Georgia O'Keeffe's Williamsburg ties


The 10 works selected for "Georgia O'Keeffe: A Place of Her Own," an exhibit at the Chrysler Museum of Art, span the pioneering artist's career: from a student drawing in 1908, to a 1962 painting near the end of O'Keeffe's career.

"It has all these different chapters of her work," said Alex Mann, the Museum's Brock Curator of American Art, who curated pieces for the exhibit.

But the preface to the chapters of O'Keeffe's long career includes lines written in Williamsburg.

O'Keeffe's family moved to Williamsburg in 1902, and she joined them in 1903, at age 16. During years spent in high school and art school, O'Keeffe was transient. But she would find her way back to Williamsburg, where the O'Keeffe family remained for over a decade.

"We know that she was coming back down to Williamsburg," Mann said.

He sees Williamsburg as a place that would've been familiar to O'Keeffe. It didn't appear in her paintings, "but will have been in the back of her mind during those formative years of her career."

Even so, "it's an open question of what she might've been painting or drawing during that time period," Mann said.

"Georgia O'Keeffe is someone who was always looking at the world around her," he said.

She certainly would've absorbed her Williamsburg surroundings.

The Rockefeller family gave O'Keeffe's iconic "White Flower" piece to the College of William and Mary in 1934. This gift set O'Keeffe's Williamsburg connection back in motion.

It was a basis for William and Mary presenting O'Keeffe with an honorary doctorate degree in 1938, said Aaron De Groft, director of the college's Muscarelle Museum of Art.

Further, "the O'Keeffe painting is the cornerstone of the Muscarelle's foundation and collection," De Groft said.

Like "White Flower," O'Keeffe's flower paintings brought her acclaim. Her Jack-in-the-Pulpit flower series is a highlight of the Chrysler exhibit.

"She is looking at small, everyday objects, flowers, and then painting them in a scale that was unexpected," Mann described. "You're seeing something that is very intimate, and yet it fills your field of vision."

"It is this sort of curious tension between reality and unrecognizability," he said.

Mann built the exhibit around the Chrysler Collection's O'Keeffe piece "Black Door with Red" in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art.

In addition to six works from the National Gallery, the exhibit reveals three works loaned from private collections in Hampton Roads.

"It is a show that is powerful, because the pictures are so big, and they're so important," he said. "But it's also not overwhelming."

The eight paintings and two pastel drawings rest alongside wall texts that introduce the works in O'Keeffe's own words, from published comments and letters.

"A Place of Her Own" will display until Jan. 3 in the Chrysler Museum's Roberts Wing of American and European Art. Admission is free.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-275-4934.

Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit

Where: Chrysler Museum, at One Memorial Place, Norfolk

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m., Sunday

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