Work In Progress July 2021: Maria and Georgia

Maria Chabot at Ghost Ranch, 1940s. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Collections Online

Some of you may remember back to 2015, when I first considered writing a biographical novel about Georgia O’Keeffe’s later life. I spent a year or so reading and visiting the O’Keeffe sites at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, which aren’t far from our cabin in New Mexico. However, although I deeply admire O’Keeffe’s work, the more I learned about her, the less comfortable I felt, writing about those later years and especially her time with Juan Hamilton. In the spring of 2016, I  shelved the project and went on  The General’s Women and three or four other novels.

But the research material–the O’Keeffe biographies and books about her friends, the books about the landscape and history of the Piedra Lumbre and Abiquiu, and more–was still on the shelf, still waiting. And over the five years I was away from it, I began to find a different way into the story. Now, while I’m still (of course) interested in O’Keeffe, I’m also interested in Maria Chabot, the young woman who spent a decade of her life working for–and loving–the artist. Their tempestuous relationship is documented in a collection of their letters, Maria Chabot – Georgia O’Keeffe Correspondence 1941-1949, by Barbara Buhler Lynes and Ann Paden. Like Loving Eleanor and A Wilder Rose, the novel is based on primary sources: the Chabot-O’Keeffe letters, as well as the Chabot papers at the O’Keeffe Museum’s Research Center. (It’s been closed for Covid–hope it reopens soon.) The working title: Maria and Georgia.

Maria was a feisty, fascinating woman who moved in a circle of quite extraordinary women–just the kind of forward-thinking, energetic, unruly women we love to know. As a teenager, she established a firm and courageous persona for herself, revealed in this surprising photograph from her 1929 Brackinridge High School (San Antonio) yearbook, which I discovered on, a source of sometimes revealing facts and connections. At 20, she went to live in Mexico, where she formed an enduring friendship with artist and printmaker Dorothy Stewart. The two settled in Santa Fe, and Maria began a brave new life that took her in directions she could not have imagined. As the project moves along, I’ll be including bits about her in this blog. If you’re curious now, check out her Wikipedia page.

Publication? Sometime late in 2022/early 2023, I think. It will be the fourth in my Hidden Women series. I’m super excited–thinking what a privilege it is to be able to dig deep into the stories of two quite remarkable women.

Reading note:  O’Keeffe to Chabot, May 12, 1941: I haven’t written what I plan to do because I haven’t known. Also I’ve felt a bit uncertain about your really liking me as something always nearby.

Chabot to O’Keeffe, May 15, 1941: On the contrary, I think I shall really like you as something nearby. . . . I am very happy that you want me and I think we can live a quiet life and each get our own work accomplished.

28 comments on “Work In Progress July 2021: Maria and Georgia

  1. This new book sounds so interesting! I have read many books about O’Keefe and her art. I was also troubled by her relationship with Juan Hamilton. You mentioned you are more comfortable with it now in light of your current research–I am curious, will you be shedding any light on what shifted for you as your wrote this new book?

    • I’m not sure that I’m more comfortable with what we know about it, Randi. But I think I understand it better, now that I see that relationship in the context of O’Keeffe’s decade-long relationship with Maria Chabot and later, with Doris Bry. As in many lives, there’s a pattern here. In the novel, I’m focusing on the Chabot relationship but am working on ways to connect that to what happened later, with Bry and Hamilton.

  2. I researched O’Keeffe for my dissertation: “The Flowers and Bones of Georgia O’Keeffe.” You can read it online. Maybe there is something useful there for you. Just include me in your citations.
    Renata Renee Kessler

  3. Synchronicity! I am writing a nonfiction book about O’Keeffe’s art and artmaking. At the moment, I am working on the chapter on the Black Place. Totally completely utterly sidetracked by Maria Chabot!

  4. Looking forward to reading this, as I knew nothing about Maria Chabot. What a fascinating, unruly woman!

  5. Hi Susan, I like the other books in your Hidden Women series so I have no doubt that this one will be just as good. I hope you enjoy writing it!

  6. I have read nearly all of Ms. Albert’s books, and always look forward to the next. This,however, I would not read, or buy for a gift. InThe quotes were stilted & uninteresting. The characters stiff. There are lots of interesting women to write about. This is not one of them.

    • Mmm… your choice, of course, Deb, as always–and of course there are always lots of reasons to choose or reject a book. But that’s a pretty harsh judgment based on a few lines from a couple of letters written 70 years ago. These are actually very interesting, lively (and certainly unstiff!) women, both of them, trying to create ways to be at home in a challenging landscape in a difficult time.

  7. I have loved your other entries in your Hidden Women series, Susan, and feel so excited about this one. I love O’Keefe’s work, but haven’t before known anything about Maria Chabot. Always glad to hear about another unruly woman!

  8. I enjoy your books and all of the wonderful information you share. Please do write this book about Georgia O’Keefe. I was honored to meet her years ago. I taught at St. Thomas School in Abiquiu. Georgia was a familiar presence in the life of the Abiquiu community. I envy the time you will share with Georgia and Maria and look forward to reading their story.

  9. Maria Chabot is in herself a very interesting person from what I have read and seen pictures of👍

  10. Having lived in the Southwest for 34 years now and having been obsessed with Georgia O’Keefe just as long as that,if not longer, I am so happy you are writing this book!

    • It’s easy to become obsessed with her and her work–as Maria would certainly testify, Kathy. For me, the research is hugely interesting.

  11. Your new idea for the O’Keefe book with Maria Chabot is very intriguing! Can’t wait to
    read about Maria and her life with

  12. It’s always it interesting to see the art work, but to understand it you need to know about the life of the painter, same as with an author. This book, work-in-progress seems to have overtones of the life of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, a friendship of a type largely unknown to the public.

    • Hi Ms. Albert! This isn’t about the blog content above! Just wanted to say hello and that I am reading something you’ve written for the first time. It’s Chile Death. It’s been rainy for two days now in Rizal province in the Philippines and I am thankful for a good cozy mystery to read at the end of a long day. 🙂

      • China and I hope the sun comes out by the time you’ve finished the book, Myra. Good to hear from a reader in the Philippines!

    • You’re right–there are some strong similarities between those friendships, Helen. But some interesting differences, too. One of the common issues: How close is too close–and what happens when the boundaries are crossed?

  13. Even better idea than solely focusing on O’Keefe! Yes, I too love the idea and introducing the woman who worked with O’Keefe in her later years should provide a new perspective on the famous artist. Can’t wait to read Maria and Georgia. Great title too. Lorraine

  14. It is good to hear that you have returned to Georgia O’Keeffe with Maria. I look forward to reading this book and have ordered the Maria – Georgia letters book and a few about Georgia O’Keeffe.

  15. Wow – that picture is VERY interesting for it’s time. This sounds like an interesting story and now you have me doing some internet research tonight. I think it is hard when you develop an idea and (weird, I know) a feeling of friendship with someone you are researching and then there are things in their life you aren’t sure you can come to grips with. Even though this is a writing subject, not a “friend” or “relative”, it is an interesting dynamic.

    • Maryellen, what you say here is so very true. What I had difficulty with a few years ago was O’Keeffe’s relationship with Juan Hamilton, the young man who was her companion for the last 13 years of her life. I understand it better now, in the context of this friendship.

  16. After having read and loved A WILDER ROSE, LOVING ELEANOR, and THE GENERAL’S WOMEN, I can’t wait for you to
    get this one out in the world!

  17. I think you should be brave and do it! I love your China Bayles books the most and know this would not be like those but your writing is always good reading! I love Georgia O’Keefe’s art work and have read some of her biography. I would trust you to be honest to her history. I hope you will do it!

    • Being honest to the history: that’s the great challenge in biographical fiction, just as it is in biography. I appreciate your trust, Colleen.

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