A wide-ranging collection of works from O’Keeffe’s quiet pottery practice will head to auction in March, among other personal effects
Admirers of Georgia O’Keeffe likely remember the artist for her transcendent modernist paintings—large, unfurling flowers and desert landscapes drenched with bold colors. But on March 5, Sotheby’s will auction off works that show a different side of the famed painter. In an upcoming sale titled Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Juan Hamilton: Passage, over 100 pieces from the collection of artist Juan Hamilton will come to auction, including works for which O’Keeffe is hardly known: her pottery.
Lot 88, O’Keeffe, Untitled (Clay pot). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Hamilton—who had a close relationship with O’Keeffe late in her life—inherited much of the painter’s estate upon her death in 1986, which also included works by her former husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Hamilton’s collection encompasses noted artworks from all three—paintings, drawings, and sculpture by O’Keeffe; photography by Stieglitz; and his own sculptures and watercolors—in addition to an incredible array of personal effects, including O’Keeffe’s hand-labeled pastels and pigments, and even her marriage certificate to Stieglitz. Amidst these personal artifacts are six examples of O’Keeffe’s pottery, which have never been offered for sale and have rarely been seen in the public eye. The six vessels—three of them textured and rich, while the others are more minimalist—explore a different side of her practice. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that she worked in this medium,” says Kayla Carlsen, Sotheby’s head of American art. “It’s a new and interesting side of her.” The estimates for the pieces range from around $8,000 to $15,000, though because they’ve never come to market before, Carlsen thinks these are conservative, since they will likely catch the eye of decorative art fans as well as O’Keeffe collectors.
She didn’t dabble in pottery until later in her career, after she met Hamilton. In 1973, the then 27-year-old Hamilton set foot into O’Keeffe’s private New Mexico studio for the first time, a guest of his friend who was there to fix the home’s plumbing. Eighty-five years old, O’Keeffe was immediately irritated by the presence of an unexpected guest, but Hamilton eventually secured his status as a handyman turned confidante, who served as O’Keeffe’s assistant and companion for over a decade until the end of her life. When O’Keeffe’s eyesight began to fail, painting became a challenge. Carlsen supposes that Hamilton, who was trained in ceramics, influenced O’Keeffe’s creations; she was not actively making pottery until 1974, a year after the pair met.
Aside from the objects themselves, Carlsen explains that the stories behind each are what make the sale truly special: “For me, the sale is most exciting because it’s really a visual timeline of her life.”