O'KEEFFE, Georgia (1887-1986) Artist. An archive of letters to Edith Evans Asbury (1910-2008), 1957-1979. Comprising 19 autograph letters signed; 5 typed letters signed; 2 autograph postcards signed; 1 large framed Christmas card inscribed and signed; 1 autograph endorsement signed; 1 document signed (all signed "Georgia O'Keeffe," "Georgia," "G.OK" or "G."); 1 autograph manuscript, unsigned (listing the works she wished to show at her Houston and Fort Worth exhibition). Together 58pp. of O'Keeffe letters and documents, 4to and 8vo. Plus some 75 photos of O'Keeffe and her family and friends, taken at her home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. [ALSO WITH:] Correspondence from Asbury and her husband Robert Garst to O'Keeffe, and copies of legal communications between O'Keeffe, Asbury and Sydney Schanberg.
"NOW REALLY--MUST YOU TELL ME HOW OLD I AM!... WHEN I AM 100 OR 101 I WILL NOT MIND IF YOU SAY SOMETHING ABOUT IT."
AN EXTENSIVE AND FASCINATING ARCHIVE OF O'KEEFFE CORRESPONDENCE AND PHOTOS, that provides many revealing insights about her personality and her work. Several letters touch on her paintings and exhibitions, and mention artists such as Picasso and Mark Rothko ("one of our very best painters").
THE O'KEEFFE-EVANS ASBURY FRIENDSHIP
Georgia O'Keeffe laughed when she read Edith Evans Asbury's 28 March 1957 letter requesting an interview for a piece Asbury wanted to write in The New York Times marking O'Keeffe's 70th birthday. "Now really," O'Keeffe wrote in reply, "must you tell me how old I am! I doubt that I feel any older than you do, and I feel that this making an event of any birthday is utter nonsense.... When I am 100 or 101 I will not mind if you say something about it." She found interviews "silly" and "just something I had to put up with because of the way I made my living. I had to have publicity, whether I liked it or not and it has always really embarrassed me... However, I will say this, your face in the picture you sent me looks as if I might like you better than some of the things your letter makes me feel you are after." She invites Asbury to come out to New Mexico to spend "a week or two" and "see if you want to try to say something about it with the world."
When Asbury wrote back with travel plans for a visit, O'Keeffe responds on 11 May that "I have gotten to work in a way that I do not like to be disturbed and nice as you may be I am afraid you will run me crazy with your questions." Nevertheless she gave Asbury the green light to come out for "something resembling a vacation" as long as she didn't "count too much on me." That 10-day visit inaugurated a close friendship that would last 20 years. Several visits followed over the years, with O'Keeffe staying at Asbury's home in Greenwich Village and Asbury returning to Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu. Their letters bridged the gaps, and O'Keeffe genuinely longed for Asbury's company. Several letters contain urgent requests for her to return. O'Keeffe opens up in these letters in a way she rarely did with other correspondents. The wide range of subjects touched upon is remarkable. Below is a summary of the archive's major themes.
ON HER PAINTINGS AND EXHIBITIONS
On 25 Nov. 1957 she writes "I went to Chicago for a week to see the Picasso show, a couple of days of the week were in Kansas City for the museum there, also friends." 22 December 1960 she regrets the demands on her time, discusses her travels to Bangkok, Tahiti, Fiji, and Hawaii; and speaks with pride and relief at mounting an exhibition of her work: "This odd thing that we carry on about called Xmas will push me around all day and I will not have time..."; "I also had a retrospective show in Worcester, Mass. this fall. I wish you would have seen it. I liked it and I will not do it again. Too hard work." On 2 February 1961 she explains that she cannot stay with Asbury during an upcoming visit to New York in connection with her April exhibition at The Downtown Gallery, "Georgia O'Keeffe: Recent Paintings and Drawings": "I will have much to do on 51st St. East...I will be having a show which is not my idea of fun at all. I hate it. Sometime I want to go to N.Y. just for fun when I have no chores. Then I would like very much to visit you." On 15 May 1963 she sends Asbury a ticket "for that American Academy of Arts and Letters" ceremony. O'Keeffe won election to the august body that year. "I sit on the platform," she deadpans. On not signing her paintings: [3 Aug. 1970]: "I do not write my name on a painting or drawing! You can cut out what I write on this and frame it under the drawing [not included] if you wish...It will look terrible." 2 July 1957 she describes her fumbling forays into photography: a visiting friend, Todd Webb, "is trying to teach me to use a Leica camera that I seem to resist but think I want to use for records some time. I am very stupid with it."
Two letters discuss Mark Rothko and the Byzantine estate litigation that followed his suicide: [5 April 1976]: "Thanks for the magazine with the writing about Rosco [Rothko]. It is so complicated I had to have it read to me twice. I was simply fascinated with it. That exhibition of his I saw at Yale makes me think of him as one of our very best painters." [22 April 1978]: "Thanks for the book of Mark Rothko. I haven't finished it as I have to have someone read to me. I believe it is the most exciting book I have read since a man from the insurance company lent me 'The Day of Trinity,' about the day the first atom bomb went off."
ON FRIENDSHIP, LOVE, DIVORCE
25 November 1957: "I do not write letters expecting an answer so give me no thought about writing. Forget me till you remember." When Asbury separates from her first husband, O'Keeffe writes 25 Nov. 1957: "Time always does a good bit about those things and the less you say about them to anyone the better. It will not be so bad after a while." After Asbury's divorce O'Keefe writes on 7 January 1959: "So you are divorced. Look carefully before you take on something new!"
ON HER READING AND HER AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Several letters touch on her reading. 22 Dec. 1966: She thanks Asbury for the gift of John Brooks's 1966 book, The Great Leap: The Last 25 Years in America. "I shudder to think of what people in other countries would think if they read it." 29 January 1970: After a bout in hospital O'Keeffe recounts her excitement over re-reading Diaz's Conquest of Mexico: "I was simply fascinated again with Diaz and the murderous memories he put down. I thought myself very funny enjoying it so much." She showed a draft of her 1976 autobiography to Asbury and her second husband, Bob Garst, telling Garst on 10 Dec. 1976: "You must know that I never dreamed of doing a book, that I only write things down occasionally to be clear to myself..."
THE ACRIMONIOUS END
The friendship between O'Keeffe and Asbury ended in bitterness (on O'Keeffe's part) in 1979, after Asbury wrote a piece in the Times saying that O'Keeffe's manager and companion, Juan Hamilton, had been living in O'Keeffe's home since 1973 (he had not). Shortly afterwards another Times reporter cited the O'Keeffe-Hamilton relationship in a piece headlined: "The Older Woman-Younger Man Relationship: A Taboo Fades." O'Keeffe and Asbury spoke on the phone a few times after the stories appeared, but the friendship--and the correspondence--was over. Angry exchanges between lawyers and editors comprise the final pieces in this long, moving and important archive.
O'Keeffe died in 1986, aged 98. Asbury died in 2008, also aged 98.