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By Katrina Margolis
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Georgia O’Keeffe is one of America’s most famous artists, male or female. For many years, when Dawn Tripp thought of O’Keeffe all she imagined were the artist’s Southwestern landscapes.
That was until a few years back when she went to an exhibit of her work in 2006 at the Whitney Museum in New York.
This exhibit explored her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz, the American photographer, and her representation work. To Tripp it was a revelation. This was the beginning of Tripp’s new book, “Georgia, a novel of Georgia O’Keefe.” On May 10, Tripp spoke at the Westwood Public Library, telling the story of her new book and answering questions from new and long-time fans alike.
Tripp was born in Newton and now lives in Westport. She is the author of three other novels, “Moon Tide,” “The Season of Open Water” and “Game of Secrets.” She has won the Massachusetts Book Award, and “Georgia” is a finalist for the New England book award. The novel is told from the perspective of O’Keefe herself, and written in the first person.
“I tried as much as I could to stick to the facts. I didn’t write about anyone who didn’t exist or any events that did not happen,” Tripp explained. “In fact, I think there are a number of biographies that take many more liberties than I did when writing.” She said that in her preliminary research, she read three different biographies of O’Keeffe, and each one described a different woman. Tripp was interested primarily in the young O’Keeffe.
The novel begins in 1916, when O’Keeffe is a young art teacher when she travels to New York to meet Stieglitz. Tripp explores the relationship between the two, which is intense, sexual, respectful, and difficult. An audience member asked if Tripp believed we would have O’Keeffe if it weren’t for Stieglitz.
“No, I don’t think we would know anything about her,” she said. “I hate to be this candid about it, but there were dozens of other female artists at the time who were famous then and faded out.” These early years of O’Keeffe’s life not only shaped her fame, but her art as well. When she began to paint her flowers, Stieglitz criticized them, saying they were pretty, but asking what she was going to do with them?
The push and pull in their relationship both personally and artistically molded O’Keeffe into the artist we know today.