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A word with the director of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Peter Hassrick, for 20 years the director of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, left that post to head the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum project, which unites his love of history and American art. Here are excerpts of his comments about O'Keeffe's work and how it relates to Santa Fe, from El Palacio, the magazine of the Museum of New Mexico.

Why a Santa Fe Museum devoted to Georgia O'Keeffe?

Santa Fe is the heart of New Mexico's cultural world and also the Rocky Mountain West's, and O'Keeffe spoke compellingly to that general sense of what the West is about in much of her work. She lived and worked in New Mexico almost half of her professional career. As a consequence, New Mexico is the natural place, and Santa Fe as a vortex of our state's cultural life is the logical center. The energy to accommodate some special honor to O'Keeffe has long been rooted here in Santa Fe, which is also the hub of museum activity in the state. ...

I've heard that the most frequently asked question at the Museum of Fine Arts is: "Where are the O'Keeffe's?" The very question suggests the fact that people are coming to Santa Fe with the expectation of finding them.

Why do people like O'Keeffe so much? Responses to both her artistic production and her persona are so strong....

O'Keeffe is central to New Mexico's artistic conscience and in many ways, she defines our way of seeing the world around us here. We all know that place and one's response to place affect the outcome of one's art. But when one's art is as omnipotent as O'Keeffe's, when it carries such authority as her work does in both popular and academic arenas, it ends up defining, as much as responding to, the place of its creation. As such, O'Keeffe is fundamental to our full understanding of what New Mexico is and how we as residents or visitors react to its physical and emotional essence. ...

O'Keeffe is so much more than a popular artist. There's a force to her work that's beyond pictorial transcription. She actually teaches us to look, and if we take her lessons to heart, she allows us to enter her special world.

Courtesy El Palacio Magazine

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