Wednesday, March 20, 2013

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What If Coach and the Ghost of Georgia O'Keeffe Took Her Abiquiu House Tour

Yesterday we toured the Georgia O'Keeffe house in Abiquiu.  I was really excited about it because you need to make reservations months in advance and the way people have talked about it, my expectation was that it was going to be really amazing.  After all, it was the 5,000 square foot home of Georgia O'Keeffe, where she made so many of her iconic paintings.  It was the place that she happened upon and found as a ruin and saw a wall with a door in it and knew she had to have it.  She worked 10 years on getting that ruin and making it her own.

I can appreciate that passion.  I did much the same thing with my house.  Only I called it house stalking.  I drove by it every couple of months and I left them a note telling them to call me if they ever decided to sell their house.  They did, two years later.  With O'Keeffe, it is called artistic vision.  But I feel like I understand what she was going through when she saw that door and made the decision that she was going to live THERE.

And so it was with great pleasure that we arrived at the Abiquiu Inn ready to take our tour.


However, when we got there, we found that we were quite a bit early.  Like an hour and a half early.  It was about 9:26 and our tour wasn't until 11 am.  I looked at the printout from the museum website and started to get the first tinglings of worry:

"Please be aware that public restrooms are not available at the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio, but are provided at the Abiquiu Inn. (emphasis added.) If you have special needs, please notify us when making your reservation.  Note-taking, tape recording, or sketching anywhere on the property is not permitted. 

To protect this unique historic site, we respectfully request:
  • No food or drink except water.
  • No cameras (video, film, or digital).
  • No backpacks or bags including purses or totes.
  • No pets.
  • No note-taking, tape-recording, or sketching.
  • We assume no responsibility for injury or lost items."

Such a lot of restrictions!  And such worry about peeing.  Very odd really, but as a matter of fact, I had been drinking from the water bottle I brought and I did kind of have to go.  I looked at Fred.  

"Our tour doesn't start till 11, do you want to see if we can get in on an earlier one?"  He said yes, so we went in to the Inn and the gal looked at us with a mixture of dread and horror.

"Oh, you better run!  Next door at the blue building.  RUN!"

We ran. But why was she so worried?

When we got to the blue building it was 9:27 and we asked to get on an earlier tour, thinking 10 am, but evidently there was a 9:30 am tour, which they put us on.  Then Fred made the very bad mistake of asking the tour guide lady if we could go to the restroom.

She looked up at the clock: 9:28. Then she looked out the window: the tour bus had arrived.  She looked at Fred.

"No."  Fred sort of reared back a few inches and his eyes got a little wider.

I put my hand on his arm.  "That's ok." I said thinking of their printout and their dictatorial rules about "you better go before you get here." 

"We can wait."  

We walked out to the tour bus, but there were two surprises waiting for us.


The first surprise was that Coach had been magically transported to Santa Fe just to annoy this tour guide lady and was waiting in a calm sit stay for us by the tour bus.  The second was that the ghost of Georgia O'Keeffe was standing right next to him.

"Uh. Fred."  I turned to Fred as we walked towards the tour bus.  "Do you see what I see?"

Fred was busy giving the tour lady the stink eye, but a quick elbow to the gut got his attention.  "Oh my God. Is that Coach? And is that..."

"I think it is."

We came up on them and Georgia said hello.  I grabbed Coach's leash.

"I've always liked black dogs," she said.  I know now that she always had two black chows with her at Abiquiu. Coach looked up at her and smiled.  We all boarded the tour bus.  The tour bus lady gave us the stink eye, but didn't say anything because of the Coach's coat.

Once we got to Abiquiu and the tour guide lady started talking about how Georgia had found the house, Georgia snorted.  Then she started walking around the garden inspecting the grounds to see if they were still planting the things she had planted.  

When she returned we were all looking into her living room from the big plate glass windows.  We had been told that we weren't going to be allowed into this room because the floors were delicate.  Georgia snorted again.  

"So throw a rug down." She said.  "It's a floor.  Who cares."

We went into the courtyard.  She leaned over to me and whispered, "It's a shame you won't get to see the library.  It's lovely. All my books on gardening, cookbooks, health.  I even had some D.H. Lawrence first editions."  

Coach meanwhile was staring up at the giant elk head with huge antlers like it might be a dog chew toy that he should take home.  The tour guide lady was looking at me and Fred to see if Coach was going to do anything.  I had Coach on a short leash by my side.  I put him in a sit stay.  Good boy. We walked slowly away from the elk head.  I would swear it was watching us.


I turned to Georgia.  In a whisper I asked her, "Are we skipping rooms? This doesn't feel like 5000 square feet."

"Oh, yeah! The bedrooms and bathrooms!" 

"The bathrooms! I knew it!  They don't want us near any bathrooms.  They are bathroom nazis.  Honestly!  It's like they think we are going to pee in your toilet and ruin your historic Georgia O'Keeffe amazing toilet and only you sat on!"

She laughed.  A lot of people had said she had a prickly personality, but she seemed ok so far.  When we got to the kitchen, the tour guide lady started talking about Georgia and her relationship with Stieglitz and I could see her tense up.  Then the lady began to talk about her making the kitchen table and the dining room table and how amazing the construction was and how artistic the tables were.

Fred and I just looked at the tables and then we glanced at Georgia.  (For a glimpse at what kind of tables she made, click here.)  

"Is she kidding?" Georgia asked me. "It's plywood.  The table is a piece of plywood. Seriously.  It's like those critics with my flowers.  What did I say tell them? Oh yeah, you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don't.  She needs to look at the table."

Georgia got up in the woman's face.  "It's plywood."  She knocked on the wood. "Knock. Knock. It's functional.  That's it.  Like this kitchen."

I could see now why people called her prickly.  Coach was sitting a little closer to me.

I motioned to Fred.  "It's a good thing she likes us!" 

Our last stop was her studio.  They had the ropes back at the very end of the studio so we couldn't possibly see into her bathroom or think of going to use it.  Georgia was very happy to be in her studio.   

The tour guide lady spoke of how Georgia had installed the light carpet because her macular degeneration had made it difficult to see her black chow dogs and she didn't want to step on them and hurt them.   

Coach eased over closer to Georgia and she patted his head as best as a ghost can do. As the tour ended, Coach disappeared back into the ether of my imagination, but I think Georgia and her chows are out there in Abiquiu in the land they loved.

Georgia O'keeffe and her Chow
Artist: John Loengard


  1. Sounds like Georiga and Coach might have got along well, now that tour guide is another thing. If we every go to Santa Fe don't think we want to take the unwelcome tour.

    Your Pals
    The Mad Scots

  2. Very funny! I lived in Santa Fe for a year - ages ago! I loved it too. Love the ghost and Coach thing.