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Field Trip: The Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA

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Field Trip:  The Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA

I went on a field trip last week to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA to see Georgia O’Keeffe:  Art, Image, Style.  I heard this exhibit was coming way back in May on the Thread Cult podcast.  It was exciting because the exhibit isn’t just about her paintings, but also contains her clothing, some of which she sewed.  I had a free pass to the museum and I saved it just for this show.

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA

Georgia O’Keeffe is not one of my favorite painters, but having studied art, and now applying my artistic side through making clothing for myself, this exhibit sounded exciting to me.  I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  I loved it.  The funny thing is, it wasn’t the paintings that I loved or her exact clothing style.  I loved seeing the two together with images of her by various photographers, seeing her tiny, tiny stitches, seeing how she created her own style.  I’ve never read a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, so I don’t know what her personality was like, but going through the exhibit gave me a sense of someone who found out what she liked and quietly went with it (feel free to set me straight in the comments if she was loud and dramatic or something).

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA

Because sewing has become my own form of creative expression, I was moved to see how she created her own style that exemplified who she was…and she did it at an amazingly high skill level.  The miniscule and beautiful stitches, pintucks, and mending on her clothing was wonderful to me.  She sewed her clothing by hand!

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA

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Georgia O'Keeffe at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA

These tiny lines in the fabric are pintucks–small folds of fabric that she created and stitched down by hand.

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA

Garments shown above are all believed to have been sewn by Georgia O’Keeffe.  These pictures really cannot convey the beautiful and precise hand stitches she used.

The exhibit was divided into two parts–before she went to New Mexico and after.  Sewing wasn’t her main mode of expression, and as she went on in her career, she started to have others make her clothing, but even when she wasn’t sewing for herself, she used her apparel to express who she was.  It wasn’t a loud explosion of color or attention-grabbing fashion.  She quietly found her style and stayed with it, but when you see her fashion choices in the time after she began visiting New Mexico, things start to feel very contemporary.  Some of the clothing she was choosing then is what people wear every day now.

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA

These garments weren’t sewn by Georgia O’Keeffe.  The styles are still in vogue today.

It wasn’t about being sexy, grabbing attention, or screaming at other people to follow her.  It was just about what she liked.  And you know what?  We are following her.  The show ends with a recent Dior fashion show that has numerous elements obviously inspired by O’Keeffe.

There is something really compelling about someone who quietly does their thing.  I’m tired of the loud and blustery.  I’ve done it, but I think I respect this more.  Even if my take on this show isn’t a clear and accurate picture of who she was, it certainly caused me to think.  It’s ok to carve out a unique path in fashion and in art.  It doesn’t have to be overly sexualized, because we’re more than that as people.  It doesn’t have to be loud to be compelling.  It doesn’t have to be in-your-face to make a difference.  Sometimes quiet diligence is what prevails.

This exhibit is showing through April 1, 2018.  You can see more pictures of the exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum’s website as well as on my Flickr page.

Recommendations

  • The Peabody Essex Museum has an excellent gift shop.  They have all sorts goods related generally to art and specifically to their exhibits, currently including black hats as that was a distinctive item of apparel that O’Keeffe adopted in her New Mexico years.  I found my own black hat that really felt like me.  Fashion and art take courage because both involve putting yourself out there.  I’m going to wear this until it doesn’t feel awkward any more, because I LOVE it.

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA

  • O’Keeffe was influenced by the writing and art of Arthur Wesley Dow, which reminded me of how much I love his work.  Some of his landscape paintings and his use of color really stop me in my tracks.
  • Since we were talking about fashion, I really like some of Dansko’s ankle boots lately.  Comfortable and good-looking!
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