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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Getting to Know Georgia O'Keeffe

The name Georgia O'Keeffe is probably not unfamiliar to many today. Her large arresting flowers in bold colors and immaculate detail is what my mind has come to associate with the name, along with a few now-famous bones.

For the kindergartner in residence, I thought it would be educational and fun to gather a few related books on a chosen topic and read them one after another (interspersed with other books, over a couple of weeks) to make it a sort of study without any pressure or expectation.

And to keep things interesting, I don't tell her the topic in advance. I borrow the books from the library, wait till the short-listed few on a topic are handy, then release them one at a time for Ana to read.

It is a joy to see her connect the related books and point out similarities among them and extract a few essential things from each to form a comprehensive picture.

There are no doubt many wonderful books on any given topic and knowing which ones to choose for the study is not easy. But I don't sweat over it. This is not an end-of-term research paper. This is more to introduce the fact that many books can present the same person/place/thing/animal and yet have an array of information to offer. And, also to reinforce the fact that different books on the same subject do in fact have some common core information.

One such recent study was artist Georgia O'Keeffe.

My Name Is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter
by Jeanette Winter

We started with My Name is Georgia. The title was arresting enough and caught Ana's attention.

The book has bold illustrations and simple text. It presents Georgia's life in a condensed and compact way, highlighting her birth, childhood and later years.

But, unlike typical biographies, by selectively quoting Georgia's words directly, the book turns into a first person narration letting us see how the artist saw things. There is an indication of time passing and Georgia growing.

She painted small things large so people would notice them
. This stuck in our head. The book might not be quite engaging in and of its own for the typical picture book audience but it certainly started us off on a good path.

Georgia's Bones
by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Bethanne Anderson

Then, a few days later, she noticed Georgia's Bones strategically placed on her car seat on the ride from school. As she read it, she pointed out, "These are the same bones from that other book, Mama! Is she the same Georgia? She looks different in this book..." Sure enough, this opened up a new door for us to talk about.

The illustrations are beautiful in this book. The double-page with the huge Ram's Head caught Ana's attention.

Text is simple enough for elementary level, combining quotations and third person narration, but is packed with poetry. Talking about Georgia's fascination for bones that she collects from the desert
She didn't know why they pleased her so.
Perhaps it was the quiet way they did their work - the years of being invisible, and then, when everything fell away, they appeared, pure and beautiful.

The book again reinforced a handful of facts about the artist's life. It also brings out the artist's attraction to natural and everyday objects in which she found shapes, and she viewed them in unusual ways.
In the woods around her father's Wisconsin farm, she collected shapes: flowers, leaves, sticks and stones. She put them in her pocket and took them home.
"Such common objects," said her brother.
"Why do you bother?" asked her sister.
"Because they please me," Georgia replied.

However, it also showed how Georgia looked at things differently.
The holes in the bones pleased Georgia, too.
They made frames and windows through which she glimpsed a piece of the sky,
or a tiny corner of a mountain.

The book ends with Georgia painting the bones in her New York City studio.

Through Georgia's Eyes
by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez
illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Then came Through Georgia's Eyes, which sneaked into the stack of few books Ana had chosen to read at bedtime one night.

Again, she wondered why Georgia looked different in the pictures in this book, compared to the other two. She noticed that the book talks about the same yearning Georgia has for the wide open spaces, the same night sky she sees over open desert, the same determination at 12 when she declares 'I want to be an artist', and the attraction for common objects around her.
Season melts into season on her family farm. Georgia struggles to show on paper what she sees. At twelve she takes painting lessons. She tells her friend, "I am going to be an artist."

This book is in third person narration. The illustrations are beautiful. Ana particularly liked the double-page spread that shows people flitting like butterflies over gigantic flowers that Georgia paints.
Flowers delight her. She paints them as giants. People stop to stare. Georgia's flowers make them feel like tiny butterflies, flitting through the universe of her garden.

The book closes with an invitation to the readers.
Open your eyes...
...and walk along.
See the colors? Hear the shapes singing?
No need to hurry.
Lean in... look closer.

Presenting a biography, knowing which aspects of the illustrious life to showcase, and to do it in a short picture book format sounds like a Herculean task. But the three biographies above (regardless of how accurate they are historically) gave us a good picture of the artist, the person.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Highlights From The Collection
by Barbara Buhler Lynes

To seal it, we looked at the reprints in Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Highlights From The Collection at the Santa Fe Museum.

Finally, inspired by all that we've read, we did an art project.

Bones, or Landscape, or Flowers? Which one shall we choose?

We settled on flowers.

I found an old photograph of the Bleeding Hearts in our garden. I created a small frame to focus on just the details of one flower.

And we sat down side by side. Studied the shapes, light, colors within the small frame. Then, Ana tried her hand at representing what she saw using shapes and color pencils.

[Disclaimer: I am not an artist. I don't even pretend to be one. I am fascinated by artists and creative souls in general. And, I do a lot of art exploration projects with my kids in the hope of educating not just my kids, but myself as well.]

[image sources:, author Jen Bryant's website, author Rachel Rodriguez website,, wikipedia]

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At 10:07 AM, Blogger Choxbox said...


If I were you, I'd simply home-school.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Sheela said...

Choxie:: Nice thought!

Not sustainable... not to mention not dedicated enough :)


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