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The Road To Fort Worth

Read » Chapter 8: Danville

Georgia O'Keeffe's New Mexico - The Taos Church

Have you ever looked at a painting at a second viewing and found new meaning in the work? I have, and it changed the way I look at art.

I am a Sunday painter and have loved art since a friend bought me a canvas and a set of oil paints when I was in high school. I'm a frequent visitor to museums, and I usually view only a gallery or two during a visit. When I moved to Fort Worth in the early eighties, my first outing was to the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art. One Saturday, the museum had both a Remington and Georgia O'Keeffe show. The curious thing about the first collection was that all of the paintings were executed in black and white oil paint. It was a show of the canvases that Remington had painted for magazine covers before the days of color photography. It is quite a unique experience seeing a painting done in shades of gray.

After studying the collection, I spent some time looking at a painting by William Harnett, titled "Attention, Company!" and I was captivated by the trompe l'oeil style of the painting. Before leaving the museum, I looked at the O'Keeffe works briefly and remember seeing the "Taos Church" piece and another macro-painting of a flower. I neither understood her style, nor the importance of her collection.

A few days later, I drove to Albuquerque for my first trip west of the Red River to visit my family who had recently relocated to New Mexico. The sun was setting as I descended down the corniche carved in the side of the mountain toward the valley of the town. Scrub Pinyon pines dotted the barren landscape and the city was dotted with lights as night descended on the desert. It was dark when I arrived in Rio Rancho, situated on a plateau on the west side of the mountains with a view of the city that looked like a sea of diamonds shimmering in the darkness.

The next day, we drove for an hour to reach the pueblo at Acoma, a Pueblo Indian reservation on the top of a mesa. The drive into the desert takes a half hour under the big New Mexico sky with eerie rock formations lining the road. After a while, the rocks begin to look like familiar forms as you imagine a building or face appearing here and there in the eroded rock masses. I was fascinated by this strange, new environment.

We drove to Taos a day later and shopped in boutiques selling both Pueblo and Navajo Indian wares. What I didn't know at the time was that we were only four miles from the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church at Ranchos de Taos, the church that was the subject of Georgia O'Keeffe's painting that I viewed dismissively.

A couple weeks after returning to Fort Worth, I visited the Amon Carter Museum again. When I entered the front door, the O'Keefe gallery was in sight, and I could see one of her paintings, "White Camellia." I was drawn into the room and to the "Taos Church" painting. I had fallen in love with the New Mexico landscape and the painting was suddenly magnificent, beautiful beyond description. I felt as if I was standing before the church in Rancho de Taos and could almost feel the heat of the sun that baked fissures into the adobe structure. I felt a momentary oneness with the artist and the painting, an aesthetic experience that is vivid in my mind even today.

Perhaps one characteristic of great art is that a masterpiece can take on different meanings at different stages of a person's life. Through time, one sees details that they missed when they first viewed the painting. The experience taught me a great lesson about art, that it is to be viewed, enjoyed and sometimes cherished without the rendering of the judgment of a quick glance.

Copyright ©2012 Michael Jackson Smith

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