Georgia O’Keeffe Is In The Room At The Rockwell Museum
By Lisa Green
Photo by Jack T. Douglas. Courtesy Jack T. Douglas / Colleen Webster. All rights reserved.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, visitors to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. will encounter not only “The Four Freedoms” and “Golden Rule,” but also Georgia O’Keeffe. In person.
(Cue record scratch.)
Don’t worry — it won’t be her ghost roaming the galleries. It will be Colleen Webster, a college professor who presents one-woman shows as a living history performance. In “Georgia O’Keeffe: Portrait of the Artist,” Webster presents the twentieth century painter authentically — in O’Keeffe’s voice and dress — along with a projected show of photos and artwork.
Webster portrays other famous women as well, including Frida Kahlo and Emily Dickinson. The English professor at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland, who also is a published writer, began the Living History performances about 18 years ago when she dressed as Kahlo for a discussion of the film Frida. The club members encouraged her to bring Frida and other women of note to audiences, a la Chautauqua lectures. She already had an intense interest in O’Keeffe.
“I knew I had to go to Washington in 1988 to see the centennial show of Georgia O’Keeffe at the National Gallery,” Webster says. “She was really significant for me.”
O’Keeffe, she says, is the most difficult of her presentations. “Because she lived so long, there are a lot of paintings and life events to memorize.” Her research wasn’t just done once, either. O’Keeffe’s letters to her husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, were released in 2011, and it’s in the letters that Webster gleaned the most insights.
Webster takes questions — in character — throughout the performance, then afterwards leads a discussion, both in character and, finally, as herself. The question that most comes up after the O’Keeffe and Kahlo presentations comes from women who want to know: why did these artists stay with their husbands?
The O’Keeffe program is just one of the events in the Rockwell Museum’s “Meet the Artists” performance series, which it has been offering for a while.
“They’re a way to bring in other audiences that might not otherwise come to the museum,” says Tom Daly, curator of education. “Someone might not have an intrinsic interest in Norman Rockwell, but might in other almost mythical figures,” he says, naming FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Lincoln-Douglas debates as previous interactive performances.
Next up is “Vincent van Gogh: A Portrait by the Postman Roulin” on Saturday, March 12, enacted by Ted Zalewski. Refreshments are included after each presentation. And on Saturday, so is the answer to that question of why O’Keeffe and Kahlo stayed with their difficult but brilliant husbands.