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Preparing for “The Artists’ Eye” – 10 Interesting Things I have Learned

A pressed flower sent to O'Keeffe by Alfred Steiglitz.

Just last weekend, on November 9th, the exhibition The Artists’ Eye: Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Collection opened to the public. This marvelous exhibition features the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, a collection of artworks that is now shared between Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and Crystal Bridges.  (You can read more about that here.)

A view of an exhibition at Stieglitz's gallery, 291, featuring a wasps's nest and African reliquary figure.

A view of an exhibition at Stieglitz’s gallery, 291, featuring a wasps’s nest and African reliquary figure.

When this group of artworks became part of our collection, I really didn’t know that much about it. However, over the last year, I have had several discussions with colleagues, watched many videos, searched through numerous books and catalogues, and investigated multiple other Alfred Stieglitz Collections at different institutions. During the course of all of this digging, I ran across several interesting bits of information about the major players involved in the Stieglitz Collection: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Fisk University. Here are some of my favorites. They may be no surprise to Stieglitz, O’Keeffe, or Fisk experts out there, but they were a surprise to me.

  • On their honeymoon to Europe in 1894, Stieglitz made his first wife, Emmeline, accompany him to remote villages and shores to photograph villagers going about their daily lives. She was not pleased.


  • In the 1915 Picasso-Braque Exhibition at Gallery 291, Stieglitz displayed a wasp’s nest among the artworks.  This exhibition also featured the Reliquary Guardian Figure (Mbulu Ngulu) that is part of our exhibition.


  • In 1922, Alfred Stieglitz photographed Georgia O’Keeffe’s younger sister, Claudia O’Keeffe, nude and cradling what appears to be the Portrait Face Mask (Mblo) with Crest from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection against her chest. These photographs are part of the National Gallery of Art’s Alfred Stieglitz Collection.
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) Mask with Golden Apple 1923 Oil on canvas

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
Mask with Golden Apple
Oil on canvas

  • Georgia O’Keeffe used another one of the masks from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Portrait Face Mask (Mblo) with Bird, as a model for her still life, Mask with Golden Apple, 1923 which is part of the Crystal Bridges permanent collection.


  • Georgia O’Keeffe’s work was discovered by Stieglitz when a friend of O’Keeffe’s, Anita Pullitzer, gave Stieglitz a small collection of O’Keeffe’s charcoal drawings without her knowledge.  Stieglitz exhibited them without O’Keeffe’s permission. When she found out about the display, she went to Stieglitz and asked him to take them down. Luckily, Stieglitz managed to convince her to let him leave them up.
A pressed flower sent to O'Keeffe by Alfred Steiglitz.

A pressed flower sent to O’Keeffe by Alfred Steiglitz.

  • Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe wrote over 5,000 letters to each other over the course of their relationship and marriage. In one of Stieglitz’s letters to O’Keeffe, he enclosed a dried red poppy that he pressed himself.   [Note: Sarah Greenough, Senior Curator of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, has recently published a book of Stieglitz and O’Keeffe’s correspondence titled My Faraway One (available for purchase in the Museum Store). Greenough will give a public presentation about her book on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 3 p.m. in Crystal Bridges’ Great Hall. Visit our  calendar for reservation information.]


  • The gallery that Georgia O’Keeffe chose to house the Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University had once been the university’s gymnasium. O’Keeffe supported its transformation to a gallery, and named it after her friend who influenced the gift, Carl Van Vechten.
Fisk University, Carl Van Vechten Gallery Doors, left side

Fisk University, Carl Van Vechten Gallery Doors, left side

  • At the entrance to the Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University, there are two metal doors that commemorate the individuals who were intimately involved with the gift of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection to Fisk University. The doors feature the embossed faces of Aaron Douglas (artist and founder of the Art Department at Fisk), Pearl Cresswell (the first curator of the Stieglitz Collection at Fisk), Alfred Stieglitz (photographer and creator of the collection), Charles S. Johnson (the president of Fisk University at the time of the gift), Georgia O’Keeffe (artist and wife of Stieglitz who chose to give part of the collection to Fisk),  and Carl Van Vechten (a photographer and philanthropist who helped identify Fisk as the appropriate destination for the Stieglitz Collection).


  • Alfred Stieglitz once wrote an article titled “Twelve Random Don’ts” published in Photographic Topics 7 in January, 1909. Here is an example of one “don’t”:  “Don’t go through life with your eyes closed, even though you may have chosen photography as your vocation. The machine may see for you, but its eye is dead. Your eye should furnish it with life. But don’t believe that all open eyes see. Seeing needs practice – just like photography itself.”


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