Liz Ehrnst, Archives and Digital Collections Librarian, was gracious enough to spend most of her morning talking with me about the Georgia O’Keefe Library and Archives in Santa Fe. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum collections are extensive. The museum has enough work to fill three traveling shows (Brooklyn Museum, TATE, and the Heide Museum in Australia) plus their own museum. Then, there are the sketches, letters, various ephemera, a collection of everything written about O’Keefe, and management of her two houses in Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu. (There are also documents held at Beinecke as well as other archives).
The Museum, like O’Keefe, is engaged with the community. They have learning sessions in the summer for school-aged children, sponsor talks, and visiting researchers. They also collect people’s memories of O’Keefe on a 24-hour hotline as part of their Oral Histories Project.
They digitized many photographs and made them accessible using ContentDM (but use ArchiveSpace for behind-the-scenes work). And, are starting a new project (funded by Institute of Museum and Library Services) to convert the library, archive, and museum catalogues into linked data on the American Art Collaborative.
O’Keefe became an expert at managing her image. Every outfit she wore in every photograph was intentional, just as every line and hue on her canvas was intentional. (They have these outfits, or “her uniform”, in their collection too.) The joy of this collection is O’Keefe becomes more than just a modernist abstract painter, she becomes someone who lived close to Los Alamos in the 1950s and was fully outfitted with a bomb shelter and how-to manuals on surviving a nuclear bomb.
Because the collection is so comprehensive, they can tell very detailed stories. For example, they have a painting done by O’Keefe of a rock on a tree stump, the sketch of this painting, the rock itself, the property that holds the tree stump, plus the letter she wrote wondering if the painting held enough meaning. It’s an impressive collection!
A few more things I learned are, the museum is re-creating the garden O’Keefe had at her Abiquiu residence based on documents in the archive. The archive is also being used to make decisions on upkeep for the houses. This is possible because O’Keefe was also very intentional about her windows, meaning there are records of her design decisions over the years.
Lastly, I learned, if you want to work in museums or with artists learn grant writing, check out ARLIS, and knowledge of data management and digital records is a must.
If you’re ever in Santa Fe or Ghost Ranch, stop in and fall in love with the landscape, the community, and Georgia! See all my pics from this visit on the SAA-UW Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/saa.uw.husky/ (and don’t forget to slide through each set!)
~ Marie Andrews