January 16, 2008

Ladies of the Canyon: Mabel Dodge and Georgia O'Keeffe

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

"Trina wears her wampum beads
She fillls her drawing book with line
Sewing lace on widows' weeds
And filigree on leaf and vine"
-Joni Mitchell, "Ladies of the Canyon"


See the post Fifth Avenue & The High Road to Taos for the beginning of this walk

Mabel
Mabel Dodge, for four years during the 1910s, occupied an elegant apartment at 23 Fifth Avenue on the corner of 9th Street, a space she enveloped in white. She painted the woodwork white, papered the walls white, and she covered the windows and floors with white curtains and white rugs. She served white wine at lunch, and she often wore white dresses. She created a place where her identity could take shape, and she filled the space with other people who had already defined themselves - socialists, painters, Bolsheviks, newspaper columnists, poets and anarchists, who could give her a new sense of self against all that white.

After repainting her apartment, she suffered an apparent nervous collapse, if not a clinical breakdown. She heard ghosts in the telephone receiver, and she saw the word "EVIL" appear to her in the form of a giant blue-grey smile. She could be original - the Paterson Strike Pageant at Madison Square Garden was her idea, or she could be petty and petulant, strung out on a guy like John Reed. She wouldn't be happy until the 1920s, when she had moved to New Mexico and where all the adobe houses were painted white.

Georgia
"One can't paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt."
" Now and then when I get an idea for a picture, I think, how ordinary. Why paint that old rock? Why not go for a walk instead? But then I realize that to someone else it may not seem so ordinary."

In 1925, Georgia O'Keeffe and her husband Alfred Stieglitz moved into the Shelton Hotel at Lexington and 49th Street (now the New York Marriott East Side) and lived there for 12 years. Their apartment afforded excellent views of Midtown and a window onto the dazzling skyscraper race of the 1920s. O'Keefe had already started painting her signature flowers, but she started sketching, drawing, and painting the buildings out her window, ones with interesting shapes. She made approximately 40 works of buildings in the New York sky, including City Night, 1926, Shelton Hotel, N.Y. No.1, 1926, Shelton with Sunspots, 1926, Radiator Building-Night, New York, 1927, and New York Night, 1928-1929.

By 1929 O'Keeffe grew disillusioned with her marriage and with New York. She welcomed the invitation to spend the summer at Mabel Dodge Luhan's home in Taos.

By the early 1910s, the proliferation of tall New York buildings along Fifth Avenue and other thoroughfares cast the streets in darkness, and it grew common to refer to these places as "canyons." By 1920, during the early days of the building boom, new landowners tore down Mabel Dodge's house at 23 Fifth Avenue and the 291 Fifth Avenue building that housed Stieglitz's gallery and replaced them with larger buildings in the modern style.

Image: Looking north on Fifth Avenue.

to be continued....

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