writer + artist

In the Footsteps of Creative Women

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I’ve always been drawn to the Southwest. Perhaps it’s because there are so many stark contrasts to my native Pacific Northwest. Lush, wet greens replaced by dusty pinks, light and dryness instead of wet grays. The reasons that I love the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest are also what drive me to seek out places elsewhere, not because I am trying to replace them, but because I am so inspired by the differences to be found elsewhere.

The colors of the sky, intense and dusty all at the same time. The smell of sage brought out by the heat of the sun. That feeling of the desert resonates with me, even though I’ve never lived there, and perhaps never will.

I am not the only one to have drawn inspiration from that landscape.

“I found out that the sunshine in New Mexico could do almost anything with one: make one well if one felt ill, or change a dark mood and lighten it. It entered into one’s deepest places and melted the thick, slow densities. It made one feel good. That is, alive.”

That’s a quote from Mabel Dodge Luhan, a woman with a colorful history who in the early 1900s made her way to Taos, New Mexico. She fell in love with Antonio Luhan, a Taos Pueblo Indian, and eventually they bought a plot of land and built a house on it. It started as a four-room adobe, but expanded to seventeen rooms, the Luhans wanting to create a space that was inviting to those with a creative spirit.

Mabel knew the value of creativity, and she wanted to help cultivate it. They welcome many guests, among them Georgia O’Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence and Ansel Adams. Today that same house operates as a lodge.

I recently stayed at the lodge in the Georgia O’Keeffe room (all the rooms are named after people who stayed there). I have always loved O’Keeffe’s work. In high school, I worked with a group of other students to make a mural that would hand in the library, proof of our passing through the school walls even after we had graduated. We took inspiration from one of O’Keeffe’s famous flower pieces, our teenage selves convinced that we were making a political statement in the choice of a work of art that was so sensual.

Today, one of my favorite pieces of hers isn’t a flower, it’s Black Mesa Landscape, a modern take on a landscape that continues to resonate in the dreams of so many with a creative and adventurous spirit. I knew that I wanted to do a profile of hers as part of the Women’s Wisdom Project.

I awoke in that room on the first day, having set my alarm early enough that I could have an hour to myself before getting to the other tasks of the day. That morning hour is precious, the time before to do lists get in the way. For me, it’s a time of solitude and silence, a time to think, a time to be present. I sat at the desk in the room writing my morning pages, a new practice of mine, after stubbornly avoiding it for many years.

Eventually I came across a quote from O’Keeffe that I knew would be the one to pair with her profile.

“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.”

A large part of the reason to do this project of profiling 100 different women was entirely selfish. If I could gather all the women that I respected into one room, what tidbits of advice would they give me? In what direction would they encourage me to go?

This quote from O’Keeffe was certainly one that I knew I would hold on to. Sometimes we don’t entirely know what we want. But often, if we dig deep, we realize that we do know, we’re just too afraid to admit to it. Too afraid to express our desires out loud. But I believe that if we don’t express those desires, we will find difficulty in actualizing them.

For a long time I struggled with calling myself a writer. I felt like I didn’t deserve the title. The same goes for “artist.” But as human beings, we have an innate desire to create, be it words, pictures, food, stories. We’re all artists in our own way.

I’ve been thinking about those mornings in the Georgia O’Keeffe room at the Mabel Dodge Luhan lodge ever since I returned. I crave that quiet space, the morning light. But mostly, I crave that sense of place and inspiration. To be in the space that so many other creative, knowledgeable women had been before me. There was an undeniable energy in that.

We don’t create in a vacuum. The creative process is collaborative, drawing inspiration and ideas from the people and places not just around us, but also from those who have come before us.

There’s another O’Keeffe quote that comes to mind that my friend Sara Uhl sent to me.

“I have already settled it for myself so flattery and

criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”

No matter who we are or what we do, we have the power to declare what we want. And we have the power to release our own expectations and those of others. We define what we say, what we do, what we call ourselves. We have the right be free in our work. We have the right to be alive.

If so many women who have come before me can embrace that sentiment, so can I.

Written by Anna Brones

February 19, 2018 at 07:32

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