Gherman describes O’Keeffe with acceptance and understanding, and the author’s admiration for O’Keeffe’s strength of character is obvious throughout the book. One of the outstanding qualities of O’Keeffe, according to Gherman, was her love of solitude, a trait that became obvious when the artist was a child. Instead of playing with her siblings, O’Keeffe played with her china dolls underneath her favorite trees. Sunlight was also a favorite companion. In later life, O’Keeffe remarked that “if only people were trees, I might like them better.”
O’Keeffe’s disinterest in people was also obvious in her art. Although she sketched several teachers for her yearbook at Chatham Episcopal Institute, the girls’ boarding school that she attended, she did not enjoy drawing nude male models when she took drawing at the Art Institute in Chicago. In her later work, she concentrated on flowers, landscapes, and other natural forms.
Gherman stresses that, even though O’Keeffe preferred solitude, she was popular with her classmates throughout her school years and had good relationships with her teachers, family, and friends. She simply knew that she had to put her painting first in order to produce authentic work. She contrasted markedly to her husband, Stieglitz, who spent most of his time talking to people. Gherman stresses her point about O’Keeffe’s love of solitude by choosing to illustrate the book with only one photograph of anyone other than her subject: It is a portrait of Stieglitz, who is shown with O’Keeffe.
Related to O’Keeffe’s love of solitude were her independence and self-reliance, according to Gherman’s point of view. At the age of twenty-eight, O’Keeffe received a proposal from a young professor. Although she was tempted by financial security, she finally decided to refuse the offer, even though her refusal made her feel lonely and depressed. She had thought about how busy her mother had been rearing a family...
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Only one full-length biography preceded Gherman’s work: Laurie Lisle’s Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe (1980), a long work for adult readers. O’Keeffe did leave an autobiography, Georgia O’Keeffe (1976) and a book entitled Some Memories of Drawings (1974). Gherman’s book is therefore the first biography of O’Keeffe written for young adults.
The author has provided a sympathetic and comprehensive account of O’Keeffe’s life and work, as well as valuable insight into the influence of the artist’s life upon her work. Although Gherman has stressed the positive qualities of O’Keeffe, she has not overly idealized her. By mentioning several periods of depression during the artist’s life—and at one point describing her subject’s character as “sharp,” “unpleasant,” “impatient,” and frightening—Gherman humanizes her subject. Overall, however, Gherman has presented O’Keeffe as an admirable role model for young people, especially young women who desire to focus on a career instead of conventional marriage. Gherman’s point of view is likely to influence future biographies of O’Keeffe.