Georgia Totto O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) was an American artist. Born near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, O'Keeffe first came to the attention of the New York art community in 1916, several decades after women had gained access to art training in America’s colleges and universities, and before any of its women artists were well known or highly celebrated. Within a decade, she had distinguished herself as one of America's most important modern artists, a position she maintained throughout her life. As a result, O’Keeffe not only carved out a significant place for women painters in an area of the American art community that had been exclusive to and is still dominated by men, but also she had become one of America’s most celebrated cultural icons well before her death at age 98 in 1986. Her abstract imagery of the 1910s and early 1920s is among the most innovative of any work produced in the period by American artists. She revolutionized the tradition of flower painting in the 1920s by making large-format paintings of enlarged blossoms, presenting them close up as if seen through a magnifying lens. And her depictions of New York buildings, most of which date from the same decade, have been recognized as among the most compelling of any paintings of the modern city. Beginning in 1929, when she first began working part of the year in Northern New Mexico—which she made her permanent home in 1949—O’Keeffe depicted subjects specific to that area. Through paintings of its unique landscape configurations, adobe churches, cultural objects, and the bones and rocks she collected from the desert floor, she ultimately laid claim to this area of the American Southwest, which earlier had been celebrated primarily by male artists; the area around where she worked and lived has become known as “O’Keeffe Country."
O'Keeffe was born November 15, 1887, in a farmhouse near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her parents, Francis Calyxtus O'Keeffe and Ida Totto O'Keeffe, were dairy farmers. Her father was of Irish descent. Ida Totto's father, George Victor Totto, for whom Georgia O'Keeffe was named, might have been a Hungarian count who came to America in 1848. She was the first female and the second of seven O'Keeffe children. O'Keeffe attended Town Hall School in Wisconsin, and she and her sister received art instruction from local watercolorist Sara Mann. O'Keeffe attended high school at Sacred Heart Academy in Madison, Wisconsin, as a boarder between 1901 and 1902. In Fall 1902 the O'Keeffes moved from Wisconsin to the close-knit neighborhood of Peacock Hill in Williamsburg, Virginia. Georgia stayed in Wisconsin with her aunt and attended Madison High School, then joined her family in Virginia in 1903. She completed high school as a boarder at Chatham Episcopal Institute in Virginia (now Chatham Hall), and graduated in 1905. In 1905, O'Keeffe enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1907, she attended the Art Students League in New York City, where she studied under William Merritt Chase. In 1908, she won the League's William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting Mona Shehab (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot). Her prize was a scholarship to attend the League's outdoor summer school at Lake George, New York. While in the city in 1908, O'Keeffe attended an exhibition of Rodin's watercolors at the 291, owned by her future husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. O'Keeffe abandoned the idea of pursuing a career as an artist in the fall of 1908 claiming that she could never distinguish herself as an artist within the mimetic tradition, which had formed the basis of her art training, and she took a job in Chicago as a commercial artist. During this period, she did not paint and said that the smell of turpentine made her sick. She was inspired to paint again in 1912, when she attended a class at the University of Virginia Summer School, where she was introduced to the innovative ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow by Alon Bement. Dow encouraged artists to express themselves using line, color, and notan (the Japanese system of lights and darks) harmoniously. From 1912-14, she taught art in the public schools in Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. She attended Teachers College, Columbia University from 1914–15, where she took classes from Dow, who greatly influenced O'Keeffe's thinking about the process of making art. She served as a teaching assistant to Bement summers from 1913–16 and taught at Columbia College, Columbia, South Carolina in the fall of 1915, where she completed a series of highly innovative charcoal abstractions. After further course work at Columbia in the spring of 1916 and summer teaching for Bement, she took a job as head of the art department at West Texas State Normal College from fall 1916 to February 1918, the fledgling West Texas A&M University in Canyon just south of Amarillo. While there, she often visited the Palo Duro Canyon, making its forms a subject in her work.