Georgia’s Stolen Stone: A Playful Story of the Serious Value of Shape To Artists
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, Ph.D.
But it’s no ordinary stone.
It’s a stone with a story.
Want to hear it?
O’Keeffe Was Crazy for Stones
Like many of us creatives, O’Keeffe was crazy for stones. She called them her “treasures.”
But unlike many of us, O’Keeffe was so crazy for stones, stealing one out of a friend’s house, was not out of the question.
(And we’ll get to that in a minute.)
In fact, stones loomed so large in Georgia’s life it would be fair to say that over half of the millionaire, minimalist’s prized possessions, were stones.
(With a bushel of bones, skulls, shells, and a few nests thrown into the mix.)
But this is the story of Georgia’s favorite stone, her holy of holies.
O’Keeffe’s favorite stone was actually a river rock that was most likely born on the banks of the mighty Colorado.
(Tumbling in the Colorado River for eons probably granted Georgia’s favorite stone its consummate smoothness.)
But let’s get on that river with her now.
The Story of O’Keeffe the Thief and the Black Stone
So in the early 1960s, Georgia’s pal, wildlife photographer Eliot Porter took groups of his friends on guided rafting trips to sketch or photograph the soon-to-be damned Glen Canyon area of the Colorado River.
“On the Colorado River trip, O’Keeffe collected her favorite things: bones and stones.
One night, on his way to the campfire, Eliot Porter picked up a stone. It was the quintessential rock, smooth and flat, black and flawless.
O’Keeffe asked him boldly to give it to her, but Porter, though he was not collecting stones, refused.
Back at home, the Porters hatched a diabolical scheme: they invited O’Keeffe to a dinner party and left the coveted object on the coffee table.
All the family pretended not to watch as Georgia, as expected, tucked it into her own pocket.
“We got it back later,” said Aline Porter, smiling; they were all delighted at Georgia’s presumption.
In the end, they gave it to her, and later she told Life photographer John Loengard it was her favorite rock. (Robinson, 501).”
Moral of the Stone Story for Artists: Less Shame, More Moxie
I smiled when I first read this story.
Why do we smile?
Why don’t we judge Georgia more for pocketing the stone?
Well, I personally give O’Keeffe a “Get Out of Jail Free” card here for two reasons.
Firstly, Georgia’s a hero of mine because she had no shame. She seemed to have replaced the space shame usually takes up in us — with moxie.
Not a bad plan, I say.
Because all things considered, I believe artists (especially women artists) would benefit from dragging around fewer tons of shame.
I also believe we’d benefit from filling in the empty space the departed shame leaves – with brazen daring.
Pocketing the Porter stone was not an “incident” O’Keeffe was mortified by and seeking therapy over (as I would.)
Instead, Georgia O’Keeffe bragged about the stone story to Loengard.
She told it as more of a victory tale, the kind a pirate might tell other pirates about the adventure in which she acquired her greatest treasure.
(To hear another story of another great artist who stole certain things read The Charmed Studio’s Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Laureate: Genies, Junos, Junk Shops, and Genius.)
So what’s the second reason I forgive her?
Ovals and Spirals and Bears, Oh My!
Let me explain.
I think almost every artist and architect has one or more shapes, structures, or patterns that make us crazy- in a good way.
And we’ve carried the predilection for these specific shapes, structures, or patterns (or as I call them, soul forms) seemingly since birth.
One of O’Keeffe’s soul forms was the oval.
Ovoid shapes made her creative brain hum and sing from early on in her art career (and perhaps even from her childhood).
For example, look closely here at O’Keeffe’s “Drawing No. 2. Special” created when she was just 28.
Notice a smooth black oval, rock-like shape anywhere?
Yup, it’s the focal point.
Georgia went on to investigate ovals as an artist into her nineties via her still lives, abstractions, and late clay sculptures.
You can see O’Keeffe’s oval-philia here in her stunning painting of the sky and moon viewed through the opening of a pelvic bone, Pelvis IV, 1944.
(I’d love to hear any other examples of ovals in O’Keeffe’s work that you’ve noticed. Pop them in the comments.)
But it didn’t end at ovals for Georgia.
Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Second Muse — the Spiral
Georgia was also entranced by spirals- especially naturally occurring ones like those in nautilus shells like the one she painted here in “Red Hill, White Shell,” in 1938.
Spirals are often circles or ovals with a winding interior pattern, right?
And speaking of the love of the spiral: how many people have a rattlesnake skeleton set into their living room furniture (besides natural history fanatics or maybe…Marilyn Manson)?
O’Keeffe got such a thrill from the coil of a rattlesnake skeleton she bought from a science supply warehouse, that she had a black velvet display case built for it to sit within the banco (clay bench) of her adobe home in Abiquiu.
See Georgia’s snake skeleton banco insert in her Abiquiu living room in this photo here.
What is Your Soul Form?
Let me leave you with a question:
What shape or form is your enchanting muse?
I love the following quote from Alan Bradley’s fabulous Flavia de Luce Mystery Series because it teaches us there are two kinds of inspiration. As Bradley’s character Aunt Felicity explains to the young Flavia during a pep talk to convince her to follow her dreams of becoming a pathologist/chemist/detective:
“Inspiration from outside oneself is like the heat in an oven; it makes passable bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano; it changes the face of the world.”
What form, structure, or pattern inspires you – from within?
What shape do you love to such a degree that if you saw the quintessential example of it, you would daydream about swiping it?
In other words, what’s your soul form?
What wild way would you like to investigate it further in your art?
Do you too have little collections of stones or feathers or bones or nests lying about?
Let me know in the comment/discussion section below!
Or head on over to my Mostly Free Resources for Artists Page: