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Frances O'Brien Papers Relating to Georgia O'Keeffe

Identifier: MS-38

Scope and Content Note

The Frances O'Brien Papers Relating to Georgia O'Keeffe contains materials collected by Frances O'Brien. The materials document the friendship between the two women from the mid-1940s to the early 1970s.

There are approximately one hundred original letters, postcards, and telegrams from O'Keeffe to O'Brien dating from 1947 to 1971. Additionally, there are photocopies of letters from O'Keeffe to O'Brien (only a few photocopies for which there is no original), as well as photocopies of letters from O'Brien to O'Keeffe. In these letters, O'Keeffe writes about work, her daily activities, and travel. O'Keeffe often misspells O'Brien's first name, Frances, as Francis. O'Brien and O'Keeffe make reference to the "salt mines", which is explained in an interview with Nancy Wall in March 1986 when O'Brien states "we called ourselves the salt miners because we were always working". Original letters have been transcribed.

The photographs in this collection exist only as low resolution digital images. The majority of the photographs were taken between 1949 and 1971 when O'Brien visited O'Keeffe in New Mexico or O'Keeffe visited O'Brien in Arizona.

Also included are interviews with Frances O'Brien conducted by Nancy Wall between 1986 and 1987. In these interviews, O'Brien covers a range of topics but mostly focuses on her friendship with O'Keeffe. The recordings are unedited. Additional audiovisual materials include an interview from 1987 with Dan Budnik conducted by Nancy Wall and raw video footage of an interview with O'Brien conducted by Catherine Busch-Johnson for "The Face of Wisdom: Stories of Elder Women".

Original letters, the photographs, and interviews with Frances O'Brien are available in digital format.


  • Creation: circa 1927-1993, undated


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public for research purposes.

Copy and Reproduction Restrictions

Photocopies or digital images of materials may be made for research purposes only.

Biographical and Historical Note

Frances O'Brien (1904-1990) was born in Rochester and attended Vassar College, the Corcoran Art School in Washington and the Art Students League in Manhattan and Philadelphia. O'Brien was a student of George Luks and studied at the Louvre with Hans Hofmann, the impressionist.

O'Brien was a professional portrait artist and depicted notable individuals such as Irving Berlin, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, William L. Shirer, Winston S. Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Grandma Moses and many other well-known subjects. For many years, she did cover portraits for magazines, primarily The Saturday Review.

O'Brien and Georgia O'Keeffe met and became friends while both were living in New York City. During the period when O'Brien was a student at the Art Students League, O'Brien became O'Keeffe's protege and they painted together at Lake George. Later, O'Brien and O'Keeffe shared an apartment in New York City shortly after O'Keeffe's husband, Alfred Stieglitz, died in 1946. O'Keeffe was spending more time in New Mexico and kept the apartment as a pied-a-terre. O'Brien primarily used the apartment when O'Keeffe was not in residence. During this time, O'Keeffe was working with her assistant, Doris Bry (also using the apartment), to catalog and distribute the Stieglitz estate and O'Brien was painting portraits for magazine covers. The women corresponded regularly and stayed in touch once they both settled in the southwest. O'Keeffe visited O'Brien in Arizona and O'Brien came to New Mexico several times.

O'Brien's marriage to George Garfield of Princeton, N.J., ended in divorce. They had one son together, Brian Garfield.


2.63 Linear Feet (6 boxes)


Collection includes materials related to the friendship between Georgia O'Keeffe and Frances O'Brien. The bulk of the items are letters from Georgia O'Keeffe to Frances O'Brien dating 1927-1973.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is arranged into five series: Series 1: Correspondence Series 2: Notes and Writings Series 3: Printed Material Series 4: Photographic Material Series 5: Audiovisual Material

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum by Brian and Bina Garfield in honor of Frances O'Brien in 2015.

Credit Line

Gift of Brian and Bina Garfield in honor of Frances O'Brien.

Related Materials

Letters from Frances O'Brien to Georgia O'Keeffe are located in the Alfred Stieglitz / Georgia O'Keeffe Archive, Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Separated Materials

One videocassette separated and transferred to the Library collection:

Harris, Julie, and Catherine Busch-Johnston. The Face of Wisdom: Stories of Elder Women. St. Louis, Mo: Phoenix/BFA Films & Video, 1994. Call number HD6056 .F333 1994 vhs.

Ownership and Rights

This collection is the physical property of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. The collection is subject to all copyright laws. The researcher assumes full responsibility for observing all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply. Contact the Archivist for further copyright and publication information as it pertains to this collection.

Processing Information

Processing of this collection was completed by Elizabeth Ehrnst in 2015.

Finding Aid to the Frances O'Brien Papers Relating to Georgia O'Keeffe, circa 1927-1993, undated
Elizabeth Ehrnst
May 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Repository

217 Johnson Street
Santa Fe NM 87501 US