Historic Restoration: Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio at Abiquiu

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In July, Dallas architect, Steve Chambers visited the Abiquiu home of Georgia O’Keeffe, the O’Keeffe Museum, and O’Keeffe Research Center devoted to the study of American Modernism in order to get a sense of how this artist shaped her personal living space and studio in the context of the solitary Southwest landscape. We also spoke with Dale Kronkright, Head of Conservation and Preservation, at the O’Keeffe Research Center where the letters, photographs, and personal property of Georgia O’Keeffe are archived. Mr. Kronkright is currently in the process of documenting the current condition of the O’Keeffe home at Abiquiu for future preservation efforts.

Acquisition of the Adobe Structure

Steve Chambers went to the O’Keeffe Center in New Mexico to learn more about this specific type of historical preservation. In his book, Landscape and Memory, Simon Schama documents his trek across an extensive panorama of world geography and comes to the conclusion that humanity will always make room for the sacredness of nature. It took Georgia O’Keeffe almost half a century to identify which among the many ‘landscapes’ she tried on fit her the best. When she was living and painting at nearby Ghost Ranch, she kept returning to Abiquiu, a rugged area settled in prehistoric times that sits on a plateau overlooking New Mexico’s Chama River Valley. O’Keeffe was drawn to a dilapidated uninhabitable Spanish colonial structure that eventually became her home and studio. It was the ranch’s garden and surrounding landscape, on the property and beyond, that pleased her enormously. After 15 years of negotiation for the purchase of the Abiquiu house, she bought it in 1945 for $10 from the archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Santa Fe, with the understanding that it be restored in the same adobe design and in the original footprint.

Architectural Restoration

As agreed, O’Keeffe rehabilitated the original adobe building at Abiquiu. Though clearly a restoration, we could also see influences of her 1950s modern aesthetic in the century-old structure. Adobe fireplaces and walls, and the viga-and-latilla ceilings, typical of New Mexican Pueblo-style architecture, either remain as originally built, or were replaced where they had deteriorated. Interior furnishings are utilitarian and modern. One example of the architectural modernism of her time is that thick adobe walls were opened with large expanses of fixed glass; several glass sections were mulled together at the corner of her bedroom. This gives the appearance of no support to the thick adobe wall, parapet, and roof above. A steel pipe column was set back inside the corner glass to provide the support. The resulting corner window offers an unobstructed view of what she called her “backyard,” a breathtaking view of vast red-and-yellow cliffs in the east and the river valley below. In her studio, modern white-stained vigas with sleek oval shapes replaced the original vigas which had collapsed. Neat white-stained latillas and a skylight and light-color carpeting amplify light reflected inside.

Interior Design

While little of her art is displayed in the home, the things that touched her and informed her art, branches and bones, rocks and other found objects that she scavenged from the landscape are found in many of the rooms, as she left them. The hand-hewn wooden ladder to the roof, where she often entertained visitors and slept under the stars, is still propped against an outer wall. A cedar wall ledge in her bedroom displays shells and rocks, more reminders of her attraction to simple natural forms and contours of nature. Her paintings immortalized her landscape: the home’s doorways, shadows, and courtyards; vistas of the Pedernal, her “private mountain;” a nearby Penitente morada (church); the “white place,” O’Keeffe’s personal cathedral in nature, a few miles from Abiquiu; the plants, flowers, bones, and rocks she discovered on long treks. The lasting impression of O’Keeffe’s legendary life is that art was the means by which she communicated what it’s like to make one’s home in the natural world. Because she magnified the objects she encountered there, each subject became abstract and monumental.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s ashes are spread over the Pedernal landscape.

In the gallery, below, are photos by Stephanie Chambers of the Abiquiu Penitente Morada, uninhabited historic Abiquiu structure, the Abiquiu Church, and the “White Place,” all painted by Georgia O’Keefe. Following this gallery are more photos of the O’Keeffe home and studio at Abiquiu. For more about Georgia O’Keeffe’s homes, see “Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Houses: Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu.”

Photo: Herbert Lotz; O’Keeffe’s Bedroom, 2007; copyright Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, reprinted with permission

Photo: Herbert Lotz; Abiquiu House Studio, 2007; copyright Georgia O’Keeffe, reprinted with permission

Photo: Herbert Lotz; Abiquiu House Kitchen, 2007; copyright Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, reprinted with permission

Photo: Herbert Lotz; Abiquiu House 2007; copyright Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, reprinted by permission

Photo: Herbert Lotz; The Roofless Room with O’Keeffe Sculpture, 2007; copyright Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, reprinted with permission

Photo: Paul Hester and Lisa Hardaway; Abiquiu Patio and Door, 2010; copyright Gorgia O’Keeffe Museum, reprinted by permission

Photo: Herbert Lotz; View from O’Keeffe’s Bedroom Looking North, 2007; copyright Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, reprinted with permission

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