Georgia O'Keeffe. Black Cross, New Mexico. 1929.
“I saw the crosses so often—and often in unexpected places—like a thin dark veil of the Catholic Church spread over the New Mexico landscape,” said Georgia O’Keeffe about her first visit to Taos, New Mexico, in the summer of 1929. A member of the circle of avant-garde artists who exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291 in New York, O’Keeffe had married the progressive photographer and dealer in 1924. What she encountered during late-night walks in the desert and then transformed into Black Cross, New Mexico were probably crosses erected near remote moradas, or chapels, by secret Catholic lay brotherhoods called Penitentes. As this pioneer of American Modernism approached all of her subjects, whether buildings or flowers, landscapes or bones, here O’Keeffe magnified shapes and simplified details to underscore their essential beauty. She painted the cross just as she saw it: “big and strong, put together with wooden pegs,” and behind it, “those hills … [that] go on and on—it was like looking at two miles of gray elephants.” For O’Keeffe, “painting the crosses was a way of painting the country,” a beloved region where, in 1949, she settled permanently and worked almost until her death at age ninety-eight. -AIC