Art: The other O’Ke­effe

Smithsonian Magazine - - Features -

SUE CAN TERBURY, a cu­ra­tor at the Dal­las Mu­seum of Art, was vis­it­ing a col­lec­tor when she no­ticed a dra­matic paint­ing of a light­house. The brush­work seemed fa­mil­iar, yet the com­po­si­tion was wholly orig­i­nal. “I’m stand­ing across the room think­ing, ‘Who is that?’ ” It was Ida O’Ke­effe (1889-1961), once con­sid­ered by her fam­ily to be more tal­ented than her el­dest sis­ter, Ge­or­gia, one of the big­gest names in 20th-cen­tury art. Ida re­port­edly grum­bled that she’d be fa­mous, too, if she had a Stieglitz. Al­fred Stieglitz, the leg­endary pho­tog­ra­pher, was Ge­or­gia’s hus­band, pa­tron and gal­lerist. Ida, by con­trast, sup­ported her­self as a nurse and teacher, paint­ing about 70 known can­vases in her life. Can­ter­bury’s re­dis­cov­ery led to an ex­ten­sive hunt for Ida’s work and a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion that raises tan­ta­liz­ing ques­tions about all the gifted women over­looked in an era when so few were given a chance. “Could she have been on the level of Ge­or­gia?” Can­ter­bury asks. “That will have to re­main unan­swered.”

Ida O’Ke­effe cre­ated seven ab­stract paintings of Cape Cod’s High­land Light (above: Vari­a­tion on a Light­house V). The first in the ac­claimed se­rieshas been lost.

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