Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Good World”

archival_okeeffe letter

Letter from Georgia O’Keeffe to Marjorie Phillips, 1975

A letter from Georgia O’Keeffe to Marjorie Phillips, wife of Duncan Phillips and a painter in her own right, has a postscript that reads, “It was so good to see you here in what I call ‘my good world.'” Dated 1975, this letter reveals that Marjorie Phillips visited O’Keeffe in her New Mexico home, a previously undocumented journey. In 1949, O’Keeffe paid tribute to the long friendship between her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and Duncan Phillips by willing a series of Stieglitz’s photographs to The Phillips Collection. The 19 photographs, called the Equivalents, feature views of cloud-filled skies. Stieglitz’s goal was to evoke an emotional state through each image. By not including any reference points, including the horizon line, Stieglitz allowed viewers to focus on the abstract qualities of the cloud formations.

Treasures by Arthur Hall Smith

A plate from Arthur's handmade book for the Phillipses showing visiting nuns admiring Matisse's Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916.

A plate from Arthur’s handmade book for the Phillips’s showing visiting nuns admiring Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel. The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington D.C.

Arthur Hall Smith was a beloved employee during his tenure at The Phillips Collection, from 1960-1974. In 1960, the Phillips expanded into an annex which generated the need for more staff. In an oral history, Smith recalled interviewing for the job: “I bought a new pair of shoes and I went out to the Phillips’s house for the interview… they showed me a model of the new building and where they wanted to place me, which was the second floor because it had the Renoir, the Bonnards–really the ‘high rent place’ and he [Duncan Phillips] thought I would be a good welcoming presence there.” Arthur’s welcoming presence and French speaking ability made him a frequent guest at the home of Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, and unofficial translator for tours and foreign visitors to the museum.

Arthur made the Phillips’s a miniature book for Christmas one year, with depictions of the Phillips house with people, including two nuns, looking at paintings in the collection. During the major Cézanne exhibition in 1971, Smith went to a nearby “head shop” which sold pipes and other drug paraphernalia. The store also sold all kinds of buttons, so Smith got thirty of them and painted them ochre with a hand-painted Braque bird and the word “Staff,” and finished them with a heavy lacquer.

Handmade staff buttons

Handmade staff buttons. The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington D.C.

Arthur died in February of 2013 in Paris, France, where he lived for many years. A transcript of his oral history interview is available in the library.

Pollock Meets Japanese Poetry in Collage

Jackson Pollock, Collage and Oil, c. 1951, oil, ink, gouache and paper collage on canvas

Jackson Pollock, Collage and Oil, c. 1951, oil, ink, gouache and paper collage on canvas; overall: 50 in x 35 in; 127 cm x 88.9 cm. Acquired 1958. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Jackson Pollock began making collages in 1943 at the invitation of Peggy Guggenheim, who organized an international Exhibition of Collage at her gallery Art of This Century. The Phillips’s Collage and Oil, executed in 1951, is probably one of Pollock’s last collages.

According to Head of Conservation Elizabeth Steele, Pollock placed torn pieces of Japanese paper and Western paper that he had first painted with ink or black paint and a pink ochre gouache on top of canvas in layers of red earth, pink, and black. After gluing the torn paper sections onto the painted canvas, Pollock splattered the entire composition with an Indian yellow paint and white gouache.

Collages, or pictures assembled from a variety of materials, have an ancient history. In the 12th century, Japanese calligraphers copied poems on sheets of paper that were composed of irregularly shaped pieces of delicately tinted papers. Tiny flowers, birds, and stars made from gold and silver paper were sprinkled over the composition. When the torn or cut edges of the papers were brushed with ink, their wavy contours represented mountains, rivers, or clouds. The calligrapher selected from such papers the one most appropriate to the spirit of a particular poem, which he then wrote out in an elegant hand.

Example of 12th-century Japanese calligraphy on collage paper.

Example of 12th-century Japanese calligraphy on collage paper.