Georgia O'Keeffe is a legend of 20th-century American art. Her life and work, well documented in her lifetime and since, have taken on mythic proportions. Hawai'i is also mythic in our national psyche-a paradisiacal place of healing and renewal.
In 1938, the Dole Pineapple Co. invited Georgia O'Keeffe to come to Hawai'i to produce two paintings for their national advertising campaign. Like other great artists of her day, including Kuniyoshi, Sheets, and Noguchi, she accepted, and in the spring of 1939 spent nine weeks the Hawaiian Islands. On Maui, where she was hosted by 12-year-old Patricia Jennings, the daughter of the Hana sugar plantation manager, she had an encounter that would affect both women for the rest of their lives.
Patricia was an isolated introvert, homeschooled and raised by a highly critical mother. When Georgia O'Keeffe arrived in Hawai'i, she was in the throes of marital duress and health challenges. Georgia and Patricia's 10 days together were deeply bonding and profoundly healing. Patricia was nurtured by a mother figure and Georgia recovered emotionally and physically and produced 20 little known yet magnificent works of art.
In Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawai'i, Patricia Jennings Morriss tells the story of their encounter, offering glimpses and a fresh look at the process of the great artist through the eyes of a pre-war teen in territorial Hawai'i. O'Keeffe's 20 lush paintings of Island flora and landscapes are reproduced together here for the first time. Reflecting on her time on Maui, O'Keeffe wrote, "I enjoy this drifting off into space on an island. Years later, she added, it was one of "the best things I have done.
In 1940, O'Keeffe's Hawai'i paintings were exhibited at a An American Place in New York to critical acclaim, yet in the years since, they've only been displayed all together once. In the introduction to Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawaii, art historian Jennifer Saville asserts that O'Keeffe's nine-week sojourn in the Hawaiian Islands helped shape her career, bridging themes examined earlier to later subjects. This heartwarming, informative read fills a gap in our knowledge about the life and work of one of this great artist. With 20 paintings in full color and a host of period photos.
"A lovely scrapbook with beautiful reproductions of the Hawaiian paintings and stories about Jennings's time with O'Keeffe." -- Boston Globe
"Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawaii is the charming, funny memoir by Jennings ... of 10 days that changed both their lives. -- Maui News
"Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawai'i masterfully contextualizes a mercurial woman whose art changed the world." -- Maui TIme Weekly
"Patricia Jennings ... is adding her voice to the O'Keeffe mythology. --Maui Jungalow blog
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Patricia Jennings Morriss grew up in Hawai'i. In her lifetime she has served on the boards of directors of numerous art and charitable organizations, managed macademia nut farms and general stores, and has been blessed with 5 children, 9 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren.
Maria Ausherman is an independent scholar interested in the history of preservation in the U.S., the history of photography, and the intersection of fine arts and documentation.
Jennifer Saville served as Curator of Western Art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts in the 1990s, curating the only showing of Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawai'i paintings since 1940. She is coauthor of Finding Paradise: Island Art in Private Collections, Georgia O'Keeffe: Paintings of Hawaii, A Printmaker in Paradise: The Art and Life of Charles W. Bartlett, and The American Canvas.
The next morning, Dad arranged for Georgia to drive a rental car while he attended a meeting. A smiling Filipino man greeted us and showed us a clean, though rather ancient, Chevrolet. Standing on the hotel's front steps, Georgia screamed at him, "I can't possibly drive that! Get another car at once!” I was startled by her outburst. Oh dear, was she going to be difficult? "This one good car. You try” "No. Get something else.” "I no got nothing else. You try. Easy to drive.” "I said get another car!” She was practically shouting, and passersby had begun to stop. In the thick of battle, the hotel manager came out. The rental clerk seemed close to tears as he explained to the manager that he only had two cars and the newer one was in use. Summoning up my courage, I looked at Georgia and said, "I think you can drive it.” She looked surprised, and then she smiled. "Well if Patricia thinks I can drive it, I shall.” The manager showed great relief; and, for a moment, I thought the clerk was going to kiss me. After a little practice with the gearshift, we set off for 'Iao Valley, a lush gorge a few miles beyond Wailuku. The day was very still-the only sounds were birdsong and the roaring stream through the valley. "This looks like a good place to stop. Can you keep yourself busy for a bit?” Georgia set up her easel a few feet from the car. Soon there was a slight drizzle. Georgia seemed not to notice until heavy drops began to fall. I ran and helped her get her things into the backseat of the car. To my surprise, she climbed into the back, too. "In New Mexico, I often paint in my car. Now turn around and sit quietly.” I slumped in the front seat and watched the rivulets running down the windshield. I wanted to peek over my shoulder but didn't dare. When I shifted a bit to stretch my legs, Georgia sighed. Then, a moment later, she said, "I suppose I could let you watch. But absolutely no talking.” I turned slowly, putting my knees on the seat and my arms on the back. Georgia was perched on the edge of the backseat, looking intently out the side window. On the canvas her deft fingers made the green oil paints flow into place effortlessly, and I could see the valley walls and the waterfall. Just as she was switching colors, the rain increased dramatically and the view of the cliffs disappeared. "Doesn't look as though this is going to stop,” she sighed. "You know you are a very privileged girl. I never let anyone watch me work.”
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