I have annotated these letters -- between Georgia O'Keeffe and myself -- as well as mine between Doris Bry, who was Ms O'Keeffe's business agent, using the voice of a commentator or observer, rather than writing in the first person singular. My decision to write in this fashion is by doing so I could be more objective in reporting the events of the letters and in gaining a grounding enabling me to view with a steady eye and mind the often powerful emotions that are apparent in them; how my artistic life and career were affected not only by my decisions but by Ms. O'Keeffe and Doris Bry's, what Ms. O'Keeffe's offers of help to me were and how her encouragement and support influenced me; how she responded to the material concerns of my life as an artist; and what my professional involvement was with Doris Bry, who had been Ms. O'Keeffe's long time business agent and who offered to become mine and did represent me for a period of time.
All of the above material - could not possibly fit within the scope of this small volume, I have decided, therefore, to limit this introductory material to a clear summary of the selected letters, so you, the reader, may find the substance and time frame. However, I realize that some may object to not including all the letters that I've mentioned; nevertheless I have chosen to introduce our letters with a mere sampling. Of course, letters do not flow naturally like our spontaneous conversations.
This chapter includes the following:
Letters: from G.O. To M.T., dated 7/3/1968 M.T.'s reply to G.O., dated 7/15 /1968; and follow through letters on same topic: G.O. to M.T., dated 7/27/1968 and M.T. to G.O., dated 8/12/1968; M.T. to G.O. dated 12/3/1968; G.O. to M.T. dated 12/7/ 1968; M.T. to G.O., dated 12/17/1968; and G.O. to M.T., 12/28/1968.
These letters relate to G.O.'s decision to buy
Obsidian, a near black creation, or sculptured painting [sometimes referred to as a form,] for two thousand dollars. Ms. O'Keeffe's reasoning seems to be: I have advanced or loaned you two thousand dollars because I believe in your work and wish to support it; the money will give you the freedom of mind you need to think and produce creatively in your studio. May I not use this sum, actually, to purchase a work of yours that I admire? Thus, the offer, which Ms. Tuma is surely agreeable to.
The delivery of
Obsidian which Ms. Tuma had brought out, along with other works of what she called "early sculptured paintings," during her summer visit of 1966 is clearly drawn out until the next year: Ms Tuma had to drive 1,700 miles, each way, in a VW van, from her Lago Chapala studio south of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, to Ms. O'Keeffe's home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. One may ask if extending this offer would move Ms. Tuma to change her locations. During a conversation about the
Full Moon print, Ms Tuma offered information of O'Keeffe wanting and asking M.T. to stay, offering her studio space, and to connect her to a teaching job to give her the resources needed to live, also an attempt to call a Santa Fe dealer.
Abiquiu, New Mexico
July 3, 1968
Write me as soon as you receive this so I will know if I have addressed you correctly. Your N and R are not quite clear to me . . . Is it Lista de Conco or Correo?
I am glad you came and were here a few days --
Do not sell your car or part with your dog. I will send you the two thousand that you need to get your next three paintings done but I must get it from someone who owes it to me. I haven't it in my hand. It may take ten days or two weeks. If I send it may I consider your black creation mine? No need to deliver it until it is convenient to you. If you left it in El Paso leave it there for the present ..
All good thoughts to you.
Lista de Correo
Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico
July 15, 1968
Dear Miss O'Keeffe,
You may have Obsidian for two thousand. I'm glad you want it.
Thank you for the visit allowing me inside your life.
I will miss eating with you.
These prints will put something into your hand until
I can get the painting from El Paso to you. [two views of Obsidian ]
A bank cashier's check made payable to me typed on it the following
c/o Banco de Jalisco, S.A.
will exchange the amount the most efficiently.
Madero 395 Esq. Ocampo
I am deeply grateful,
This chapter includes the following:
Letter: From G.O. to M.T., dated 4/13/1969: Written from the Stanhope Hotel, in New York during G.O.'s visit to the city, the letter relates Ms. O'Keeffe's conversation with Knoedler's a premier art gallery. Ms. O.K' is intent on promoting Ms. Tuma's work. A tentative plan appears to be that one of Knoedler's representatives may come out to New Mexico to see and appraise M.T.'s further works if she can transport them to Abiquiu. Ms. O'Keeffe also asks about Ms. Tuma's progress.
Letters: From G.O. to M.T., dated 6/7/1969 c, 6/18/1969 and telegraph 6/18/1969: In these communications, Ms. O'Keeffe complains of shingles, a painful rash, and says she must put off Ms.Tuma's coming visit that summer but the letters arrive after M.T. left to go north.
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 7/15/1969; After MT returns from her July visit, she writes that she plans to contact the architect in Chicago to see if they have an interest in her drawings, adding "The time we spent looking over the pastel drawings was a pleasure. Thank you for allowing me to hang my work in your house. MT clearly hopes the artist is in good spirit. This is obvious from the tone of the correspondence. But, an unhappy event happened between the two women during Ms. Tuma's recent visit. She apologizes. She states that she left a sculptured painting titled
The Bud of the Flowering Tree which she had brought out from Mexico for Ms. O'Keeffe to see at the latter's ranch, some distance from Abiquiu, because she felt Ms. O'Keeffe would do a better job of selling it than she would. Some disagreement must have taken place. Later correspondence will have to be studied to find the reason for the strain that has developed between the two artists.
Letter: From Jerrie Newsom, O'Keeffe's cook, to M.T. dated 7/23/1969: A friendly letter, in which she refers to M.T.'s work The Bud being hung in the dining room on an adobe wall. Doris Bry photographs it. Speaks of possibly visiting M.T. in Mexico during the winter.
Letter: From M.T. to G.O. [undated, presumably in the late fall of 1969]: Ms Tuma deplores the straitened circumstances she must live and `work in; money has been short and this has curtailed the production of the "forms." The sculptured works must be produced in an outdoor studio. Ms. Tuma has also been without the company of the "writer," a dear male companion. She touches on the subject of the proposal Ms. O'Keeffe, who liked it very much, made to keep The Bud to sell it for $10,000 that took place during her last visit: Certainly, they talked about The Bud - perhaps how it should be marketed or displayed or where it should be left. The impression is that Ms. Tuma was reluctant to part with the first large piece that projected the scale to continue creating an exhibition, but finally did, under the circumstances, a compromise she was forced to make. The issue is again raised that the more knowledgeable and worldly Ms. O'Keeffe could do a better job in selling the work, or giving Me the "money outright". Ms. Tuma needs money to continue her art; thus, she writes: "My intention in June was to ask you to give me support to continue..." She ends her letter with her acknowledgment of showing a beautiful work of art to the older artist whom she so respects.
Letters: From G.O. to M.T., dated 10/26/1969: The disagreement that developed between the two women during the summer visit now seems to be laid to rest: A check -- "the same as last year" [$2,000] will be sent by Ms. O'Keeffe to Ms. Tuma. M.T. was authentic in what she said to G.O. who proposed to sell
The Bud of the Flowering Tree. There is a reference to "the act you put on". There was no act. M.T. changed her mind before leaving and deposited and wrapped it up in a box by the patio door, after G.O. left for Abiquiu. Further Ms O'Keeffe restates that Ms. Tuma should have handled the showing of a selection of nine drawings to Mrs. Oliver (Jean) Seth differently. G.O. suffered from shingles, painful blisters, that made her impatient with her visitor, although she indicated her approval of Tuma's drawings.
This chapter includes the following:
Letter: From Jerrie Newsom to M.T., dated 1/6/1970: A chatty, informative letter. Jerrie's big news is that she finally left Ms. O'Keeffe's employ, a situation that reverses.
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 3/27/1970: Ms. Tuma tries to connect Ms. O'Keeffe to the work that she, Tuma, is doing in her new studio. She clearly misses the company of her former mentor and expresses her gratitude for the time they shared: How wonderful to talk about rocks and bones! Ms. Tuma's praise for Ms. O'Keeffe leads her into talking about women in general: How they have been misunderstood; how often they have had to take a position making them servile to men. The praise given to Ms. O'Keeffe for breaking some of the old sex-defined achievement barriers, certainly in the art world, leads Ms Tuma to talk about her own life -- how she has sought, as both an artist and a person, "to express my idea of truth": how "a purity of the visual senses innately saved me." She reviews, in broad brush strokes, her career from Stanford to working in Chicago, and to living studying briefly in New York City. Importantly, she speaks of how she first "discovered" the round forms that stimulated her crafting "energy symbols." Ms Tuma came upon pebbles left on tombstones. The letter restates the happiness of the visits she had with Ms. O'Keeffe and with regret that they are separated.
Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico
Dear Miss O'Keeffe,
March 27, 1970
I am working very hard and am happy. The studio overlooks the Lake, and it's up in the air (on a 2nd. floor) with one side open. I have three forms going --all large--and good. The kind of work I wish the whole exhibit was made of. I am thinking about you and wish that we were closer so I could visit you. We could talk about rocks and bones, and look at the same things. I think that you are the most wonderful woman in the world. I am full of joy that we have made friends, and indebted to you for the help you have given me. No one else could have or would have helped me this last two years, and no one's help would have been as important to me as yours.
It seems to me wonderful to be a woman. Even though we are so misunderstood. And so nearly ineffective in changing the world. I don't think that women have risen out of the servility to men --enough, yet to make their mark, to effectively create the conditions they need. Women have been held back by their emotions and their bodies in sexual experience. The same two things that you showed them how to liberate, and that I know are the productivity that women must get under their control. First, women must get themselves under control -- and if they do that -- they will stop being only mothers and servants and mistresses. They will be forces and challenge the socially-unproductive work they are forced to do. I think what keeps women slaves is their economic dependence on men. If women weren't made to believe they were inferior, they would not act that way and in the natural search to find out what one can do they would discover they were equal and better.
It's rare and hard even today for a girl to have the chance to develop independently of society's rules and for her to rewrite women's history, in favor of [becoming recognized as] human beings.
During your life you've been doing that. This was something I started after college, when I was working as an interior designer with architects at Perkins & Will, in Chicago. I wanted more time to myself, to find thing out, and I went back to school after a year or so in the office. That was in 1963. I went to Stanford for another year of painting, and I was by myself and I fought my way out of resignation, after a whole life of being told that I should sacrifice myself to -- what --? That I should abdicate my reason and suffer. I was twenty-five and I had a lot of undeveloped, feminine energy. I didn't want to give up to superstition but to express my idea of truth. A purity of the visual senses innately saved me, and I preferred listening to bird [sing.]
Only a small part of my life has been spent in New York, 8 months of it, after getting the Master's Degree. I went there with my femininity and sheltered myself in a big, church-like loft near Houston Street, in the Puerto Rican neighborhood, that was the lowest condition of life. The writer and I used to keep each other warm, and I painted in a winter coat. I used to find clam shells in the snow at Far Rockaway Beach and once, in [Mt. Hebron] cemetery I found pebbles left on the tombs by family members, -- and this is what got my rounded forms started. I took a pebble in my hand and held it as you remember.
I knew that it represented a positive force in life. After that I made the first rounded things, and during the next four years of hanging on to that Idea, and not getting paid by anyone to do it, I discovered a mountain of energy symbols. On the best days I create images -- and on the low days I stand by and work according to discipline. A young woman's life is cyclic and I have finally put that to work.
I have wanted to tell You these things and that I cherish the short visits we have had together. I wish you the best of health.
Note: The Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York, had long planned a retrospective exhibition of O'Keeffe's work. After a 1969 cancellation, the exhibition was rescheduled to open in October, 1970. O'Keeffe very much wanted to include a new work, done recently in the show. To this end, she painted Black Rock with Blue III, a work she succeeded in creating that very summer.
Letters: From M.T. to G.O., dated 5/16/1970, from M.T. to G.O., dated 7/29/1970 and 9/4/1970:
All three letters written from
Ms. Tuma's studio in Jalisco, Mexico: In the first, Ms. Tuma reports "I no longer have my writer," the former Stanford University Canadian classmate who went to Mexico with her and had been her lover and companion; in the second, she talks of the work she is doing with her "forms" [also known as sculptured pieces]; and in the last, she presents Ms. O'Keeffe with five 5 x 7 inch black and white photographs attesting to the progress she has made -- fifteen works in all -- and lays before her a renewed request: Can you help me, again, with another loan or grant so that I can continue my work?
Letter: Postmarked 9/28/1970: From the Whitney Museum, New York, inviting Ms. Tuma to a retrospective exhibition of G.O.'s work, Oct. 7, 1970.
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 10/14/1970: Ms Tuma expresses a near-desperation over her lack of money: Can G.O. help her once again? She pledges to use the proceeds from the sale of her first form to return the loan she is asking for of $1,500
Transcript of Telephone Call:[Made by Ms. Tuma] Call occurred on 10/19/1970, from M.T. to G.O.: A somewhat reluctant G.O. finally agrees to send Ms. Tuma money.
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 11/1/1970: Ms Tuma has received a $100. [unsigned] check from Ms. O'Keeffe; from G.O. to M.T., dated 11/2/ 1970; from G.O. to M.T., dated 11/6/1970; and from M.T. to G.O., dated 11/12/1970: The unsigned $100. check from Ms. O'Keeffe has been replaced by her with a check for $2,000. So Ms Tuma can continue with her work!
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 2/16/1971: Ms. Tuma's writer has returned. She encloses with her letter a short story he wrote: "Two White Lilies."
Letters: From G.O. to M.T. dated 5/8/1971; from M.T. to G.O., dated 6/8/1971; and from G.O. to M.T., dated 6/29/1971: Displeasure from Ms. O'Keeffe: What she should do with the "object" left on her portal [the form titled The Bud of the Flowering Tree]? I haven't shown it to anyone. I could show it to Mrs. Seth and see if she could do anything with it - otherwise it is in it's box in my garage. If I show it to Mrs. Seth, what value do you want on it? I tried to have it insured, but I couldn't get an evaluation on it as you havn't sold anything."
On the other hand, Jerrie Newsom wrote on January 6, 1970 and offered another description: "Doris [Bry] was at the ranch in October and she took some pictures of the goldfish, and Miss O'Keeffe is asking $10,000. I hope she can get it. I also hope she sends you some money."
Note: Ms Tuma responds that she will come for The Bud during July, if that is workable. Ms. O'Keeffe appreciates a dozen photos of Ms Tuma's work that she has received, among them
The Sea Pearl enclosed in the letter of June 8, 1971 and confirms that July 15 will be fine for a visit.
Review of Ms. Tuma's exhibition at the Canyon Road Gallery, in The New Mexican, August 8, 1971 Jean Seth sold work in a short amount of time. M.T.'s pastels and two fiberglass Forms, namely
The Bud and
The Pearl, are reported by Lynn Waugh, a columnist for Santa Fe Art. Her critique of the exhibition is part of the history of that period of MT's stay there whether or not written intentionally to challenge her authenticity, whether or not it was [ie."Derivative is perhaps an understatement to those who have studied Miss O'Ks work"] justified.
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 10/4/1971: Ms Tuma had been I'll during her recent summer visit to Ms. O'Keeffe's home in Abiquiu and apologetically refers to that. She thanks Ms. O'Keeffe for helping her to connect with the gallery owner, Jean Seth, and with Ms. O'Keeffe's business agent, Doris Bry.
Phone call: Uncertain date, in a telephone conversation Tuma hears news about Doris Bry from Ms O.K, who said, "I trust her like myself."
Press release from Jean Seth:
Santa Fe Art By Lynne Waugh, The New Mexican 8/8/71
"Is it still true that nothing can stop an idea whose time has come?....
Jean Seth's Canyon Road Gallery hosted an opening for Taos artist Milford Greer last weekend. And at the same time Mrs. Seth was able to introduce the work of an exciting and capable artist to Santa Fe. The artist is Marilyn Thuma who has been living the past several years in Lake Chapala, Mexico. The work at Seth's consists of pastel drawings and several plastic molded forms which hang on the wall.
Miss Thuma has simplified to the point where the organic is completely visible. There is form and little else but shade and color. The impact is tremendous and the pastels resemble the work of Georgia O'Keeffe so acutely that it's impossible to view them without that immediate response. Derivative is perhaps even an understatement to those who have studied Miss O'Keeffe's work. The influence is marked and the approach, style, warmth honesty and affection of the two women is as similar. Much of the work has already been sold. Its haunting quality is impressive and her work is a real contribution to the art scene here."
Letter: From M.T. to D.B. dated 10/2 +7/1971: Part of the terms of an agreement through which Ms. Bry will sell Ms. Tuma's work.
Letter: From G.O. to M.T., dated 12/3/1971: Anger from Ms. O'Keeffe: Was she duped in buying "that black form" [Obsidian] from Ms. Tuma? Was it a copy? Part of her displeasure [with the form and with Ms. Tuma] has come about, she admits, because "I was so aggravated with you" -- Ms. Tuma had a week long illness during her July visit to Abiquiu and had to be quarantined at Ms O'Keeffe's home. Ms O'Keeffe also, grudgingly, had to pay for Ms Tuma's medical expenses of $18.31. There may be some question, also to be considered, whether Ms. O'Keeffe's eyesight is beginning to fail and how that may be affecting her daily life. Her attitude is accusatory by stating "that you copy things."
Note: At the request of a gallery patron, Jean Seth commissioned Ms Tuma to create a second pastel abstraction, Node II, on the theme of the first
Node; the two works were almost identical. Of course, many drawings on the same theme are often done, in order to recapture the essence of the lines of that particular form. Tuma recreated her own work, through entering the emotions of that first experience. She never copied another artist's "things."
Letter: From D.B. to M.T., both dated 12/10/1971: Thoughtful business letters from Ms Bry as to what will be involved if Ms Tuma accepts her as a business agent.
Letter: From M.T. to D.B. , undated in December of 1971 Ms. Bry is asked to return the crate of Ms. Tuma's work.
This chapter includes the following:
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 1/18/1972: Ms Tuma writes that she has contracted with Doris to represent her in NY. The significant part of the letter is the voicing of the pain in losing Ms O'Keeffe's company and friendship: "I miss you... I hope you will be with good companions," she says to the 83-year old icon: ". . . let me know, if you need me."
Letter: From M.T. to D.B., dated 1/29/72 enclosing material on
The Moonseed and
The Pearl hung privately as part of the dialogue between the younger and older artist, Ms O'Keeffe [1969, 1971] in her Ghost Ranch.
Letter: From D.B. to M.T., dated 2/5/1972 Acknowledges receiving pages of "helpful" material sent on those sculptured paintings.
Letter: M.T. to Parents, April 27, 1972: "I have not heard from DB"
Letters: Both dealing with the bill for Ms. Tuma's medical treatment in July of 1971 by a local [New Mexico] doctor: Ms O.K. had to pay it [$18.31] and urges Ms. Tuma to do so; M.T. to G.O., [date 2/15/1972] and G.O. to M.T., dated 4/7/1972.
Letter: From William A. Thuma, a Chicago attorney and Ms Tuma's father, to Doris Bry, dated 4/20/1972: Will Ms Bry agree to Ms Tuma's plan for the shipment of her forms to Ms. Bry?
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 7/17/1972: Ms Tuma encloses a check reimbursing Ms O'Keeffe for the medical bill. She acknowledges her "debt" to Ms O'Keeffe [the money lent to her] and expresses her gratitude both for the financial and spiritual support the older artist had given her.
What unhappiness she expresses over the breakup of their friendship! "I remember only the good communication we shared . . . I have only longing and restlessness that time cannot repair." She closes with telling Ms O'Keeffe of the art works she has given to Doris Bry to sell.
Letters: From D.B. to M.T., dated 10/9/1972: Ms Bry writes that Ms Marcia Tucker, a curator at the Whitney Museum, advises Ms Tuma to come to New York City and live there for a month in order to promote her work at the galleries. The letter intelligently lays out the pitfalls a young artist may experience if she allies herself with "various women's movements." And she continues, "While I am on these difficult subjects, Ms O'Keeffe's objects strongly to your use of her name in the material you sent me last summer, or for gallery publicity. She says your work should make its way on its own merits and without using her name. Do please respect her wish." For all the caveats and suggestions to a beginning artist,the letter ends on a positive note that Ms Tuma's work may very likely find buyers and an appropriate exhibition place. Ms Bry's recommendations came too late, one year after negotiating their contract.
Letters: From M.T. to D.B., dated 10/22/1972 Ms Tuma thanks Ms Bry for all her help including selling
The Moonseed to the Hirshhorn Museum, [now located in Washington, D.C. but declines to leave Chicago for New York. Further, she has decided to have Ms Bry represent her no longer and asks for an end to their long business agreement.
Letter: From D.B. to M.T. dated 2/1/1973, returning of black and white photographs of the three forms also some colored transparencies she had taken, eleven 8 x 10 prints, and portraits, and the matte bill for $27.80.
Letter: From M.T. to D.B., dated 4/30/1973: Ms. Tuma, now working, has sent Ms. O'Keeffe a money order for over one thousand dollars, a goodwill gesture although O'Keeffe cancelled Tumas "loans towards her first show."
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 5/7/1973: Ms Tuma admits to handling her relationship with Doris Bry poorly. Then she puts the question to Ms. O'Keeffe: As you once asked me to do: May I stay with you for a while? be your cook?
Abiquiu, New Mexico
Dear Marilynn Thuma:
May 8, 1973
Thank you but I am pleased to say that I have a very satisfactory person to take care of my life. Jerrie is back, but thanks for offering.
I assume that my endorsing the check would make you know that I received it. If by chance you would be able to sell your black object I will be glad to sell it as it gives me no pleasure. It seems darker in color and larger than the one I thought I bought and does not have the quality that makes it seem alive to me.
I hope your work is going well.
Letter: From G.O. to M.T., dated 5/8/1973: "Thank you but I am pleased to say I have a very satisfactory person taking care of me. . . G.O. states a rejection of M.T.'s "black object" that she purchased five years earlier with her first letter. Tuma did not respond to G.O.'s suggestion to sell the "black object," Obsidian and as far as M.T. knows it remained in G.O.'s possession.
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 4/30/1973: An acknowledgment of a difficult year and the return of artistic energy: "I've found I could make a seed drawing that was joyous to be growing again."
Letter: From M.T. to G.O., dated 6/19/1973.
Phone Call: Uncertain date, in a phone transaction. Tuma sells
, sculptured painting, 1970 to Ms. Doris Bry for her private collection.
Letter: From M.T. to D.B., dated 10/25/79, asking for her endorsement in fellowship applications for full-time work crucial to her development.
Letter: From D.B. to M.T., dated 12/27/1979
Letter: From D.B. to M.T. dated 11/5/1979
Text written by
Mym Tuma, Southampton, NY 11969
All Rights Reserved © Bernard Gotfryd of East Hampton (O'Keeffe, 1970)
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