“I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near to me – so natural to my way of being and thinking… I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.”
~ Georgia O’Keeffe
I’d like to say that Georgia O’Keeffe is not my favorite part about New Mexico, and before I really had an understanding of her, she wasn’t. But these days, I can’t help myself – I can’t stop thinking of her when I’m there. I never knew her. She died when I was 6. From an artist standpoint, there are not many who take me to the places her paintings take me to. I’m enthralled by art, by paintings, pottery, sketches, paint, texture, color. I can see a painting or a landscape or a sunset and be brought to tears, easily, and often. Beauty calls me. Beauty is what sums up my life. And there are many, many artists who I admire. Many who could technically be described as more talented or more advanced…but none take my breath away quite like Georgia.
My mom and I have made several trips to New Mexico since I was a little girl – most with my dad and brother, but the last two trips were just her and me. We go on a vacation every year together, just the two of us – normally just 4 or 5 nights, and normally to a place that’s new and different for us. Since we both love art, we decided years and years ago that we’d travel for an art festival. Since then, we’ve been to cities I never would have normally visited. We’ve met artists from all across the United States. We’ve shared remarkable moments, and seen awe-inspiring geologic wonders, and we’ve ultimately had a blast. I’ve had many friends over the years say, gosh, I wish my mom and I did that! Here’s what I will say: go do it. Don’t hesitate. Go do it, plan it today. What the hell do you have to lose? These moments, no one can take them away from me. When I’m an old lady, a smile will come to my face when I think of the waterfalls in Washington, the flower bridge in Massachusetts, the lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the red mountains in New Mexico, the rivers in Tennessee, to name just a few. I’ll think of these places and always remember my mom.
This year, we weren’t supposed to go to New Mexico; we had a trip planned to Oregon, but we changed plans last minute, and ended up back in the land I love most. Oregon will have to wait till next year. Since we plan our trips mostly around art festivals, there were a few we were planning to go to: Art Santa Fe – a show of mostly painters, and the International Folk Art Market. Both were good, but the ones we fell in love with most were at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market. How I would love to live in a city that has a Farmer’s Market such as theirs. It reminded me so much of the Ballard Farmer’s Market in Seattle. Just decadence – the colors and tastes and happy people, so many happy people, buying and selling produce. Across the street is the art festival, only about 50 artists, but their work was incredible. For me, the art festival on Saturday and the one on Sunday, both at the Railyards Farmer’s Market, are the ones to check out. There’s different artists each day, so definitely go to both.
We began our trip in Albuquerque, a city which is now famous for a few TV shows, but it’s a city I’ve loved since I was a little girl, and I truly have no idea why. I just love it there. While in ABQ, we ate at El Patio, one of my faves (their veggie burrito can be made vegan and it’s awesome), and of course got coffee at my favorite coffee shop on the earth, Michael Thomas. I can’t go to New Mexico and not go here, even if it’s quite a drive away. Their coffee is my favorite roasted coffee of all time. So much so, that we now get it shipped to us. These people know what they are doing.
In Albuquerque, we went to the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at UNM – go here, it was incredible, and we got to chat with an archaeology student who just made my trip. If I could go back in time, I would study archeology at UNM, hands down. I wanted to talk only about Chaco Canyon and Craig Childs, but I let her lead the conversation, and I’m so glad I did. What a fascinating way to live your life – studying pottery, feathers, skulls, bones, kivas and tools from those who came before us. She joked that she had no idea what she’d do when she graduated, and I said, none of us do. What I wanted to say was, don’t stop following your dreams. Don’t take some shitty corporate job. Promise me, please, go after your dreams. Dig and learn and explore and live your life around adventure. But I didn’t. Hopefully she’ll figure that out on her own.
The other big highlight of ABQ, for us, was the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, filled with dioramas and paintings and beautiful quotes. After a day in ABQ, we headed north towards Santa Fe, stopping outside of Madrid for the Peace Garden, a moving exhibit of huge cranes, that just happened to be at the artist’s property the month we were visiting. It’s pretty breathtaking to see huge peace cranes made out of metal placed up against the red rocks of New Mexico.
Onward we went to Santa Fe, with more museums and great food. The two best meals we had were at Jambo Cafe and the Teahouse, with the latter also having a gorgeous patio and impeccable service. The best Mexican food we had in the area was at Maria’s, with a traditionally Mexican dining room and atmosphere to boot. We also tried Vinaigrette and Georgia on this trip, and both were good, Georgia a little better, but I’m biased of course. The big plus about Georgia is it’s next door to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, a place that I have to go to on nearly every trip to New Mexico. For this trip, they were showcasing her watercolors from her Canyon, Texas days, paintings that she made between 1916 and 1918. These gave me a newfound respect and love for her work that I didn’t think was possible. Her skies, her nudes, her international inspiration, all described in her gorgeous way, and even her paintbrushes and paint, all were on display. We spent an hour at the museum, and I could have spent all day. It was the best exhibit I’ve ever seen here, and if you’re going to New Mexico this year, plan to check it out. Writing about visiting Santa Fe around the year 1917, Georgia stated, “from then on, I was always trying to get back.” My god, can I relate to those words.
Another great museum in the heart of the city is the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, a small museum filled with textiles and my favorite, the inuit paintings. I really recommend spending some time here.
On this trip, we also visited Chimayo, Taos and Abiquiu. The El Sanctuario de Chimayo was pretty spectacular, but the best part of this section of our trip was seeing the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church. If you’re a fan of Georgia, you’ll instantly recognize this church from her paintings. Watching the sun’s shadows hitting the walls of this church is about as religious as it gets for me. We met a man who owns a shop by the church and who was a little boy when Georgia spent time there painting it. He said that he used to annoy her; she’d gripe at him and tell him to stop running around, that she never really liked being around kids. Hearing stories about her, from people who knew her, who spent time around her, who have insight, it fills my heart.
On our last day, we drove out to Abiquiu, where Georgia once lived, and of course we drove by her house, for what seems like the hundredth time. If you get a chance to go on a tour of her home and studio, it’s beyond worth it. Even just driving past, seeing her views of the mountains, seeing the road she used to drive, it makes me happy. We happened to be in Abiquiu for the Purple Adobe Lavender Festival, a beautiful farm with mountain views, fresh breezes, and a peace labyrinth, which of course I had to complete. What alluring land and kind people.
Starting anew, stripping away what we’ve been taught, working with a beginner’s mind; it’s so important. It’s also so difficult. It’s how I want to live my life though, and what better way to do that, for me, than to channel Georgia. Go to the mountains, go to New Mexico, meet interesting people, work with your hands, reflect, and get away from your busy life for a week, or more.