“Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii” by Patricia Jennings and Maria Ausherman
In 1939, Hawaiian Pineapple Co. (later the Dole Company) asked artist Georgia O’Keeffe to paint two pictures. According to a February 12, 1940 TIME Magazine article, “She agreed, on condition that she could paint whatever she pleased.” And in fact, stymied in her attempt to visit a plantation and dismayed by a cut-up pineapple, she refused to paint a pineapple.
“Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii” (2011) offers a personal glimpse into O’Keeffe’s 1939 visit to Hawaii. Her visit is seen through the eyes of 12-year old Patricia Jennings, who served as O’Keeffe’s personal guide while the artist was on Maui, written with author and teacher Maria Ausherman. O’Keeffe spent 9 weeks in Hawaii, visiting Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii Island. She painted 18 paintings in Hawaii, and two after she returned to New York.
The book is divided into roughly three sections: an introduction by Jennifer Saville, adapted from her book “Georgia O’Keeffe: Paintings of Hawaii” (1990), which offers a factual account of O’Keeffe’s visit; a personal narrative written by Patricia Jennings, who was 12 years old when O’Keeffe visited Maui and stayed at her home in Hāna; and an afterword by James Meeker, which highlights Hawaii’s lasting impression on O’Keeffe.
Through Jennings, we see a side of O’Keeffe who was daring enough to travel across the country alone to a new land, thoughtful and caring about a young girl, intensely private as she painted, temperamental about getting her way, and successful and confident enough to choose art instead of commercialism.
Of Jennings, she wrote in a letter to her husband Alfred Stieglitz: “The child too is so lovely – a flower in full bloom with the sun on it –“ In turn, O’Keeffe made a lasting impact on Jennings – she wrote, “But the deepest gift she offered me was the experience, in some way for the first time in my life, of really being listened to and appreciated for who I was.”
There are beautiful color prints of O’Keeffe’s paintings, as well as those of artist Robert Lee Eskridge, excerpts from letters, photographs, and transcripts of letters written in O’Keeffe’s curling, flowing handwriting. Interestingly, O’Keeffe used wavy lines to separate her thoughts and sentences, instead of standardized punctuation.
As I read “Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii,” I asked my then 9-year old son to read “Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased” (2012) by Amy Novesky. We talked a little about O’Keeffe’s decision not to paint pineapples: she was true to her artistic vision, but she also didn’t fulfill her implicit obligation to Dole Company. My son’s perspective: pineapples aren’t fun to paint, but O’Keeffe should have kept her word.