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Georgia O'Keeffe


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Some found Taos an intellectual Eden, and others thought it a poor man's Europe, but for O'Keeffe it was a place of beguiling innocence, uniquely American in spirit and content. There she could be spiritually responsive to the earth.

D. H. Lawrence phrased it best in an unfinished play he started while residing in Taos in the 1920s:

“The white people still haven't got the rhythm of America, the perfect rhythm of American earth. The Indians have had it so long, maybe they're in danger of losing it. The new revelation will come when the white people, when some white Woman gets the perfect rhythm of the American earth.”

If the Indians intuitively fathomed the rhythms of the American earth, most Anglo artists were drawn to the Indians as indirect links in their own search for that same harmony. Painting Indian dances and recording the cadence of everyday Indian life satisfied most artists' longing for a connection with the truest essence of America. For O'Keeffe, however, this was not enough. Instead of painting the Indians themselves she chose to portray their symbols of spiritual connectedness to both the heavens and the earth - their kachina dolls. As she described them, these dolls had "a curious kind of live stillness" that revealed what she took to be the spiritual meaning of Pueblo culture.”

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An illustration of a Kachina by Georgia O’Keefe .

Kachina, is a Pueblo Indian word meaning spirit or life. Kachinas represent the spirit of the gods of nature such as clouds, sky, storms, and trees. They are seen as Gods who can help people. They also represent the spirits of ancestors who become clouds, bringing much-needed rain. They serve as entertainers and discipliners of children. Kachinas can grant good fortune, such as fertility, power, and long life. The dolls were created by both the Hopis and the Zuni Pueblo peoples. They are carved from wood and vary in size. The exceptional ones are carved from one piece of wood, although you will find some made of multiple parts.

The Hopis have more than a hundred at any one time and they change. There are thirty frequently used kachinas for ceremonies. Some of the most popular are the god of the sky; Masao, the god of the earth, Kwanitaqa, the one-horned god and guardian of the Underworld; and Alosaka, the two-horned god of reproduction. There are also clowns, a runner, and many dance kachinas.

The Zuni also have a large number of kachinas they call "koko," or the spirits of men who come as ducks to bring rain and supervise hunts. The Hopis produce kachina dolls for the tourist and collector market, but Zuni kachina dolls, look different from Hopi dolls, are often carved from pine, are not as available for sale. There are a few young Zuni artists who are carrying on the tradition.

It is believed by the Zunis that some Zuni kachinas live in the mountains, but most are found at the bottom of the mythical Lake of the Dead in Listening Spring Lake at the junction of the Zuni and Little Colorado Rivers.

The Zunis toss offerings of food into the Lake, from where they are transported to the Lake of the Dead. The koko occasionally leave their lake village and visit humans in the form of clouds


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