1 of 19
In 1966, after LIFE photographer John Loengard first shadowed the artist George O’Keeffe at Abiquiu, one of her New Mexico homes, the images he created were put aside by editors, consigned for some future moment when there would be a small spot in the magazine that needed filling.
But it quickly became clear that O’Keeffe demanded more attention. Though she had been painting through much of the 1920s and ’30s, she was starting to become a more of a household name outside of the New York art world.
Loengard was dispatched back to New Mexico, to the artist’s other home at Ghost Ranch, and the result was a cover story and 13-page photo spread in the March 1, 1968, LIFE magazine. And now, half a century later, one of his images — Holding Eliot Porter’s Rock, Abiquiu — is featured in the first museum exhibit to delve into Georgia O’Keeffe’s personal style, which recently opened at the Brooklyn Museum.
“She became a celebrity because of her independence, because of the way she engineered her life in such a simple way that she looked like a role model for counterculture lifestyle, and LIFE played that up in those pictures,” says Wanda M. Corn, the exhibit’s curator and Stanford University professor emerita in Art History. The spread “hit a nerve in ’68 with people who wanted to leave urban living and who are beginning to think about sustainable lifestyles that aren’t dependent on modern technology. The hippies are about ready to emerge, the feminists are about ready to emerge—this is part of a new public for her. It’s only really late in her life that she becomes famous to people who know nothing about art, when they discovered her through something like LIFE.”
Speaking to TIME this week, Loengard recalled what it was like to photograph her in 1966 and 1968 at her two homes in New Mexico: