time.)

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She spoke Latin, French, German and Spanish.

She loved sweets. One of her favorite foods was sugar coated violets. Her dental health suffered because of this and Bess eventually had a mouth full of rotten teeth.

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Regarding her so-called marriage plans, Bess was a master at bait and switch. She would often ‘consider’ marriage proposals, but only to gain political favor with a particular country. Once peace was established, she would send suitors on their merry way.

Bess often claimed she was ‘married to England’.  She proved this to be true in her political actions. She once even tried to arrange a marriage between her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and her own love interest Robert Dudley — because she wanted Dudley to serve as a spy and keep track of the Scottish queen’s activities.

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This suggestion caused the insulted Dudley to leave court in a huff.  He then married Lettice Knollys,  Bess’ lady in waiting,  and did not speak to Bess for years.

What exactly was Queen Elizabeth’s aversion to marriage? Consider the circumstances.  Her own father beheaded not only her mother, but also her cousin (Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife) and several other kinsmen. Her relationship with Dudley was wrought with scandal and threats to her power. Sleazy Phillip of Spain tried to worm his way into her affections for political gain.  My guess, she only ever equated marriage with danger. She saw it as an institution that threatened her realm and her life.

Bess was a lover of plays and supported Shakespearean drama.  She herself was a musician, accomplished at the lute and virginals.

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She, along with her secretary Sir Francis Walsingham, created the most notorious spy operation of Renaissance England.  Walsingham undermined several plots to overthrow Elizabeth, including a Catholic scheme involving Mary Queen of Scots.  Bess’ network of spies, which included Christopher Marlowe, often were turn coats — former Catholics who switched sides but remained savvy to Catholic networks and thus reported plans to Walsingham.

Bess was such a good spymaster,  she even wore dresses to advertise the fact! Note this famous portrait:

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Upon closer examination, we see that the detail of the fabric is decorated with tiny ears and eyes! This was to send the symbolic message: “I see and hear you” and more importantly “Don’t betray me.”

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She never quite gave up her obsession for Robert Dudley. After her death, a letter was found among her most private belongings, hand written by Robert, with a note from Bess labeling it his last letter to her.  She is said to have called out his name on her deathbed.

Elizabeth is still considered one of England’s best monarchs. Her great accomplishments include defeating the Spanish Armada, restoring prosperity to the realm and keeping relative peace in the country despite great religious divides. She died in 1603 of natural causes.

Elizabeth I has been portrayed by some of the world’s finest actresses, including Flora Robson, Bette Davis, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and Anne-Mare Duff. This fun montage gives a sampling, hope you like it!

Happy Birthday Bess!

 

 

 

Mary’s Manifesto

 

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I never set out to be a feminist icon, yet they made me one. I was an inadvertent example of the movement. At the time, I did not yet realize there even was a movement, although I knew  a woman’s place in society was fundamentally wrong.  I simply tried to acquire some freedom for myself. I wanted independence, my own income and a life where I would not be solely defined as ‘wife’.

On the downside, I was also an uptight thirty-something Minneapolis transplant, on the rebound from a failed relationship and one step away from doormat-ism. But to call me a representative of 2nd wave feminism? That was hardly accurate.

Take my first day at work. Sure, I became an associate producer at WJM News. It was a fancy title, yet my pay was ten dollars less than the lowly secretaries. When my boss, Mr. Lou Grant interviewed me, the first thing he asked was my religion. The second thing was my marital status. When I informed him that I was Presbyterian and single, he asked why. Why I was single that is.  I should have automatically  said “Nunya bizness bitch!” (It was, after all, an illegal question.)  But no. I stammered, clasped my hands and choosing my words very carefully, I began to explain to this total stranger, who was in a position of vast authority over me, that there were a multitude of nuanced reasons as to  why one was ‘still single’ at the ripe old age of thirty.

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Mr. Grant was not interested in my explanation, which made me wonder why he had asked in the first place.

That very same night a drunken Mr. Grant showed up at my apartment. He told me, among other things, that I had a ‘great caboose’. He was lonely and his wife was out of town.

In the meantime, my ex-fiancé (who had been persuaded by my landlady to come rescue me) also showed up at my door with flowers. My ex was a doctor and he proceeded to inform me he had stolen the flowers from a very sick patient.

There I stood, a resistant sex object, not even worthy of receiving store bought flowers. See what I mean about doormat-ism?

I sent my ex fiancé packing. Mr. Grant typed a letter to his wife, then staggered out to mail it. I was relieved to be rid of them. The next day at work I was given a stack of pencils to sharpen. My pseudo-feminist career had begun.

The good thing was I realized then I could take care of myself. Every woman needs to realize she is able to take care of herself.

Up till my last day in the newsroom I could never get past calling my boss ‘Mister Grant’ although everyone else called him ‘Lou’. Even my best friend Rhoda, a fast talking New Yorker, would saunter in his office and boldly call him ‘Lou’.

My self assertion was wrought with shortcomings. I was no Betty Friedan. Gloria Steinem hated me.

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As for the traditionalists, they didn’t like me either. I heard Phyllis Schlaftly was appalled because I often stayed out all night with my dates. ( Oh yes, I did have dates! A plethora of men called on me. I had no intention of marrying any of them.)  This type of thing was a real no-no for a nice Midwestern girl in 1972.  I remained polite.  Never once did I speak of my sexual escapades. After all, those who DO, do not speak, and those who SPEAK, do not DO. Yet I was a sexually liberated woman. A ring never crossed my finger.

So you see, on the spectrum of feminism I really fit right in the middle. People loved me for it. My ratings soared.

In years to come the women’s movement would explode. Every issue would be tackled, from reproductive rights to equal pay to single filing income tax to home ownership. (Even Miranda of Sex and the City was expected to have a husband or father sign off as joint owner of her condo!)

Gender roles would be questioned. Non-traditional family structures would be accepted. Single motherhood and ‘childless by choice’ became (almost) okay.  Young women became more and more vocal in their demands.   And precisely at the time when they were given almost everything they wanted — young women would demand more. They took to the streets wearing pussy-cat ears and Styrofoam genitalia. ( I could not join them. It was simply not my style.)

Rhoda got married and then divorced. The newsroom closed in 1977. As far as Mr. Grant’s behavior, nowadays he would be sued. Ironically, I would not have wanted to sue him. He was, believe it or not, a good boss.

In re-runs I remain America’s sweetheart.

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One of the best parts of my show was of course its theme song! Who knew this catchy little number would inspire the likes of Husker Du and Joan Jett?

I, Mary Richards am now permanently signing off, but I will leave you with this final statement:

Not Princess Leia!

 

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“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” — Carrie Fisher

There are very few celebrity deaths that bring me to tears, but this one did.

I will always love Carrie/ Leia — a badass girl who, in dangerous situations proved herself to be no damsel in distress. She brought a new paradigm for the traditional fairy tale princess. Even Disney took a clue.  After Leia came the likes of Asian warrior Mulan, along with the super-smart Belle, Scottish Brave-girl Merida, ice queen Elsa and the wounded but loving Malificent.  They were  all radicals who cared more about helping their families and contributing to society’s greater good than they did about ball gowns, riches and marrying handsome princes.  Gone were the sleeping beauties, in were the new feminists.  Princess Leia set an important precedent.

To me, Carrie and Princess Leia are forever intertwined.  Carrie pulled off the role splendidly, and spoke to generations of girls. In real life she was a warrior too, defying conventions and taking on the taboos of addiction and mental illness. Her books were bittersweet, tragically hilarious.  Carrie Fisher was a brave, funny, frank and fantastic woman.

Star Wars may be fiction, but to many of us it is very real. The Force is forever with us. There are psychological/ Jungian/ collective subconscious reasons for its popularity. Deep within the human psyche lurks a longing for the righteousness of myth.

Just ask the late great Joseph Campbell, a professor of mythology who spent a good deal of time on George Lucas’ ranch.  He’ll give you an earful! Here is a short sample:

 

Some great Carrie moments that sum it all up:

 

Farewell sweet princess, you will not be forgotten. We will look for you among the stars, the Pleiades and Milky Way, walking the sky and mining the truth as you are wont to do.

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Bette Davis Eyes

 

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“Her hair is Harlow gold, her lips a sweet surprise

Her hands are never cold; she’s got Betty Davis eyes.”

Old Hollywood, known for its tyrannical practices, managed to produce some of the most badass and ballsy women to ever grace the silver screen.  Bette Davis was among them. These no nonsense females invented shoulder pads and knew just what it “takes to make a pro blush.”   They will always have Paris.

Buckle your seat belt, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.  A tribute to  silver screen  divas! 🙂

 

 

This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Eyes

Women in the Desert

 

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Have you seen the 1991 movie Thelma and Louise? If not, you must rent it or stream it. Immediately!

Geena Davis stars as Thelma , a stuck at home housewife and Susan Sarandon  plays Louise, a  cynical waitress.  The two are both funny, smart, a little bored and maybe secretly longing for adventure when they set out on a weekend get-away.  Here is what they look like in the beginning.

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Yeah, too much lipstick and bad eye shadow. That’s all gonna change. Their  plan is to drive to a friend’s cabin in the mountains to do some fishing and communing with nature. But actually, they want to get away from bosses, husbands, boyfriends and other  oppressive types who happen to be causing problems in their lives.

On the way they stop at a country/ western bar where Thelma, after dancing and being a bit too friendly with Harlan (a would be date rapist) is assaulted by him in the parking lot.  Louise comes to Thelma’s rescue and  accidentally kills the guy.

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 “In the future? When a woman’s cryin’ like that? She ain’t havin’ any fun!” 

 

Then these two normal, everyday women unwittingly become dangerous criminals  on the run from the law.   Before the movie is over they will be guilty of  murder, armed robbery, property destruction and holding an officer at gunpoint. Also  adultery, driving  WAYYY over the speed limit and stealing whiskey, sunglasses and hats.  The snowball effect follows them as one catastrophe leads to another, none of it being their fault. In the meantime they make some poignant self discoveries.

Maybe it would have been different if that truck driver would have just apologized…

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Not only is this movie a feminist masterpiece,  it is also a  great tribute to the American West, full of breathtaking cinematography.  Thelma and Louise, in their non-stop driving spree, travel through long stretches desert highway, red rock caverns, cattle round-ups, endless sky and even the Grand Canyon itself.

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Plus, we get to watch  a young Brad Pitt (before he was even famous.)

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I love this film because it is a realistic, funny and sometimes disturbing look at 20th century feminism.  And it’s not just about women shooting guns.  (If it were, I’d surely hate it.)  There is actually very little violence, although it was touted as such, and with great controversy when it first came out. This story is really more of  a psychological study of life under the pink collar. Can two feisty, flirty women travel across the country, drink and dance in bars without fear of being raped?  (Yes! Nowadays they can.)   Luckily things have changed a lot since 1991. Maybe even in part because of this film and others like it. Written by Callie Khouri,  directed by Ridley Scott.  Highly recommended for bad-ass women and rebels everywhere 🙂

Here is my favorite scene:

 

This post was inspired by the Daily Prompt Desert