Georgia O’Keeffe, health food devotee: the innovator of modernism’s favourite recipes

September 14, 2018

The American artist lived until she was 98 and a new book of her favourite recipes might devote some clues as to how

Georgia OKeeffe was an icon of the American art world: a innovator of abstract modernism, with boldly innovative paints of blooms and bleached animal skulls. Lesser known is that her diet, too, was ahead of its day.

A new cookbook of OKeeffes personal recipes Dinner with Georgia OKeeffe: Recipes, Art and Landscape, by the Australian author Robyn Lea reveals she was a forerunner to todays organic, slow food movement, a health food devotee who attained her own yoghurt.

A hundred years ago, OKeeffes first solo exhibition set up in New York and, in 2014, her 1932 painting Jimson Weed/ White Flower No 1 defined a record price for a work by a female artist, selling at Sothebys for $44.4 m. With her art so highly coveted, it is unsurprising that an astute luxury publisher such as Assouline believes there is also a receptive marketplace awaiting her recipes. But her lifestyle habits will be of interest to an audience beyond art aficionados since OKeeffe lived until the age of 98.

In photographs, OKeeffe appears unsmiling and stern-looking, dressed in a largely androgynous uniform of monochromes and striking silhouettes. She was often photographed by her husband and mentor, the photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz but knowing what she liked to eat runs some route to humanise her beyond his powerful black and white images.

You kind of feel like youre reading people diary in a way, eating the food they ate, because its quite a personal thing, Lea says. She truly was quite a force-out for this new way of thinking across so many levels, whether in art, food, dress and interiors.

The book is a companion piece of sorts to Leas 2015 volume, Dinner with Jackson Pollock, which featured the personal recipes of the celebrated modern painter. Lea believes it is natural that she should follow up her Pollock book with one on OKeeffe. If “youre thinking about” the hero male icon and the hero female icon of the 20 th century in art in America, they are the two.

When Lea began conducting online research from her home in Melbourne, she knew nothing of OKeeffes feeing habits. It was four months later in March 2016 that she visited the Georgia OKeeffe Research Centre in New Mexico and detected a trove of OKeeffes handwritten recipes, along with magazine trims and instructional handbooks for her yoghurt manufacturer and various kitchen accoutrements. What fascinated me was how the three elements of food, art and nature worked together both visually and philosophically in OKeeffes life, Lea says.

Georgia OKeeffe with a canvas from her Pelvis Series, Red With Yellow in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1960. Photo: Tony Vaccaro/ Getty Images

Stieglitz described his wife as quite a cook, loves experimenting is in everything she does, what she is as a painter[ sic ]. During summertimes with the Stieglitz family at Lake George in upstate New York, OKeeffe stimulated meals so delicious that Stieglitz even joked about opening a restaurant.

OKeeffe had been raised on a farm in Wisconsin, and constructed the first of many trip-ups to northern New Mexico in the summer of 1929. The stark scenery had a profound influence on her art. From the mid-1 930 s, she began spending a lot more time in New Mexico, away from Stieglitz in New York. In 1940, she bought a house at Ghost Ranch , northwest of Santa Fe. At the end of 1945, she bought a second property only 25 km from the Ghost Ranch, a ruined hacienda in the village of Abiqui. It was here that she ultimately grew her dreaming garden of fruit and vegetables. OKeeffe moved to Abiquiu permanently in 1949, three years after Stieglitzs death, and she remained in New Mexico until her death in 1986.

Leas book discloses the great lengths OKeeffe went to to procure superior quality raw ingredients. She requested walnuts, dates, wheat germ and brewers yeast from her sister Claudia, while goats milk was find from neighbouring Franciscan priests. OKeeffe believed water had to already be boiling before corn was picked from the garden( to avoid loss of vitamins ); organic whole grains needed to be ground for homemade bread; and herbs were to be harvested from the garden and hung to dry. OKeeffe was also a devotee of health drinkings such as vitamin A cocktail, a vegetable juice, and Tigers Milk, a yogurt and fruit drink.

OKeeffe was passionate about sharing her nutritional knowledge with others and would make healthy smoothies for friends on neighbouring properties, insisting they drank them. Even her gardener, shed stimulate him have these smoothies saying, Youll live longer, youll be healthier, Lea says.

Fifty of her favourite recipes are included in Leas book, including brightly coloured vegetable soups( a creamy carrot soup adorns the cover-up) as well as breads and salads. Lea says she isnt sure whether the vivid colouring in OKeeffes recipes was motivated by her preoccupation with colouring, or more because she only wanted things merely cooked to the point where they were right to eat and not over boiled. But its hard not to conclude that the colour of such healthy dishes must have pleased the artist.

OKeeffe also believed that food could enhance artistic output. The book contains an anecdote about OKeeffe quizzing the artist John Marin about what he ate for breakfast on the day he painted three runs admired by OKeeffe. She truly did believe that, if you eat something good for breakfast, that had the power to help your creative work, your expres, Lea says. While such guessing is common now, “its not” in 1925.

It feels like a new discovery in a manner that is, that people are talking like that today, but it seems she was thinking that route before these notions were scientifically proven.

Dinner with Georgia OKeeffe: Recipes, Art and Landscape will be launched in Australia at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on 5 July, to coincide with OKeeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Stimulating Modernism, which opens at AGNSW on 1 July

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