Sunday, July 10, 2011

Georgia O'Keefe: Picture Book Biographies

The name Georgia O'Keefe is probably not unfamiliar to many today. Her large arresting flowers in bold colors and immaculate detail is what my mind has come to associate with the name, along with a few now-famous bones.

Presenting a biography, knowing which aspects of the illustrious life to showcase, and to do it in a short picture book format sounds like a Herculean task. But the three biographies here (regardless of how accurate they are historically) gave us a good picture of the artist, the person.

My Name Is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter
by Jeanette Winter

We started with My Name is Georgia. The title was arresting enough and caught Ana's attention.

The book has bold illustrations and simple text. It presents Georgia's life in a condensed and compact way, highlighting her birth, childhood and later years.

But, unlike typical biographies, by selectively quoting Georgia's words directly, the book turns into a first person narration letting us see how the artist saw things. There is an indication of time passing and Georgia growing.

She painted small things large so people would notice them
. This stuck in our head. The book might not be quite engaging in and of its own for the typical picture book audience but it certainly started us off on a good path.

Georgia's Bones
by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Bethanne Anderson

Then, a few days later, we read Georgia's Bones. As my daughter read it, she pointed out, "These are the same bones from that other book! Is she the same Georgia? She looks different in this book..."

Sure enough, she did have a different look and this opened up a new door for us to talk about.

The illustrations are beautiful nonetheless. The double-page with the huge Ram's Head caught our attention.

Text is simple enough for elementary level reading, combining quotations and third person narration, but is also laced with poetry. Talking about Georgia's fascination for bones that she collects from the desert
She didn't know why they pleased her so.
Perhaps it was the quiet way they did their work - the years of being invisible, and then, when everything fell away, they appeared, pure and beautiful.

The book again reinforced a handful of facts about the artist's life. It also brings out the artist's attraction to natural and everyday objects in which she found shapes, and she viewed them in unusual ways.
In the woods around her father's Wisconsin farm, she collected shapes: flowers, leaves, sticks and stones. She put them in her pocket and took them home.
"Such common objects," said her brother.
"Why do you bother?" asked her sister.
"Because they please me," Georgia replied.

However, it also showed how Georgia looked at things differently.
The holes in the bones pleased Georgia, too.
They made frames and windows through which she glimpsed a piece of the sky,
or a tiny corner of a mountain.

The book ends with Georgia painting the bones in her New York City studio.

Through Georgia's Eyes
by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez

A week later we read Through Georgia's Eyes, which is another picture book biography of the artist.

Again, my daughter wondered why Georgia looked different in the pictures in this book, compared to the other two. She noticed that the book talks about the same yearning Georgia has for the wide open spaces, the same night sky she sees over open desert, the same determination at 12 when she declares 'I want to be an artist', and the attraction for common objects around her.
Season melts into season on her family farm. Georgia struggles to show on paper what she sees. At twelve she takes painting lessons. She tells her friend, "I am going to be an artist."

This book is in third person narration. The illustrations are beautiful. Ana particularly liked the double-page spread that shows people flitting like butterflies over gigantic flowers that Georgia paints.
Flowers delight her. She paints them as giants. People stop to stare. Georgia's flowers make them feel like tiny butterflies, flitting through the universe of her garden.

The book closes with an invitation to the readers.
Open your eyes...
...and walk along.
See the colors? Hear the shapes singing?
No need to hurry.
Lean in... look closer.

Georgia O'Keefe Museum
Highlights From The Collection
edited by Lynes, Barbara Buhler O'Keefe (Author)

To seal it, we looked at the reprints in Georgia O'Keefe Museum, Highlights From The Collection at the Santa Fe Museum.

The book has big pictures, caption and related information, which made it real, at least a bit more real than the illustrations in the biographies we had read.

To hold something beautiful, to be able to drink in the detail at one's own pace, to just open the book and land on a painting that Georgia herself painted made it quite valuable for us.

[image sources:, author Jen Bryant's website, author Rachel Rodriguez website,, wikipedia]


sathish said...

wow. this is a interesting set. It is an eye opener for me - as I did not even know about this wonderful artist.

Divya Purandar said...

I stumbled upon your bog today and what was meant to be for a few minutes turned out few hours! Nice post...especially since I have a little artist at home:-) I have a blog on the books I read to my four year old...and I can already see this post being referenced therein!:-)

sandhya said...

I had never heard of Georgia O'Keefe until I read this review. I was intrigued enough to search for her online, and was mesmerised by pictures of her paintings. And co-incidentally, HBO screened a movie based on her life two days ago - of course I had to watch it. The places it had been shot in - Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, with the red rocks, wide open expanses of the desert and full domes of the sky with nothing much to break your view transported me back to the months spent in Arizona.

Thanks for bringing this artist, her life, and her work to us. Will keep an eye open for these books.

sathish said...


There is another addition to this - the honor book in this years Horn Book Awards. And the title is so interesting - "Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased"

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