Georgia O’Keeffe and Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Inspiration can come at anytime, anywhere. Sometimes it takes many thousands of years for this inspiration to be tapped into. When a young artist named Georgia O’Keeffe came to the ancient land that is now known as Palo Duro Canyon State Park in 1916 she was looking for direction in her creative life. She felt that there was no cohesiveness to her art and would find herself exploring the vast Texas landscape near the college where she taught in Canyon. Specifically she was taken by the 60-mile Palo Duro Canyon, also known as “The Grand Canyon of Texas”. The colors and how they interacted with the light at different times of the day moved and inspired the artist, and she began work on a series of paintings that would initiate a creative transformation, the first of many in her long career. While these landscape paintings are unlike the familiar O’Keeffe flower and skull paintings that she would paint later in her career it is evident that her experimentation with color and how it relates to the beautiful and vast American Southwest had begun.

Below are some of these paintings, enjoy!

Canyon With Crows, 1917 [Image: www.scottzagar.com]

No. 22 – Special [Image: www.okeeffemuseum.org]

Special No. 21 [Image: quartodejade.files.wordpress.com]

Evening [Image: www.okeeffemuseum.org]

By 1918 O’Keeffe had moved on from her position as Head of the Art Department at what was then West Texas State Normal College and is now known as West Texas A&M. Her career as an artist began in earnest from this point on. The brief time spent in this part of Texas made a transformative impact on her, and she would always vividly describe her time drawing inspiration from Palo Duro Canyon in interviews and letters for the rest of her life. Below is a quote from one of these letters to her friend Anita Pollitzer:

“Anita — I am so glad I’m out here — I can’t tell you how much I like it. I like the plains — and I like the work — everything is so ridiculously new — and there is something about it that just makes you glad you’re living here — You understand — there is nothing here — so maybe there is something wrong with me that I am liking it so much.”

-Canyon, Texas, letter to Anita Pollitzer (September 1916), from The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer, edited by Clive Giboire (Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1990), p. 187

In 1936 the State of Texas purchased Palo Duro Canyon and it became Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Visitors can visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park and experience the same inspirational beauty that amazed and moved Georgia O’Keeffe almost 100 years ago. Located near Amarillo Texas the park offers camping, biking, horseback riding, and picnicking. Just to add to the regional authenticity, cattle can still be seen grazing on the rim. Explore this colorful and vast work of art that is many thousands of years in the making and still a work in progress!

Palo Duro Canyon today. [Image:www.tpwd.state.tx.us]

Looking for some inspiration of your own? Visit a state park! You might just be the next Georgia O’Keeffe. For more information about state parks check out the Pocket Ranger® app here!

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