Friday, October 29, 2010

The Art of Inspiration -- Palo Duro Canyon

You drive miles of High Plains flat and suddenly you're standing on the rim of depth.  Wind blows across your face. You don't think. The feeling wells in a tingling race up your arm down your leg one side the other round and round the breath in your chest expanding, your pulse singing in your ears your mind floating pure rock color.

Hidden in the Texas High Plains, Palo Duro Canyon tumbles steep red-rocked walls to wind-and-water carved depths snaking 120 miles, sometimes a mile rim to rim.  

I've always admired Georgia O'Keeffe's art. The way she painted her vision. The emotion of life, raw and fleeting, poised on the edge of death as we all are.

O'Keeffe had given up oil painting before she moved to the High Plains--a personal rejection of the stylistic rules of the day.   

Palo Duro Canyon was her inspiration to begin putting her own vision on canvas. 

<--Red Landscape, 1916, oil on board by Georgia O'Keeffe.  Photo courtesy of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX.
In 1916, she'd taken a job teaching at West Texas State Normal School (now West Texas A&M University) in tiny Canyon, Texas, twelve miles from Palo Duro Canyon.  During her time there, she made the trek to Palo Duro frequently, even during winter snow.  On at least one occasion she walked from town to make the climb down the steep rocky walls.  Every descent was a different route so she could see the canyon and feel the canyon and hold the colors of ancient passion and weathered present in her mind.  

She made her first canyon paintings during her time at the Normal School, four evolutionary pieces, all slashed with Palo Duro red.

As we stood before the rocks I understood.  The Canyon will set you free.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. Ahhh--huge peaceful smile on my face upon viewing these photos. Thanks! Reminds me to look around for inspiration for my own paintings.

  2. Inspiration indeed! Beautiful!

  3. This is the stuff the old John Wayne movies are made

  4. Of course the canyon will set you free - the truth always does and that canyon is as true as the skies above it are blue. Thanks for sharing more of the inspiration that is Texas....

    Especially in the midst of an election, it is way too easy to forget what makes this state great.

  5. Gorgeous photo and a painting that I've never seen of hers! Thank you for posting -- your sense of place and ability to describe it is wonderful.

  6. I'm never sure that I like her stuff. I think this is because she had such a long working life that crossed so many styles and schools. For instance, from that picture you would never believe that she would paint so many pastels.

  7. I camped on the rim once. It's almost as amazing as the Grand Canyon.

  8. I forgot to comment here.. but this painting, these words, bliss.

  9. Hi Kathleen,
    I think that's another "must see" for me. It's been on my travelling agenda for quite some time, but I've never made it there yet.
    Best regards from southern Texas,

  10. I love canyons, red rocks and Georgia O'Keeffe. The Art Institute has several of her works and I look for them every time I go, because her use of color is mesmerizing. Beautiful post and photos.


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