For many art lovers, a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe is top on their list of things to do and see in “The City Different.” Artist Georgia O’Keeffe, known for her bold floral paintings as well as contemporary depictions of the northern New Mexico land she loved, was born in 1887. She studied art in Chicago and New York. But it was her love for northern New Mexico, where she lived at least part of many years, that connects her with the hearts of visitors to the Santa Fe, Abiquiu, and Taos areas.
O’Keeffe explored the high desert, collecting rocks and bleached animal bones, and painted what inspired her about the area and culture. By 1949 she lived year-around in the Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch area.
Many are not aware that you can visit O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The vistas of this home on a bluff and the lines of the adobe home itself inspired many of her works.
The home is managed by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Through the museum, you can reserve a tour slot and be part of a select few (only 12 people tour at a time) who are able to tour the home. Tours take place March through November on Tuesdays through Saturdays with some exceptions. Reservation information can be found on the museum website or obtained by phone at (505) 946-1000. A fee of $40 per person, $35 for museum members and students ages 6-18, needs to be submitted with the name and address of each visitor, prior to the scheduled tour date.
History of the Georgia O’Keeffe Home
The adobe home in the historic village of Abiquiu has been left much as it was when O’Keeffe lived there. Abiquiu is believed to have originally been settled by ancestral Puebloans. By the mid-1700s, Spain colonized the region by deeding land grants to the Christianized Indians who were affiliated with the Spanish. The church of Santo Tomas, still in operation in Abiquiu, was a mission founded by priests who ministered to the first Genizaro (detribalized Native American) residents of the village. It is believed that parts of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home may date back to this period, perhaps 1760.
When Georgia O’Keeffe purchased the property in 1945, it was in ruins. The walled compound is set on the edge of a mesa and the view makes having a home in that location appealing. Over the next three years, O’Keeffe worked with her friend, Maria Chabot, to renovate the property. She added gardens and innovative architectural detail, all of which you can see on the tour.
Touring the Artist’s Adobe Home
You’ll first meet with the tour group at the Visitor’s Center. The home is just up the hill past the village square where there is a church, community center, and library. You’ll enter the compound through Ms. O’Keeffe’s garden and will be told that photography and sketching are not allowed. The home, you will find, is just as she left it in 1984. It is a New Mexico-style home with wood ceiling supports called vigas, and in some rooms, mud floors sealed with a flour paste. The central patio has the feeling of living in a little fort with walls and rooms all around. There are a few plants and a well house. You will soon realize that the courtyard wall and door appeared in some of her paintings.
She loved the simplicity of line and form and kept her home in accordance with this desire for simplicity. In the pantry and kitchen, you will see how she lived day-to-day, canning the harvest from the garden and using plain bowls and utensils kept in open metal cabinets. Even a special tea she enjoyed remains.
It’s a joy to see her large studio with its large windows letting in the light where she painted. It is also a sitting room. Her studio includes books cataloging her many works of art. O’Keeffe’s bedroom also mirrors this simple style that opens out to nature. The corner windows are so large that she must have felt she was sleeping outside on the edge of the mesa. The walls are natural gray earth. The bedding and furnishings are simple and lend to the tranquil atmosphere.
Throughout the home, you will see evidence of O’Keeffe’s love of nature and enjoyment of collecting specimens—rocks, skulls, and more. Many window ledges are full of interesting rocks. She loved walking out in the desert and returned with these “treasures” which ended up as simple, natural decor in her home.
As you peer out the windows, you will be able to see the valley and the road below the mesa. O’Keeffe loved the road which ribboned through the valley and it appears in some of her paintings.
A tour of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home is highly recommended for those who love the work of the artist and the vast landscapes of northern New Mexico. It is not possible to tour her Ghost Ranch home. Touring the Abiquiu home and studio gives you a rare opportunity to get to know the artist through how she lived and worked and you’ll see her love for the home mirrored in some of her paintings. Standing on the edge of the mesa outside her home looking out over the view, as she did, will be a memory to take back with you when you leave northern New Mexico.
When You Visit
The very small village of Abiquiu is not far from Ghost Ranch off of I-84. The drive from Santa Fe will take you almost an hour. Guests meet at the O’Keeffe Welcome Center next to the Abiquiu Inn and are taken by shuttle to the Abiquiu house. The address for the O’Keeffe Welcome Center is 21120H US-84, Abiquiu.
- Make your reservation well in advance. Tours are limited.
- Before you visit, familiarize yourself with some of O’Keeffe’s famous works of New Mexico scenery—you’ll recognize some landmarks when you tour.
- Arrive at least a half-hour in advance of your tour. There is a short orientation film.
- Don’t expect to photograph the inside of the home or gardens. You can get a sense of her home from this museum article.
- Wear walking shoes.
- Restrooms are available only at the Welcome Center before you go up to the house.
The Abiquiu Inn is a lovely place to stay before or after your Georgia O’Keeffe tour. They offer art classes and have a delightful café. Find out more from Wander With Wonder writers about touring New Mexico.