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 Ancestry.com, 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.