In 2013 Sue Canterbury was visiting the house of a Dallas artwork collector when she observed a hanging portray. The small canvas depicted a lighthouse composed of dozens of swooping, summary blue, black, and grey segments, fragmented as if seen by means of a kaleidoscope. Canterbury, a curator on the Dallas Museum of Artwork, didn’t acknowledge the piece. “I kept puzzling over who it could be, and then I finally walked over to look and saw the signature: ‘Ida O’Keeffe.’ ”
Earlier than that second, Canterbury, like many within the artwork world, by no means knew that Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe, a youthful sister of the celebrated Modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe, was additionally an artist. Eclipsed by her sensible sibling, Ida appeared destined for everlasting obscurity till Canterbury, struck by the lighthouse portray, began researching the forgotten O’Keeffe. Years of dogged scholarly legwork have resulted within the DMA’s retrospective “Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow,” which runs from November 18 to February 24. The exhibit consists of 32 of Ida’s works—work, watercolors, prints, and drawings—most of which haven’t been seen in public because the thirties. “It’s been a very long process, and I know there are a lot of things missing,” says Canterbury, a veteran curator who labored at Massachusetts’s Clark Artwork Institute and the Minneapolis Institute of Artwork earlier than shifting to Dallas, in 2011. “A lot of things will come out of the woodwork once the exhibition opens.”
However Canterbury has already made nice strides in preserving Ida’s legacy. She drew upon her analysis to supply the exhibition catalog, which incorporates biographical essays, essential analyses of Ida’s work, and full-color reproductions of all of the works within the present. The e-book will doubtless be the cornerstone of all future analysis on Ida O’Keeffe, an artwork world enigma.
Ida was one of seven siblings born right into a middle-class household in Solar Prairie, Wisconsin. All 5 sisters acquired drawing classes rising up, and three of them, Georgia, Ida, and Catherine, would go on to exhibit professionally. Georgia’s profession skyrocketed after her work was launched to photographer Alfred Stieglitz, whose New York artwork gallery, 291, was the epicenter of American Modernism. With monetary backing from Stieglitz, she give up her job educating artwork at West Texas State Regular School (now West Texas A&M College), in Canyon, Texas, and moved to New York in 1918 to start portray full-time.
However whereas Georgia pursued artwork with laser focus, Ida’s pursuits have been extra different: she wrote brief tales, studied Native American anthropology, and labored on and off as a nurse, incomes her nursing diploma from New York Metropolis’s Mount Sinai Hospital throughout World Struggle I. Ida, who additionally taught drawing, started taking her personal artwork extra significantly when she found oil portray within the twenties, making a collection of nonetheless lifes and landscapes in a naturalistic fashion. Georgia and Stieglitz, who married in 1924, have been struck by Ida’s artistic imaginative and prescient, which she additionally expressed via flower preparations. “Ida is truly an artist, too, if ever there was one,” Stieglitz wrote to journalist Paul Rosenfeld in 1924. “She has done things in that way which compare with Georgia’s best paintings—the same spirit—the same balanced sensibility—the amazing feel for color and texture.” In 1927 Georgia curated an exhibition at New York’s Alternative Gallery that included 5 work by Ida, who exhibited beneath the identify Ida Ten Eyck.
Ida was a frequent visitor at Stieglitz’s summer time house on Lake George, in upstate New York, spending lengthy stretches dwelling together with her sister and brother-in-law. Pictures taken by Stieglitz, that are included within the exhibition, present Georgia and Ida mugging for the digital camera and eating collectively. In one, Ida poses with a squirrel she shot for dinner. However beneath this obvious idyll have been darker currents. Stieglitz flirted with Ida in entrance of Georgia, and although she rebuffed him, he continued to pursue her in letters for years. “Stieglitz would have been crucified by the #MeToo generation,” Canterbury says. “He was really out of line quite a bit.”
Ignoring Stieglitz’s advances, Ida as an alternative fell in love with Rosenfeld, the journalist and good friend of Stieglitz’s and a daily customer at Lake George. They received engaged, however Stieglitz, who knew about Rosenfeld’s womanizing, contrived (doubtless with Georgia) to interrupt up the connection. Heartbroken, Ida recommitted herself to artwork, enrolling on the Academics School of Columbia College in 1929, the place she studied with Georgia’s former teacher Charles James Martin. Ida started experimenting with a brand new, extra summary portray type and discovered the best way to make monotype prints.
In 1933, simply as Ida was starting to exhibit her work in New York galleries, Georgia’s life appeared to be unraveling. After withdrawing from a high-profile fee to color a mural on the new Radio Metropolis Music Corridor, Georgia checked herself right into a hospital to be handled for psychoneurosis. Whereas there, she discovered that her sisters Ida and Catherine would each be presenting solo exhibitions at New York’s Delphic Studios later that yr. The New York Occasions predicted that these exhibits would make “O’Keeffe a family name instead of an individual name in the New York galleries.”
That was the very last thing the fiercely unbiased Georgia needed, and she or he insisted that each sisters cease exhibiting their work. A surprised Catherine acquiesced, however Ida refused to surrender her inventive endeavors. Georgia by no means forgave Ida. When, profession triumphantly revived, Georgia later took up residence in New Mexico, Ida was the one sibling she by no means invited to go to.
Estranged from her eldest sister, Ida started an itinerant existence that took her throughout the nation from one momentary educating appointment to the subsequent, supplementing her modest revenue alongside the best way with occasional nursing work. She spent 1938 and 1939 in San Antonio, main the artwork division at Our Woman of the Lake School (now College). Ida threw herself into the inventive lifetime of the Alamo Metropolis, exhibiting her monotypes, etchings, and drypoints on the Witte Museum and giving public lectures. She additionally created a number of work, together with Star Gazing in Texas, which depicts a lady staring rapturously into the extensive Texas sky towards a bucolic background of horses and farmland.
In contrast to Georgia, Ida by no means developed a signature inventive fashion. Her naturalistic nonetheless lifes of the twenties gave option to daringly summary lighthouse work of the early thirties, then shifted abruptly into the Thomas Hart Benton–influenced American Regionalism of Star Gazing in Texas. Critics discovered it onerous to guage such a disjunctive oeuvre, and after Ida moved to California within the early forties to create wartime technical drawings for Douglas Plane, she by no means exhibited in New York once more. She spent her ultimate 20 years in Southern California, serving to lead the Whittier Artwork Affiliation and exhibiting her work regionally. Ida died after struggling a stroke in 1961, on the age of 71, with most of her work nonetheless in her possession. “In some odd way, it is a wasted life,” Georgia wrote her sister Claudia shortly earlier than Ida’s demise.
Georgia claimed that Anita, one other O’Keeffe sister, was the actual portray expertise of the household. However Anita was timid about sharing her work.
Till the opening of the brand new retrospective, Georgia’s evaluation appeared correct—at the least within the context of her sister’s inventive profession. “This isn’t the type of exhibition where a curator can pull out multiple catalogs and say, ‘I want this, this, and this,’ ” Canterbury explains, standing beside a row of Ida’s work within the DMA’s ethereal conservation studio, the place they’re being ready for show. Among the many works within the present is the lighthouse portray that began all of it, a part of a collection of seven that Ida accomplished in 1931 and 1932. Six are included within the exhibition. (Canterbury was unable to trace down the primary.)
In 2014 the Occasions’s antiques author Eve Kahn talked about in her weekly column that Canterbury was in search of individuals with information about Ida O’Keeffe. Artwork lovers got here ahead with not solely info but in addition work and artifacts that they had of their personal collections. One man had bought a field of Ida’s papers, together with a big scrapbook full of critiques of her exhibits. To fill within the particulars of Ida’s life, Canterbury visited archives throughout the nation, most notably Yale’s Alfred Stieglitz/Georgia O’Keeffe assortment.
Guests to the exhibition will probably come away with an appreciation of Ida’s inventive talent and flexibility, however some could also be left with a lingering query: Would a museum be mounting such a retrospective if the artist weren’t the youthful sister of Georgia O’Keeffe? O’Keeffe biographer Roxana Robinson argues, as an example, that Ida by no means approached portray with the novel spirit of her older sister. “When you’re considering artists, you’re considering not only the work they’re creating and the technical and aesthetic accomplishments, you’re also considering the ideas they’re presenting to the world,” Robinson stated. “[Georgia] O’Keeffe was really a trailblazer, and Ida’s work, which I admire, doesn’t seem to offer the same originality.”
However Georgia’s state of affairs was additionally uncommon. Canterbury notes that Ida typically stated, “If I had a Stieglitz, I’d be famous too.” For her half, Canterbury sees Ida’s profession as consultant of the challenges dealing with ladies artists then and now. “I can look at Ida and say she had the talent but she didn’t have the time and support . . . What if she had a sharp dealer who had supported and promoted her? The ‘if’ worked out for Georgia. There were no saviors for Ida.”
This text initially appeared within the December 2018 concern of Texas Month-to-month with the headline “Discovering Ida.” Subscribe in the present day.