- Associated Press - Sunday, September 19, 2010

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Beneath layers of paint, wrapped in bundles of brushes, hidden in sketch books and packed away among boxes of paints and pencils are clues that shed light on how Georgia O'Keeffe went about creating her colorful landscapes and iconic flower paintings.

Like forensic investigators, curators at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe have spent months combing through their collection and now they’re ready to share the many bits of evidence they have collected as part of the exhibition “O’Keeffiana: Art and Art Materials,” which opens Friday and runs through next May.

The collection of O'Keeffe’s never-before-displayed art materials, preparatory drawings, Polaroids and a pair of unfinished paintings is designed to give visitors a better understanding of how the late American modernist transferred her ideas about the world around her onto canvas.

“We have a kaleidoscope of material _ from the art to the materials she used to make it and the houses that she lived in _ and it’s the first time we’ve been able to draw on them to clarify in people’s minds what her objectives were as a painter and how she used materials to create things,” said museum curator Barbara Buhler Lynes.

The O’Keeffe Museum has a wealth of materials from the artist’s estate. At the time of her death in 1986, O'Keeffe’s two homes in northern New Mexico and most everything in them were set aside for preservation. That included her brushes, paint chips with notes jotted on the back, sketch books, canvases and hundreds of rocks and bleached animal bones she gathered over decades of exploring the high desert.

It was the job of associate curator Carolyn Kastner to search the museum’s climate-controlled vaults for clues that would help explain the foundation of O'Keeffe’s very deliberate style.

“I opened all the closets and pulled out all of the drawers. It’s been fascinating,” Kastner said.

Aside from the drawings O'Keeffe had organized in file folders by name, Kastner came across books filled with photographs O'Keeffe had taken of the same subjects from the same vantage points, just in different light and shadow. There was an album of cottonwood trees where O'Keeffe was clearly studying their texture and another of an area near her home in Abiquiu that she called the Black Place.

A series of her Polaroids is part of the show, along with the large painted canvases that were inspired by her study of the V-shapes in Glen Canyon.

“By putting these things together _ the drawings, the photographs, the bones, the stones _ we can recreate a kind of look at her practice. We can’t see her practice, but we can see the evidence from one object to another,” Kastner said.

Aside from revealing details about how she worked, the way O'Keeffe trimmed her brushes and stored her tools and art materials also provides some insight into her personality.

Over and over, Kastner and Lynes use the words precise and meticulous.

“Hundreds of brushes shaped and reshaped,” Kastner said. “It’s all about that finish that we know so well in her paintings, getting a precise line or a precise contour to come up, feathering over to make the surface as smooth and clear as it is. It follows through to everything.”

Kastner recalls that as she was laying out the exhibition, a rigid order began to emerge from the displays of O'Keeffe’s art materials. She wanted something “messy” to break up the orderly squares so she headed downstairs to the collection room.

“There was nothing,” she said. “What I’ve learned in looking at all of these materials, and particularly her art materials, is how meticulous she was. It comes out even in the way she stored materials.”

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