A small treasure of Georgia O'Keeffe items in Brandeis archives

A handwritten letter and two résumés from O'Keeffe belong to the university. Professor Nancy Scott reviewed some of the items while researching her new book on the iconic painter.

More than a half century ago, Brandeis awarded iconic painter Georgia O’Keeffe its Creative Arts Award for lifetime achievement in painting. Best known for her paintings of huge flowers and New Mexican landscapes, O’Keeffe is a giant of 20th century American modernism.

Which makes the threads of her story unearthed in the Brandeis archives even more fascinating. 

Fine arts professor Nancy Scott pulled all those threads together while researching her new book, “Georgia O’Keeffe.”

At the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections, Scott was able to study O’Keeffe’s modest single-page résumé she submitted to the university in 1963 before winning the university’s prestigious—and recently re-launchedCreative Arts Award, as well as a résumé submitted in 1961. The archives also possesses the letter she wrote by hand to the university after finding out she was selected for the award, along with the speech composer Leonard Bernstein gave about O’Keeffe at the Waldorf Astoria in New York as part of the award ceremony.

O’Keeffe was 75 years old when she received the Creative Arts Award in 1963. That same year, she contributed her work to an important group show at the Rose Art Museum. “American Modernism: The First Wave” was curated by legendary director Sam Hunter, says Scott. The show helped keep O’Keeffe’s achievement in early 20th century abstraction alive, and connected her to the contemporary trend in abstract expressionism.

O’Keeffe also loaned several important paintings, including “Sky Above Clouds I” in its first version to the “Brandeis University Creative Arts (1957-63)” exhibition, a benefit hosted in late 1963 at the American Federation of Arts Gallery in New York.

Bernstein’s lively tribute to O’Keeffe records his “honor, privilege and pleasure” in presenting the “now legendary artist” with her medal. She donated the $1,500 award to the university, as a contribution to the next artist to be awarded the Creative Arts medal for painting. That happened to be Mark Rothko.

Categories: Arts, Research

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