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Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things exhibition records

Identifier: IR-CUR-028

Scope and Contents

The Phillips Collection's 1999 exhibition, "Georgia O’Keeffe: The Poetry of Things," examines O'Keeffe's personal relationship to "things" as reflected in the objects she collected and used in her still life paintings throughout her career. As quoted by curator Beth Turner in the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, O'Keeffe herself said, "Nothing is less real than realism. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things."

These curatorial records were collected and created in the course of researching, planning and executing the exhibition and its catalogue.

The exhibition opened at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., on April 17, 1999 and continued until July 18, 1999. It then traveled to three other venues: The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from August 7 through October 17, 1999; the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas, from November 7, 1999 through January 30, 2000; and finally, to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor from February 19 through May 14, 2000.

The primary creators of the catalogue and exhibition planning records in this collection were Beth Turner, Senior Curator and Elsa Smithgall, Associate Curator.

The collection consists of the research, catalogue, and exhibition planning files of both curators, interfiled. These records consist of research materials assembled, catalogue, and exhibition planning and execution documents such as legal and financial records, lender files (restricted), schedules, installation design (including drawings by Val E. Lewton), and checklists (restricted).

An extensive amount of research was conducted for this exhibition, examining and photocopying a large body of O'Keeffe's correspondence at Yale University's Beinecke Library, the New York Public Library, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The Beinecke correspondence ranges from 1907 through 1962, the bulk of which dates from the 1920s and 1930s. Significant and/or frequent correspondents are Alfred Stieglitz, Elizabeth Stieglitz Davidson, Sherwood Anderson, Dorothy Brett, Arthur Dove, Arthur Dow, Marsden Hartley, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Henry McBride, Lewis Mumford, Ida O'Keeffe and John Vanderpoel. The New York Public Library correspondence is between O'Keeffe and Mitchell Kennerly. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation correspondence consists of letters between O'Keeffe and Wright. In addition, there are photocopies of correspondence dating from 1916 to 1954 from various other sources; the bulk of this correspondence dates from the 1920s and 1930s. Alfred Stieglitz, Henry McBride, Anita Pollitzer, and Ettie Stettheimer are among the most frequent correspondents. Published correspondence from 1915 to 1955 includes correspondents Henry McBride, Duncan Phillips, Anita Pollitzer, Ettie Stettheimer, and Alfred Stieglitz.

Secondary source research materials consist of photocopies of reviews, articles, and portions of books written about artistic movements and about O'Keeffe's life and work and those who influenced her. Included is information on Ezra Pound, Arthur Dow, Arthur Dove, Ernest Fenollosa, and the Baha'i Faith. A central focus is the influence of Asian Art on O'Keeffe's work, particularly the role played by her teacher Arthur Wesley Dow and noted Asian scholar Ernest Fenollosa.

Object research files include images and draft descriptions, arranged by object type (e.g., bones, flowers). The catalogue series records include copies of images (photographs and artworks), object research, legal material (restricted), budgets (restricted), and funding records, checklists (restricted), correspondence (correspondents of note are Barbara Buhler Lynes, author of the O'Keeffe catalogue raisonné and curator at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, and Barney Ebsworth), administrative records such as specifications and schedules, audio and wall text, and loan requests, responses, and contracts.


  • 1875 - 2000
  • Usage: The material in this collection were used in preparation for the 1999 exhibition.


Conditions Governing Access

This collection includes restricted material.


8.34 Linear Feet (20 full legal boxes)

Language of Materials



Georgia O’Keeffe: The Poetry of Things exhibition records contain materials created and collected by the Curatorial Department, The Phillips Collection, during the course of organizing the exhibition. Included are research, catalogue and exhibition planning files, as well as installation design.


The collection is organized as three series: Series 1: Research Primary Sources correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent and chronologically within each folder. The Secondary Sources and Asian Art sub-series are arranged chronologically by publication date. The Staff and Other Research is arranged alphabetically. Series 2: Catalogue Series 3: Exhibition Planning

After consultation with the librarian and the curator, the alphabetical arrangement of the Catalogue and Exhibition Planning Series was maintained. Lender Files were made into a subseries of the Exhibition Planning Series, arranged alphabetically with general files first, followed by loan requests granted, and loan requests not granted.

Custodial History

This collection is owned by The Phillips Collection and was accessioned from the curators' offices.

Processing Information

The collection contains exhibition-related records from two curators' offices, resulting in a significant amount of duplicate documents. After an initial survey of the collection, many duplicate materials were identified and a number of documents were identified as of no future reference value for the collection, such as general housekeeping type documents, travel and duplication expenses/requests for reimbursement. In a meeting with the librarian, the curator, and the processor, approval was given to weed duplicate documents (retaining those with hand-written notes) and travel and duplication documentation; also transparencies and duplicate photocopy images. It was also noted that the 13 to 15 notebooks in the collection were mostly duplicative; at a later meeting, the curator identified those to be kept (two and parts of another) the rest were disposed of except for a few research documents that were added to the research series. Duplicates and/or drafts of a number of contracts were found, the processor contacted the curator and librarian by e-mail and the decision was made to retain the signed or in absence of a signed copy, the most recent copy only of each contract. Folders containing restricted materials were marked with a red dot (see note above regarding "Restrictions").

Duplicate documents were weeded and the remaining documents interfiled. The original alphabetical arrangement of the catalogue and planning files series was maintained. Folder headings were maintained, but were re-written in some cases for greater clarity and accuracy.

Metal clips were removed and replaced with plastic clips. Adhesive Post-it notes were copied if necessary, otherwise removed. All documents were re-foldered in acid-free folders.

The Research Series has been arranged in five sub-series. The copied correspondence had originally been organized in individual folders arranged chronologically, resulting in numerous folders for the same correspondent. Copies of primary sources were clearly separate from copies of published (secondary) sources. There was also a distinct separation between Asian Art sources and the rest of the materials. This arrangement was modified in an effort to maximize researcher accessibility. The primary and secondary source materials were divided and condensed into three sub-series: Primary Sources, Secondary Sources and Asian Art. In addition Object Research and Staff Research sub-series were created from research material found within the Catalogue and Exhibition Planning materials.

NOTE: Lender files are restricted and have been omitted from this version of the Finding Aid.

Georgia O’Keeffe: The Poetry of Things exhibition records, 1875-2000
The Phillips Collection Library and Archives 1600 21st Street NW Washington D.C.
Finding Aid By: Valerie Vanden Bossche Encoded By: Sarah Osborne Bender, Cataloging and Technical Services Librarian Encoding Method: EAD using Tabnote
December 2007
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Phillips Collection Archives Repository

1600 21st St. NW
Washington DC 20009 United States