Rodrigue vs. O’Keeffe: Choosing Magnus and Murphy Over the Great Modernist Painter

It’s a snowy day in Santa Fe at last. George Rodrigue and I made the most of this past week’s clear weather, however, spending a day exploring an ancient turquoise mine owned by our friend Doug Magnus, a jeweler and artist in the area.

…And another day within the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Once again, as with the recent Degas exhibition at the Morgan Library, I connected George to a famous artist; this time, however, relating him to one whose work he dislikes. Barely through the door, he grumbled,

“The only reason you look at some of this art is because it’s hanging here, in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Otherwise a person might walk on by. This museum is the worst collection of her paintings. She needed a good editor.”

“Except for this one,” he continued, gesturing to the painting above, Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur, 1930. “This was a good accident.”

I’m reading O’Keeffe’s biography,* and I sought to convince George of her accomplishment by way of her conviction, an artistic drive similar to his and evident from an early age. I related her struggle with typhoid fever and the temporary loss of her hair to his bout with polio and the temporary loss of the use of his legs. Whereas O’Keeffe shared the family’s slight good fortune with her brothers and sisters, so that each had a turn at school even if it meant alternating academic years, George understood loneliness and misunderstanding as the only child of aging parents.

O’Keeffe embraced on her own the Prang Art Instruction Manuals, from which she gained “her first impressions of how nature could be reproduced in two dimensions,”* just as Rodrigue embraced the Art Instruction Correspondence Course, based in Minneapolis. In 1957, at age thirteen, George Rodrigue was the youngest person ever accepted into the program, and yet his parents had little understanding of the significance. O’Keeffe’s parents and academic community steered her towards teaching, while George’s parents pushed him towards illustration and advertising. The young people stayed the course and the unpopular path, however, becoming fine artists.

And you had it made, I reminded him. You’re a man!

In addition, just as O’Keeffe understood shape but admittedly “was not a prodigy … and had to work to improve her technical abilities,”* Rodrigue struggled with drawing from the beginning, knowing that his inherent skill lies in his ideas. These struggles in life and art empowered both artists. Their suffering, at whatever level, gave them the courage to look inward, to abandon the establishment, and to follow their childhood dreams.

I copied O’Keeffe’s words below from the wall of the museum, the same statement George Rodrigue repeats in various forms over the years, whether talking about his Oak Trees, his Cajuns, his Hurricanes, or his Blue Dogs:

“I have a single track mind. I work on one idea for a long time. It is like getting acquainted with a person, and I don’t get acquainted easily.” – O’Keeffe 1962

Rosalea Murphy, another artist who, like O’Keeffe, Magnus and Rodrigue,* succumbed to the land of enchantment, also could have written that sentence. Although best known for her Pink Adobe Restaurant and Dragon Room Bar, she spent her life (1912-2000) creating an impressive portfolio of original works, paintings of roosters, dragons, and poblano peppers.

George met Rosalea in the mid 1980s, and their friendship, rooted in their mutual respect for each other as artists, grew stronger with his increasingly frequent Santa Fe sojourns.

(pictured above, an invitation to Rosalea’s private exhibition of George’s Cajun paintings, followed in later years by his paintings of New Mexico and Evergreen Lake; for years George and I stayed as Rosalea’s guests in her apartment above The Pink Adobe, enjoying the view of the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in America, through her sunflowers)

Through Rosalea, George met other creative individuals, discovering an artistic camaraderie that exists to this day.

(pictured below, Rosalea Murphy with artist Douglas Magnus, Santa Fe, circa 1985)

Magnus, a gifted artist and jeweler, owns the turquoise mines mentioned at the top of this post and detailed in the recent story “Turquoise Hill.” Similar to each of their friendships with Rosalea, George and Doug are bonded by their mutual respect as artists, as evidenced by George’s latest original silkscreen, a gift for Doug using his designs for the four hundredth anniversary of the city of Santa Fe, along with his photograph from Los Angeles 1968, featuring the peace sign he painted on his Volkswagen Bug.

Finally, I leave you with George’s thoughts as we exited the O’Keeffe Museum just a few days ago. Hoping he swayed a bit in her favor, I asked him once more about the famous artist. He shrugged his shoulders and replied,

“She loved this land and this place; I’ll give her that.”


*Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O’Keeffe by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, Norton Press, 2004

For more photos and stories from our recent visit to Santa Fe, including the turquoise mines, Georgia O’Keeffe, and the Dragon Room, see the Gambit post “Turquoise Hill”

3 thoughts on “Rodrigue vs. O’Keeffe: Choosing Magnus and Murphy Over the Great Modernist Painter

  1. Many thanks to Doug Magnus who sent in this message and requested I post:

    Dear Wendy,
    It is gratifying to be to held anywhere near the company of the likes of O'Keeffe, Rodrigue, and Murphy too. As an artist, I have gone it alone, working from intuition, and a deep desire to create. It's all a mystery, and I love a mystery. And the tour continues. That's really the essence.

    Artistically, we're each of us out here working on our own ideas, and following to where that takes us. If we're successful and lucky, we continue to push forward to the next idea. Others either get it or don't, but we must honor our own instincts and move along. It's our driving life force.

    George Rodrigue is an artistic live wire. He is innovative and prolific, and his curiosity and energy are undiminished. With a knowledge of art history, he sees himself within the company of others. This informs and strengthens his work. Like O'Keeffe and others, he is undaunted. He is still working on the idea, and the idea is alive. His company and friendship inspires and energizes me, as do the observations and musings of his wife. Yes, where might we be without our lovers, wives and significant others?

    George has been a friend for many years, but I never expected to be
    included in a Blue Dog artwork. I am honored.
    Thanks for your perspective.


  2. Absolutely, Michael! The Magnus Studios Blog is informative and entertaining. Wish I'd thought to link directly to it myself. Thank you for writing in!

    If you haven't seen them, you might enjoy the earlier Musings posts on Santa Fe, all of which spotlight Doug Magnus and other Santa Fe artists, along with other aspects of your wonderful area. Just hit the search label "Santa Fe" at the bottom of this post.

    All best – and HAPPY NEW YEAR – Wendy

Comments are closed.