Best known for her erotic paintings of orchids and other flowers, Georgia O’Keefe also created one memorable and equally sensual fruit painting. In 1939, The Hawaiian Pineapple Company, hired O’Keefe to create two paintings to showcase the pineapple’s exotic beauty and pique American interest in the fruit. The company gave O’Keefe a tour ofHawaii. Although she drank in the islands’ beaches, blossoms, and sugar fields, O’Keefe resented being told what – and how – to paint.
O’Keefe’s time in Hawaiiis the subject of Amy Novesky’s Georgia in Hawaii. Novesky’s prose evokes the islands’ lush beauty. She writes of “volcanoes that rose thousands of feet into the sky” and “black beaches reached only by boat.” And with few words, she conveys O’Keefe’s independence: This was a woman who “carried a paper umbrella when it rained” and “went where she wanted, when she wanted.”
Yuyi Morales’ illustrations invites readers to experience some of the delights Hawaii held for O’Keefe. Large pink and yellow flowers and green vines rise out of the pages. In one especially startling spread, O’Keefe faces away from readers, a piece of red coral held behind her back. In the background, something glows red – perhaps lava from the volcanoes she admired. Opposite, a Hawaiian cowboy drives cattle through green waves. It is beautiful and overwhelming just as the islands must have been to O’Keefe. Paintings of Hawaiian blooms, silhouetted against a blue background, grace the book’s frontispiece and endpiece, making the picture-book biography itself a work of art.
Georgia in Hawaii is more than a book about an artist; it allows young readers and listeners to see the world through O’Keefe’s eyes. It is also a story about discovery and the tensions between freedom and obligation.
Dorothy A. Dahm