Georgia Totto O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was an American artist best known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes.
In 1905, O’Keeffe began her serious formal art training at the School of Art Institute of Chicago and then the Art Students League of New York, but she felt constrained by her lessons that focused on recreating or copying what was in nature. In 1908, unable to fund her further education, O’Keeffe spent two years as a commercial illustrator and seven teaching in Virginia, Texas, and South Carolina. She studied art in the summer and was introduced to the principles and philosophies of Arthur Wesley Dow, who espoused created works of art based upon personal style, design, and interpretation of subjects, rather than trying to copy or represent them. With a new approach to art, O’Keeffe began exploring total abstraction as she taught and continued her studies at the Teachers College, Columbia University in 1914 and 1915.
In 1917, Alfred Stieglitz, an art dealer and photographer, held an exhibit of her abstract works. O’Keeffe moved to New York in 1918 at Stieglitz’s request and began working seriously as an artist. They developed a professional relationship—he promoted and exhibited her works—and a personal relationship that led to their marriage in 1924. O'Keeffe and Stieglitz lived together in New York until 1929, when O'Keeffe began spending part of the year in the Southwest, which served as inspiration for her paintings of New Mexico landscapes and images of animal skulls.
O'Keeffe was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1966 was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among her awards and honors, O'Keeffe received the M. Carey Thomas Award at Bryn Mawr College in 1971 and two years later received an honorary degree from Harvard University.
In 1977, President Gerald Ford presented O'Keeffe with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to American civilians. In 1985, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Ronald Reagan. In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
After Stieglitz's death, she lived permanently in New Mexico at Georgia O'Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiú, until the last years of her life when she lived in Santa Fe, where the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was established after her death.