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Outdoors: Georgia

Autumn Leaves by Georgia O'Keeffe

When I think of Georgia O’Keeffe, I think of large flowers, bleached bones and the Southwest.  But the artist lived for a time in New York state, and she loved autumn so much that early in her career, she created at least 29 autumn leaf paintings.

Apparently, she liked to go for walks, and sort of like the Junior Campers here at Interlochen, she picked up stones and shells and natural items she found interesting.  In the autumn, she collected fallen leaves.  According to one reference “O'Keeffe realized from an early age that nature had a way of choosing and balancing colors together in a way that most artists could learn from and even make use of in their own work.”

She was drawn to fall color—reds, golds, and browns, but she often included green in her leaf paintings, which is what happens in nature.

Understand that the red pigments in leaves are activated by exposure to sunlight.  Leaves from the very tops of say, a maple or an oak tree, will be a uniform color.  But lower down, or on the north-facing side of the tree or on interior branches, even on an individual leaf, some of areas of the surface can receive more sunlight than other parts.  The shaded parts will appear yellow or even green.

O’Keeffe painted autumn leaves in a stunning array of what we call fall colors, and while her unique style shines through, she painted leaves more or less the way nature is painting them this month.

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