Georgia On My Mind

New Mexico is a place that I — and millions of other art lovers around the world — will forever associate with Georgia O’Keeffe. Although she was born on a dairy farm in Sun Prairie, Wis. in 1887, O’Keeffe adopted New Mexico as her home. She began spending summers there in 1929 and bought her first New Mexico home in 1940 on the Ghost Ranch. Five years later, she moved to the hamlet of Abiquiu.

Along with D.H. Lawrence, O’Keeffe helped put New Mexico on the map as a mystical oasis where artists could be left alone to work in peace. Both Lawrence and O’Keeffe were friends with Mabel Dodge Luhan, an art-loving socialite who had a ranch in New Mexico, and both faced criticism for the eroticism of their work.

Lawrence only spent two years in New Mexico (1924-26) and died in 1930 at age 45. O’Keeffe lived to the ripe old age of 98, due to — or in spite of — (depending on who you talk to) the efforts of Juan Hamilton, a mysterious drifter who became her companion in 1973, while Pluto was hanging around her Venus.

Hamilton was also an artist in his own right and his sculpture shows in New York won kudos from critics in The New York Times and elsewhere. Over the years, there was much speculation about the nature of their relationship. Was it mother/son, guru/follower, master/slave?

I think one reason why there’s so much interest in the Hamilton/O’Keeffe collaboration is that it’s the opposite of the Pygmalion tale. Here, the female is the mentor and the male is the protégé. Whatever the relationship was — and it probably evolved over the years — there’s no question that Hamilton was a Plutonian influence in O’Keeffe’s life, controlling access to her and her art.

Although she was an outsider, O’Keeffe made her peace with the Abiquiu locals by gaining the imprimatur of the padre and building a community center for the village’s residents. Many dismissed her as a bruja or witch, but ultimately O’Keeffe gained respect by keeping to herself. New Mexicans like their privacy and as a Scorpio, O’Keeffe was no different from the locals in that respect. 

Only a Scorpio with an instinctive understanding of death could transform a cattle skull into such an icon of Southwestern art that it would become an acceptable piece of home decor, whether in a Taos ranch or a Soho loft. Many of the tchotchkes that are peddled to tourists visiting New Mexico can be traced back to O’Keeffe’s art, which is housed in its own museum in Santa Fe:  

In addition to a Scorpio sun, O’Keeffe had Jupiter in Scorpio, which ultimately brought her substantial material wealth. The Sun/Jupiter conjunction could also symbolize teaching, which is one way that O’Keefe earned a living until photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who became her husband, helped her find buyers for her art. Here’s her chart:

Early in her career, O’Keeffe’s bisexuality and alleged focus on female genitalia in her art generated scandal. Toward the end of her life, in the free-wheeling Seventies, her sexually charged art was celebrated, as were her idiosyncrasies. There are numerous biographies of O’Keeffe. I particularly enjoyed Jeffrey Hogrefe’s “O’Keeffe: The Life of an American Legend.” It’s a bit trashy, but Hogrefe succeeded where many other biographers failed, by getting interviews with the elusive Hamilton.

Throughout her life, O’Keeffe was reported to have gone into trance-like states. This shows up very clearly in her chart with Neptune in Taurus nearly exactly opposing Moon/Mercury in Scorpio. It’s interesting that the wide open landscapes (Taurus) of the West, which she first discovered as a schoolteacher in Texas, often triggered these trances.

There’s a reason why New Mexico’s official nickname is the “Land of Enchantment.” People become absolutely besotted with the place and its never-ending horizons, which I believe on a psychological level must symbolize endless opportunity. Still, the relationship between the newcomers, who are almost always Anglos, and the locals, some of whom can trace their ancestry back to 18th-century Spanish royalty, is not always a happy one.

Please don’t make the mistake of calling New Mexico’s longtime residents “Mexicans.” They didn’t come over the border yesterday; they got to their mesa or arroyo long before the U.S. Calvary. I’m not making any judgments about skin tone or nationality here. I’m merely stating a fact.

Of course, the REAL natives can escape from the gringos by retreating to the rez, and lately have been accumulating undreamed of wealth, thanks to the expansion of Indian gaming. In New Mexico, as elsewhere, Indian-owned casinos have become full-fledged entertainment centers, with concerts, golf courses, and great food, along with the slot machines. A modern-day El Dorado, some would argue.

10 comments on “Georgia On My Mind

  1. A shout out to Regina for noticing that I misspelled O’Keeffe all the way through this post. (I’ve since fixed the mistake.) That’s the downside of the Net: I had found a timeline for the major events in her life that had her name spelled “O’Keefe” and fell into the same trap myself. Glad to know there’s someone with an eagle eye who’s reading this astro blog. Thanks again!

  2. Lola — I can’t remember. Having Juan as a first name would seem to indicate an Hispanic background, but I’m not sure if he changed his name along the way. I Googled Hamilton and tried to find out information about his parents, but I came up empty. I’m pretty sure details about Hamilton’s background is included in Jeffrey Hogrefe’s “O’Keeffe: The Life of an American Legend,” but I don’t have the book with me right now. Also, I sell Hamilton short in this post, which I’m going to amend. He was a successful sculptor in his own right. Thanks for writing! — Monica

  3. Gail – May 1, 2008
    Juan Hamilton’s father was a Presbyterian missionary. Juan was born in the US (Dallas) but spent a considerable part of his youth in Columbia, Venezuela, and Equador due to his father’s work. Thus, the name Juan; his real name is John Bruce Hamilton. I do not think he is Hispanic.
    My quest is this: Where is Juan Hamilton now? He was born in 1945 and would be 63ish. Do you know where he is now and what he is doing? Thanks.

  4. Thanks Gail for the valuable information. I’m going up to Santa Fe this evening and will ask my artsy-fartsy friends if they have heard anything about Juan Hamilton’s whereabouts.

  5. I heard that he is still living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I certain that he is not one to be too public, as controversy surrounds him and the relationship he had with Ms. O’Keefe.

  6. Pingback: Neptune in Aquarius and Pluto in Leo Drug Addicts « Astrology Mundo

  7. Glad to know Juan Hamilton is still alive and kicking. I purchased a large terra cotta vase at a student art show (circa 1966?) for about $15. It is still in my possession and it has been a standout whenever I have used it (displaying flowers in a Presbyterian Church) in So Cal where I have lived since 1970. At the time of purchase, Bruce (never used “Juan” in college as far as I know) was a student at Hastings College in south central Nebraska. I had heard that his parents (in New York?) had sent him to this Presbyterian-realted college in a town of 22,000 to get him away from drugs, so who knows. I cherish the vase, but will be handing it off soon to a young friend who has a great craftsman house in San Pedro (Los Angeles harbor area) where it will continue to be beautifully displayed.

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