Fifth Avenue & The High Road to Taos: Mabel Dodge Sees Art By "A Schoolteacher Out West"

Read the updated, revised version from 2012 with all the posts in the series here.

Flashback: In the Fall of 1915 Georgia O'Keeffe was teaching at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina where she started working on a series of charcoal drawings. She tried out new techniques she had learned from her NY teacher Arthur Wesley Dow, especially a new way to treat light and dark, and the resulting work was like nothing she had done before. She sent some of these drawings to her close art school friend, Anita Pollitzer, who in turn showed them to Alfred Stieglitz at his 291 Gallery on January 1, 1916.

Every artist could use an Anita Pollitzer. The daughter of a wealthy Charleston, South Carolina family, Pollitzer could turn on the Southern charm. A burgeoning artist in her youth, she later made a name for herself as a suffragette and activist for the National Women's Party. Showing charcoal drawings of an unknown artist friend to someone as established as Stieglitz takes a great deal of panache.

Stieglitz loved the drawings and exhibited them without O'Keeffe's knowledge. She was angered that he did not ask her consent, but after talking it over with him, she agreed to let him exhibit her work. In August of 1916 she moved to Canyon, Texas to teach at West Texas State Normal College.

Mabel Dodge didn't often leave her place at 23 Fifth Avenue, but the 291 Gallery, a mile or so up the avenue, was "one of the few places where I went." One day in 1916 she met painter Marsden Hartley at the gallery, and Stieglitz "showed us some curious black and white drawings by a schoolteacher out west. Presently he hung them on the walls...This was the first work we saw of Georgia O'Keeffe." (Movers and Shakers)

The moral of this story, for all artists in the audience, is to find a nice flirtatious Southern friend who will brazenly show your work to dealers.

Image: Georgia O'Keeffe, Drawing No. 13, 1915. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alfred Stieglitz Collection.

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