A View of O'Keeffe

Magnolia Grandiflora


My gaze tilted upwards more than usual that spring. I was newly in awe of the majestic magnolia. Mine was the large, white dinner-plate variety that smells so citrusy-sweet for just the day that the bloom finally opens. The Southern Magnolia ironically was easily found in my back yard—magnolia grandiflora—aptly named as it is, indeed, grand. After looking at the flowers’ closed conical shape for days, wondering if those vertical wraps would actually unfurl, suddenly there was one, maybe two, possibly three blooms dotting my large magnolia tree.

I waited weeks for a whopping five to bloom all at once. Perhaps the singular individuality that this magnolia exhibits is akin to our own ability to shine. We choose when and where, often on a limb by ourselves. If we’re lucky, we’ll open to our joy and purpose in connection with others, like the five blooms that opened to the sun in symphony.

When I was a child, there was a small magnolia tree in my back yard. It was as close to tree climbing as I could find. My child-time magnolia was another variety, the Lily Magnolia—magnolia liliflora. Its peppery fragrance perplexed me. Its small stature suited me.  

Flowers, I have discovered, are a passion of mine. Perhaps the abundance of those lavender, fuchsia and purple petals on the Lily Magnolia coaxed me into climbing a tree that I might never have otherwise?
Magnolia Liliflora

At last, there in my yard, was one bud on the lowest branch. I waited and watched it day after day, knowing that I might finally rise to my toes to smell its intoxicating fragrance and see all of its saucer-like creaminess. I asked the tree if it would mind. We agreed. I could take just this one bloom. I cleaned the clipper blades with alcohol, clipped the stem at an angle just right and placed the magic flower in a low vase with warm water and a teaspoon of sugar. As if the flower gods smiled, my magnolia bloom lasted a full four days, far longer than its usual one-to-two-day brownish wither on the tree.

Upon viewing the gorgeous bloom in my photo (above), I am struck by how naturally nature becomes a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. O’Keeffe didn’t turn flowers into paintings. She truly interpreted their essence, their soul, their being.

O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is perhaps best known for her visually large flower paintings, as well as contrastingly stark New Mexican landscapes. She began painting flowers in earnest in the early 1920s, with Petunia, No. 2, her first large-scale flower painting in 1924. Flowers, however, were subject matter for O’Keeffe for almost two decades before her larger-than-life paintings exploded. Calla lily, poppy, rose, red canna, iris, amaryllis, sunflower, Jack-in-the-pulpit, pansy, squash blossom, hollyhock…O’Keeffe did not discriminate.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Petunia No.2
O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, NM

It is up to each one of us to find interpretation in art, music, life, even flowers. After years of misinterpretation of O’Keeffe’s motivation behind her flower paintings, she responded in 1943: “Well – I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flowers as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t.” (Ernest W. Watson, “Georgia O’Keeffe,” American Artist, June, 1943.)

Weaving + Forging Serape Ruana   Georgia O'Keeffe, Pineapple Bud
Weaving + Forging Pineapple Bud Serape Ruana  ~  Georgia O'Keeffe, Pineapple Bud, 1939. Honolulu Museum of Art

While creating my handwoven two-tone serape ruana (pictured above), I was struck by how the colors and combinations I’d chosen were reminiscent of O’Keeffe’s 1939 painting, Pineapple Bud. This was completely unintentional, but later made it feel all the more cohesive. Handwoven in linen, hand-dyed Tencel, alpaca, pure mulberry silk and cotton, the color depths move from grey to celadon green, raspberry and mauve.


Be it a flowering pineapple, its expression on my weaving loom or a grand white magnolia, flowers remind me of impermanence, appreciation and gratitude.


I must make time to watch for the opening of the blooms so I don’t miss the beauty. I appreciate the beauty even more because it is fleeting.

I am grateful for the silent, private moment that I watched the magnolia open. Even more, it was magical when the wind blew just right, and I could catch the citrus fragrance for just a second as it flowed down from my tall tree to meet my senses.

Georgia O'Keeffe seated
Alfred Stieglitz (1864 - 1946). Georgia O'Keeffe [Seated on Ground, Paint Brush in Hand], 1918. Gelatin silver print, flush-mounted on card, 3 ½ x 4 ½ inches. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. 2013.04.078 


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