Pedernal From the Ranch


Pedernal — From the Ranch #1, 1956
Georgia O’Keeffe
Oil on canvas


Do you have a favorite place? What is special about it? Is it a park where you spend summer days? Or maybe you like the view from a high hilltop. Perhaps you enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city. Or do you prefer being inside a quiet room?

For the painter of this picture, Georgia O’Keeffe, the rugged desert of New Mexico was the ideal place to be. She loved the vast terrain, the bright blue sky, and the intense, hot sun. She especially treasured the unusual mountain you see in the distance, the Cerro Pedernal. I’ve traveled all over the world, she declared, and I don’t think there’s anything as good as this.


The Natural World Of New Mexico Inspired Georgia O’Keeffe.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s life changed when she made an extended trip to New Mexico in 1929. A country girl who grew up in the farmlands of Wisconsin, she immediately fell in love with New Mexico’s rugged landscape. By the 1930s, O’Keeffe, who lived in New York City, was spending several months at a time by herself in New Mexico. In a letter to a close friend she explained her frequent visits: You know I never feel at home in the East like I do out here and finally feeling in the right place again, I feel like myself and I like it. By 1949, she had moved to the state permanently. She lived there the rest of her life.
The mountains of New Mexico were among O’Keeffe’s favorite subjects to paint. The flat-topped Cerro Pedernal, a unique mesa near the town of Abiquiu, fascinated her. She referred to it as her mountain and joked, God told me if I painted that mountain enough, he’d give it to me. Today, many people still call the Pedernal O’Keeffe’s Mountain.

O’Keeffe found inspiration in the smaller details of the terrain as well. Bones, rocks, and pieces of wood became subjects for her artwork. Bones, especially, intrigued her: she saw them as beautiful flowers of the desert and symbols of life. This idea so captivated her that she shipped large barrels of bones to her home in New York so she could continue to paint them even when she wasn’t in New Mexico.

In New Mexico, O’Keeffe spent most of her time in the village of Abiquiu, or at her nearby home Ghost Ranch.

Steven Schroeder,
New Mexico, 1999,
digital photograph

The flat-topped Cerro Pedernal is a popular tourist destination, especially for those who love O’Keeffe’s artwork.

Pelvis with the Moon, New Mexico, 1943,
oil on canvas,
Norton Museum of Art,
© 2006 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

O’Keeffe made several series of bone paintings. In one series, she painted bones floating in the sky.


In her paintings, O’Keeffe often experimented with perspective, scale, and color.

Georgia O’Keeffe liked to paint her subjects from unusual viewpoints and with unconventional proportions. She studied small flowers extremely close up and filled large canvases with the swirling petals of a single blossom. She depicted cityscapes as if she were on the ground looking up, so that the towering skyscrapers seem overwhelming. And she painted massive landforms but showed them far off in the distance, so they appear small.
As with her flower pictures, O’Keeffe painted bones close up and larger than life. In Pedernal — From the Ranch I, we see the mesa through the opening of a pelvic bone. O’Keeffe used the socket of the bone almost like a camera lens, bringing it close to the viewer’s eye. This unusual perspective may reflect the influence of her husband, who was a prominent photographer.

The colors O’Keeffe chose are also surprising. Here, most of the bone is a glowing reddish orange rather than the white we would expect. The mesa, in contrast, is a cool blue. O’Keeffe wasn’t interested in painting colors exactly as they look in nature. She wanted her work to give a sense of the Southwest, of blazing hot sun and clear blue skies.

Abstraction White Rose, 1927,
oil on canvas,
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum,
© 2006 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Flowers inspired many of O’Keeffe’s abstract works. She painted flowers so that we seem to be looking at them through a magnifying lens.

City Night, 1926,
oil on canvas,
Minneapolis Institute of Art,
© 2006 Minneapolis Institute of Art/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

O’Keeffe painted skyscrapers while living in New York. She created a mysterious mood with the looming buildings.

Pedernal — From the Ranch #1, 1956
Georgia O’Keeffe
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Cowles

The huge Pedernal appears very small compared to the pelvic bone.


Circular shapes appear often in O’Keeffe’s artwork.

In 1915, a young Georgia O’Keeffe created a series of abstract charcoal drawings unlike anything she had done before. The drawings had no recognizable subjects; they were purely an exercise of lines, shapes, and shading. They jump-started her professional career (and opened a new chapter in her personal life) when they caught the eye of an important photographer and gallery owner, Alfred Stieglitz.
After those first abstract drawings, O’Keeffe continued to experiment. Inspired by the natural world flowers, trees, fruits, bones, rocks, the moon and sometimes by music, she painted abstractions in which circles, ovals, and spirals constantly reappear. These shapes can be seen in swirling rose petals, apples, knots in a piece of wood, or a glowing full moon.

You can also find circular forms in O’Keeffe’s pelvic bone series. In Pedernal — From the Ranch I, the circular opening of the socket focuses our view on her beloved Pedernal Mountain in the distance.

Early No. 2, 1915,
charcoal on laid paper,
The Menil Collection,
© 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

O’Keeffe started experimenting with abstraction in 1915, while she was a teacher in South Carolina.

Dark Red Apples and Tray No. 2,
oil on canvas board,
courtesy of Gerald Peters Gallery,
© 2006 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The apples and the plate all have circular shapes.

Music, Pink and Blue II,
1919, oil on canvas,
Whitney Museum of American Art,
© 2006 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This purely abstract painting was inspired by music.


Related Activities

Circles All Around

Circular forms can be found in art throughout the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Use the search function on Mia’s Collection or visit the museum to search for artworks with circles. Look for circles in art from countries around the world!

Up Close and Personal

O’Keeffe frequently examined natural objects close up and enlarged them in her paintings. Go outside to find a small object such as a rock or a flower and draw it larger than life. How does your drawing of it look different from reality? What details do you particularly notice now that the object is enlarged?

Resources for Students and Teachers

Cowart, Jack, and Juan Hamilton. Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art and Bullfinch Press, 1987.

Peters, Sarah Whitaker. Becoming O’Keeffe: The Early Years. New York: Abbeville Press, 1991.

Stuhlman, Jonathan, and Barbara Buhler. Georgia O’Keeffe: Circling Around Abstraction. West Palm Beach, Fla.: Norton Museum of Art, 2007.

Venezia, Mike. Georgia O’Keeffe. Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series. Hartford, Conn.: Children’s Press, 1994.

Winter, Jeanette. My Name Is Georgia. New York: Voyager Books, 2003.

Pen Pals

Although Georgia O’Keeffe often lived in isolation in New Mexico, she corresponded with close friends through letters. Sketch your favorite place and then send a to a friend explaining why the place is important to you.