Patricia Jennings met Georgia O’ Keeffe when she was 12 years old and the famous artist came to her family home on the island of Maui to spend ten days there as part of her 1939 trip to Hawaii. Patricia’s mother was to officially host Miss O’Keeffe but she was called to her ailing mother’s bedside in California just before the artist’s arrival. Since Patricia’s father was busy with his work on their sugar cane plantation Patricia was appointed to drive around Maui with Georgia and show her the sights.
In the book Georgia O Keeffe’s Hawaii Patricia talks about how scared she was to meet the artist because her parents had told her Georgia was eccentric and temperamental. I read about Georgia’s trip to Hawaii in a magazine when I was touring the Big Island in February. It inspired a blog post and I decided I wanted to learn more about Georgia’s time in Hawaii so I ordered the book about the artist by Patricia Jennings and Maria Ausherman.
Patricia who is now a great-grandmother, has never forgotten Georgia, because although she was somewhat moody and strange she treated Patricia like a real person and not a child. She listened to Patricia’s ideas, asked her opinions, and even let her watch her paint on occasion, something the mercurial artist rarely allowed. Patricia’s parents were not unkind, but merely self-absorbed and busy. They seldom took the time to really listen to her. Georgia did.
While Georgia was in Hawaii she wrote letters home and in them referred to Patricia as a ‘wise little island girl’ and as ‘ a lovely child-a flower in full bloom with the sun on it.’
Georgia even let Patricia pose in the hat she’d bought to keep out the sun and protect her from the salt mist. At one point during the visit Patricia thought she’d lost Georgia’s friendship when Patricia’s dog Lucky tramped over some paintings Georgia had left to dry on the floor. Georgia was angry but instead of apologizing Patricia admonished Georgia for leaving her paintings on the floor and said it wasn’t her dog’s fault. Georgia laughed, agreed Patricia was right, and gave her a big hug.
For several years after Georgia returned to New York she wrote letters to Patricia reminiscing about the good time they’d had together.
Patricia says she learned many things from Georgia during the short time they spent together, talking with her and watching her paint.
“That even the nicest people have faults and you can love them anyway. If you start something, finish it. But the deepest gift she offered me was the experience, for the first time in my life, of really being listened to and appreciated for who I was.”
Georgia O’Keeffe painted many vibrant works of art during her time in Hawaii but she also left an indelible mark on a little girl by simply treating her like a person of value.
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