Looking back, the simplicity of what I did was the boldness of a very young artist seeing no barriers between herself "and a living legend, a central figure in American art: Georgia O'Keeffe." Think of my naivete going to a veteran artist and asking for her help to launch new work. The openness and directness of my untutored approach so astonished O'Keeffe that she took me under her wing and I became a protege of sorts. If there had been fifty people who took the same approach she would have stopped them long ago, but no one else was direct enough to say to O'Keeffe, "I understand what you're doing because I understand what I'm doing." That's the whole point in explaining how our relationship took its shape. If you stop to think about it, that's totally logical.

When I first met O'Keeffe in 1968 I was learning to survive. I brought my artworks to show her --unsure if she'd buy them -- why would O'Keeffe purchase a young artist's work? But she did, indeed, pay $2,000 for my early fiberglass form, Obsidian, 1967. [see her first letter, dated July 3, 1968, two views of Obsidian].

The fact is that she made this decision and no on can gainsay her motives. But --why might she have done this? A couple of things that come to mind:

She was being generous and was helping me, so that I wouldn't lose sight of my work, or become discouraged in pursuing the unfolding growth of my work;

She found a kinship with my work and thought it was honest and direct and wanted to own it; a typical reaction of people who value beauty, who are in the world of beauty and constantly exposed to it.

But the fact is that whatever were her own personal, private reasons this established artist, brilliant in her career and a pioneer in women's art selected me and purchased my art work. I have thought of all the possible reasons or whys that she may have done it, and then developed what that inspiration gave to me, to be able to continue my Art. What's important is how that purchase developed our relationship for the future years. . .

Further, is this story also a small part of her myth? Perhaps, yes. But, weren't my ideas relevant to her issues when we talked about Art? How did I help her? How did we help each other? What do you suppose sustained our eight year relationship? We were two artists drawn together by a strong love of working as artists, she often the listener and not infrequently a mentor. I was an open book, fresh out of graduate school -- did Picasso go to graduate school?

Let's say from her standpoint perhaps the interest in the relationship and what continued the exchange of ideas suspended over a long distance in letters between visits was something else.

Here is what I believe were the reasons underpinning her relationship to me, in viewing the range of reasons O'Keeffe might have had. I draw an inference that my art was supported when Georgia O'Keeffe was gradually realizing:
1) that because of her failing eyesight, she needed some help interpreting the visual world and in transforming her experience into finished works of art;

2) my abstractions from raw materials and how I transformed them into layered shell formations were something new. However, the concept of form was far more attuned and essential to our conversations;

3) she was not going to be a Rodin and that something tactile from my influence upon her art, could give her a transition for her older age to enable her to work and sculpt, "feeling the clay," rather than seeing high above the world.
Or, let's consider another version: I reminded her of herself in earlier days as an idealistic, committed young woman artist. I thought that this might be the answer when she showed me a picture of herself and, it suddenly brought her back to a remembrance of her younger years when her work was not yet recognized. It was at a time when she had to scramble for any support in order to rise upward and to avoid being rebuffed by people that didn't understand her Art. She told me that.

When O'Keeffe was young she worked so hard without financial compensation and it was a time when women artists were belittled. She was remembering a period in her life where she thought -- "I wouldn't want to have to go through that again. And here's somebody" -- referring to me -- "I may be able to help her."

Even with all her celebrity she was curious to look at my work including my early drawings. Her spirits rose and she said, "I wish I could have done that myself." And I still soar with the memory of those words today.

In 1937 before I was born, O'Keeffe had painted pseudo-pebbles, or, objects symbolic of something else and... Suddenly the mental image of her earlier work was rekindled by my art:

[From my Journal, 1971] "It may be about my idealism and aesthetic theories I have and O'Keeffe's reawakening of some of her coming up through it and seeing another young woman's art developing, and she catches the eye and it brings up memories for her. And sitting down and doing what she could do. I mean that rock doesn't take a great deal of motor skills -- imagination yes, but motor skills, no. It's not like flowers, a stamen over here and a pistil over there, and some leaves, and some of this and a couple of petals and all this flourish, multiple colors. That's a rock, that looks like a clam, but a rock has the shadings, yet it doesn't have a lot of intricate painting. It may have a lot of creativity but it isn't. Well, the point is taken well, it's so simple, it's form and nothing else. . ."
Perhaps she wanted me to explain her black rock for you, the public. She goes back to something that was within her ability to handle. How she needed to revert to an object that she could handle. She could fondle the rocks.

There's a wonderful story of a man who is searching for the Fountain of Youth. He finds it in Florida. He learns at 77 he's going to die. In the few remaining years he lives his life backwards. Until finally, as an infant, he falls into the fountain of youth and drowns.

This is beautiful. In those years he didn't add to his lifetime, he just travels backwards. And this is what happened to O'Keeffe. She couldn't continue to create the kinds of things that she once did and began to regress. The trigger was the pebbles. They got her to where she had the confidence to go and do the things she could. Looking at the sculptured paintings she said to herself, "I don't think I could handle that physically, I'm not Rodin, but I sure can take that art form and I can encompass it, and go on. " She did just that with much help from her assistants.

What a unique relationship we had; her astute intelligence knowing when and how to encourage and keep alive the sparks of my love for art (and the practical monetary ways she helped support me). and I -- through the many round forms found in nature -- that I studied and loved -- I was able to bring to her, through these shapes, ideas that ultimately would rekindle her love of sculpture and would result in her painting, Black Rock on Blue, III which she exhibited in a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970.

As she was an aide to me, I was an aide to her; my young, untired eyes helping her appreciate again forms in nature that had captivated her in the earlier part of her career.

Text written by Mym Tuma, Southampton, NY 11969
All Rights Reserved © Bernard Gotfryd of East Hampton (O'Keeffe, 1970)
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