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Georgia O'Keeffe's Shadow Self

From a 1924 Stieglitz photo of Ida (left) and Georgia O'Keeffe

 

It's disconcerting to see snapshots of Ida and Georgia O'Keeffe together in the exhibition and catalog, "Ida O'Keeffe: Escaping Georgia's Shadow," now at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA for the summer.

 

The features of the sisters, born two years apart, are almost identical--heavy brows, fan-shaped eyes, chiseled lips, dark brown hair--but their expressions are not. Outgoing Ida often looks a little distracted in contrast to her older sister's intense focus. Even their hairstyles and clothing dramatically differ.

 

When this photo was taken, the sisters were in their mid-thirties. Georgia had been at Alfred Stieglitz's side for six years when he had fervently encouraged her as an artist and exhibited her work. Ida, in contrast, had worked as a nurse, turned to art later, then struggled to find time to paint and chances to exhibit. 

 

It was as if Ida was Georgia's shadow self: a sister with artistic talent but without the same opportunity. I left the exhibition feeling sad about Ida but very glad that Georgia had made the transition from Texas art teacher to prolific American painter.

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