Photojournalist Susan Seubert in the New York Times: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii

Earlier in October of this year, I was assigned a story by the New York Times to cover a piece that was both art history and travel.  What an adventure!  My husband and I live in Maui for four months a year, so it’s always great to have an excuse to head out and explore.  I didn’t know that Georgia O’Keeffe had spent time in the islands.  I was familiar with only one landscape painting of a waterfall surrounded by green cliffs by the artist, but I learned through the story that this painting was made by O’Keeffe after a visit to the lush Iao Valley on the island of Maui.  It was so much fun to try and see that area, an area that I’ve been familiar with for quite some time, through the eyes of Ms. O’Keeffe.  Although there was no missive to try and emulate what O’Keeffe painted, to try and see what she saw was a wonderful visual exercise.  When I started puzzling together the time of year she was there, it made sense that she may not have been as taken in if she had been there in the dry, early autumn as we were at the time of the assignment.  The waterfalls on Maui are fed by rainwater and currently the entire county of Maui is in a drought.  However, another more obscure painting of two papaya trees in the Iao Valley was equally daunting to emulate as she had superimposed the unmistakable shape of the tree on backdrop of that lush valley.  However, the majority of her time on the island was spent in the lush area of Hana.  The story is on the New York Times’ web site here, but I can summarize our experience of following in the footsteps of this great painter.  She had been commissioned by the Dole Pineapple Company in 1939 to produce two paintings promoting the pineapple company and was invited to Oahu to visit the plantation.  She was disgusted by the fact that Dole wouldn’t allow her to stay on a working plantation because it was considered, “unseemly for a woman.”  She immediately bailed on the project.  Kudos to Georgia!  Instead, after traveling around the territory of Hawaii, she ended up in Hana on the island of Maui where she created most of her paintings during this period.  These stories are well documented not only through letters to her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, but also by her unlikely Hana guide, a 12 year old named Patricia Jennings, who was the daughter of the plantation manager where O’Keeffe stayed in Hana.  Patricia is still alive and living on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The author, Tony Perrottet, interviewed Patricia and was able to put together a living guide to Georgia’s time in Hana and the places where Ms. O’Keeffee painted.  Those places are still intact and very visible to anyone willing to seek them out.  This type of approach to travel is wonderful – not only does one get to stand and see precisely the same thing that Georgia did, the writer incorporated other destinations including where to stay, what to eat and other useful travel tips.  For me, it was a treasure hunt.  Having visited Hana many times, I’ve never considered it through the eyes of one of the most important American painters.  Ever since my parents took me as a teenager to see an O’Keeffe exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute back in the ’80’s, I’ve long admired her work.  This story was also a first for me in another way: there were far more photos published in the printed newspaper than there were online.  These days, as a contributing photographer for many magazines, most of the visual content ends up not in print but online or in an iPad version, there’s still a thrill in seeing a large photograph running across two pages of the New York Times.  Please read the article here.  I’ve also put together a portfolio of the outtakes online here for your enjoyment.  Aloha and mahalo for visiting!

Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawaii
Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii in the New York Times’ Travel Section

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