Artistic Trio: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz Letters to Henwar Rodakiewicz—A New By the People Crowdsourcing Transcription Campaign

This guest post is by historian Barbara Bair, curator of literature, culture, and the arts in the Manuscript Division.

User interface for Artistic Trio By the People Campaign

Artistic Trio projects in By the People transcription campaign.

A new crowdsourcing transcription campaign, Artistic Trio, launched in celebration of Women’s History Month on March 8 by the Library of Congress By the People program and completed quickly two days later, features letters written by acclaimed painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) and her husband, the photographer, fine arts impresario, and gallery manager Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), to their mutual friend, filmmaker Henwar Rodakiewicz (1902-1976).

The transcription campaign encompasses the entire content of the Manuscript Division’s Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz collection, made up of two sets of letters and miscellany. The collection is fully digitized online and is accompanied by contextual timelines tracing O’Keeffe’s and Stieglitz’s lives and their interactions with Rodakiewicz.

In writing to Rodakiewicz, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz made mention of a myriad of friends and colleagues who were part of the overlapping literary and artistic circles of New York and New Mexico.  During the period covered in the correspondence, O’Keeffe spent her time traveling and painting in various locales. Rodakiewicz worked to establish jobs in various aspects of filmmaking, including camera work and documentaries. Stieglitz welcomed guests to his family’s Lake George, New York, compound and featured his wife’s paintings in solo and group shows at his An American Place gallery in Manhattan. When she was ill and unable to paint, he devotedly displayed O’Keeffe’s art work in retrospectives. He showcased her as she developed inspiring new subject matter for her art based on the landscapes, flora, and natural objects of the Southwest and the Pacific. He told Rodakiewicz that his operation of “The Place” was all about Georgia, but he also recognized that being in New Mexico fed her spirit and well-being.  O’Keeffe, for her part, told Rodakiewicz that New Mexico felt like the place for her.

O'Keefe arranging seashells in room near large picture window, painting of seashells in background

O’Keeffe arranging seashells in the penthouse apartment she shared with Stieglitz in New York, 1937. Kurt Severin, photographer. LG-DIG-ds-13304. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Stieglitz also mentored Rodakiewicz and provided him with sustained professional and emotional support. He warmly encouraged the younger man in his screenwriting and directing, including his work with Paul Strand on the critically acclaimed film Redes (1936) in Mexico.

Handwritten envelope with cancelled stamps

Envelope, Alfred Stieglitz to Henwar Rodakiewicz, 1933. Box 2, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz Correspondence, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

The letters from Stieglitz to Rodakiewicz end in 1942 as Rodakiewicz spent increasing time in New York working on documentaries and visited the gallery manager in person. He sometimes stayed at O’Keeffe and Stieglitz’s Manhattan apartment when they were away. In one September 1942 letter, which Stieglitz wrote from The Hill, he sent his love and wished Rodakiewicz “some peaceful moments” staying in the New York penthouse.

While the letters chart an arc toward greater artistic fulfillment and permanent residence in the Southwest for O’Keeffe, they document Stieglitz’s declining years. In his letters, he told Rodakiewicz he stopped making his own photographs because of physical difficulty maneuvering the camera and tripod. Instead, he revisited his iconic older work. He died in 1946 after years dealing with increasingly debilitating heart disease that prevented him, on the advice of his physician, from traveling to the high-altitude plateaus so beloved by O’Keeffe. Those places meanwhile captivated O’Keeffe, who described them in hauntingly beautiful poetic language to Rodakiewicz.  Her letters to Rodakiewicz end in 1947, as she left New York behind and established ongoing residence at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, New Mexico.

O'Keefe letter to Stieglitz, with By the People user interface

A screen capture showing the original and transcribed version of Georgia O’Keeffe’s ca. Sept.-Oct. 1946 note to Henwar Rodakiewicz, sending her love and expressing her contentment in New Mexico. Library of Congress By the People Artistic Trio Campaign.

You can meet these three and a broader cast of literary and artistic figures, and enjoy Stieglitz’s wry wit and O’Keeffe’s highly expressive calligraphy, by visiting the completed campaign to see the transcripts juxtaposed with the digital scans of the original letters to Rodakiewicz. In the coming months, these transcriptions will be migrated from the crowdsourcing application to the O’Keeffe-Stieglitz collection on the loc.gov domain, where the contents will be fully searchable and presented in context with the original manuscripts and related information.

Read More about the Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz Correspondence.

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