Georgia O'Keeffe is in town. Well, not her exactly, since she's busy painting Heaven with flowers right now.
Our Mississippi Arts Museum has had her works hanging for over a month now. We visited the second week of opening. No crowd, room to stand in front of our favorite scene for as long as we chose, minds wandering to the area of Abiqui we once visited. Understanding in a small way how she could search the dry hills and find beauty in white bones of animals long gone. Yet, the canvasses of these bones and the explanation of the character she found in them, alerted us to the workings of her mind.
O'Keeffe painted the most spectacular flowers--like looking through a magnifying glass examining minute cavities made by the petals. She began her flower painting in New York City because she felt the people there never had time to view flowers: "...they rush around so, they have not time to look...I want them to see whether they want to or not."
She didn't limit herself to flowers. She painted buildings in NYC from her upper floor apartment...tree trunks on Lake George...dry bones found on her property all creating beauty in ways one ordinary person would not view otherwise. Her means of expression enlightens the viewer, how one can observe nature differently.
Abiqui is an interesting town. Perhaps not much larger than in O'Keeffe's day. Magical. Who'd want to live in such a vast desert with scrub trees, dry gullies that could drown a person or animal when the rains poured, and hot, hot sun? My daughter did.
In one of her many journeys to discover what she wanted in life, where she wanted to live, she chose Abiqui. So Dad and I fired up the RV, headed to New Mexico to see the land she'd found. Everything was just as we had expected. Dry dirt everywhere, making it impossible to keep our feet clean. The property she wanted to buy was on a mesa with gulleys dug by previous rains, and an unfinished hay bale house. We shared the experience with our daughter, knowing full well that getting a loan for this property was impossible, but not wanting to tell her ourselves. We hired an appraiser, checked out the possibility of a well, admired the vastness seen from the unfinished house. We coached her on an interview with the banker, with a caution that she may be turned down for several reasons, then let her go alone to the interview.
She was disappointed, her dream shattered. But a lesson learned. You don't try to buy a piece of property without a decent paying job and history of working. We rode around the area, talked to owners of small shops who'd moved to the area. Visited one woman who'd bought a beautiful little adobe home sitting on the crest of a hill, heard her story of movie stars having hidden homes just down the road, how she came to be in the area, how she was making a living. She was happy being in this desert, just as O'Keiffe had been. Yes, it's a magical place.
The magic lies in the way the light sets on the surrounding hills in the early mornings and evenings, creating a potpourri of colors so vivid that one couldn't believe them without actually witnessing them. This play of color is enchanting...why New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment. Despite the loneliness of the area, something beckons the harried, those living in concrete jungles. The area is peopled with Indians from numerous tribes whose casinos and trading posts lie along the route from Albuquerque to Taos. Abiqui's location along this route is rich in history.
Besides two small restaurants, one motel, two artisan shops, and a gas station, there was a large complex built just outside town which houses a religious sect. Although we saw no representatives of this group during our visit, locals assured us they were present. Mostly they stayed within their campus with all they needed in the enclosure.
One aspect of Abiqui that I didn't like, and I found this on a map in an artisan shop, was the proximity to Los Alamos Proving Grounds. The map, which I studied intently while the family talked to the leather artist, showed the effects of the toxic clouds that formed from bomb testing. Abiqui was right there. I knew our daughter didn't need to live there. As we looked around the store we saw paintings of the hills and desert in different lights by area artists. Each landscape had a black dot on the painting. When we inquired, we were told, unabashedly, "that scene is in a toxic area." I wondered how long these folks would live without cancer attacking them.
A sign along the highway going out of Abiqui pointed the way to Ghost Ranch, O'Keeffe's home. Thinking it was private we didn't inquire whether or not we could drive through. Later I discovered retreats are held there for writers and photographers, as well as varied other activites. If I return to Abiqui, it'll be to Ghost Ranch--mainly for the privilege of walking the hills, seeing the beauty that still remains.
Visit www.georgia-okeefe.com for her bio and photos of her works.