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November 15: Georgia Totto O’Keeffe Birthday

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It’s Georgia Totto O’Keeffe’s birthday. Born on this day in 1887, Georgia was the mother of American modernism. Her paintings, particularly those involving the Southwest, have intertwined themselves in America’s cultural fabric. Though she is most often thought of as a matronly old woman painting desert flowers, however brilliantly, most of her 2000 paintings had nothing to do with plants. Before she settled down in New Mexico, she also painted many portraits and cityscapes, and furthermore, she was a bit wild. In constant conflict with her much older teetotaler husband, she had to have her drinking adventures on the sly. During Prohibition, instead of dealing with the vagaries of bootleggers, she’d head up to wet Montreal, buy liquor and sneak it back across the border. She usually got away with it, only having her goods seized once by customs. Over the years, she and her increasingly uptight husband staked out separate lives, with Georgia running amok with her fast friends while he peered darkly from a high Manhattan tower, plotting his revenge. Then he died, and Georgia made that fateful move to New Mexico. Georgia slowed down as she got older, particularly after she crossed into her 80s, at which time, according to her caretaker John Hamilton, she focused on driving other people to drink, particularly Mr. Hamilton. He claimed that drinking straight from a bottle of vodka in the morning, then pounding beers all day was his way of staying in the right frame of mind to properly care for his rather demanding mentor without going insane. Hey, sometimes you gotta make that sacrifice.

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