“Who was Georgia O’Keeffe?” by Sarah Fabiny.

Georgia O’Keeffe is known for painting flower petal detail and landscapes near her homes in Abiquiú and Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.

Sarah Fabiny

But a no-frills new biography for average readers, “Who Was Georgia O’Keeffe?” presents the famous American artist in a different setting – meeting the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

In 1951, O’Keeffe and some friends traveled to Mexico. She and Kahlo met at Kahlo’s house in Mexico City.

The book explains that the two women had first met in 1931. Kahlo had hoped she would become as famous and successful as O’Keeffe. Despite a 20-year age difference, the two women have developed a lasting friendship.

“They had a lot in common,” writes author Sarah Fabiny in the biography.

“Both had quite unique painting styles, they were each married to men who were forces in the art world, and they both dressed uniquely to express their individuality.”

O’Keeffe was married to New York photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. Kahlo’s husband was artist Diego Rivera.

“I was asked to bring in Frida to connect these two iconic women who had struck up a friendship,” Fabiny said in a phone interview from her home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “It’s a great way to put female artists in the spotlight.”

Kahlo admired O’Keeffe because she blazed a trail in a male-dominated field. “Georgia painted what she wanted to paint, dressed how she wanted to dress, and lived how she wanted to live – independently,” writes Fabiny.

Not only did O’Keeffe inspire Kahlo, but she inspired — and continues to inspire — female artists around the world, the book notes.

O’Keeffe grew up on a dairy farm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The book mixes O’Keeffe’s life as an art teacher, his professional and personal relationship with Stieglitz, and his life as an artist in New York and later New Mexico.

In an email, Fabiny explained how her book is different from the other five O’Keeffe titles for young readers listed in the bibliography.

“I think this book does a really good job of making Georgia O’Keeffe more approachable, human, and accessible to readers, especially during her childhood,” she said.

Indeed, all the books of “Who Was? series have this goal.

“I aimed to add details, obscure facts, and interesting events and experiences that help a reader understand that while Georgia O’Keeffe is famous, she too was once a child who experienced the same hopes and fears, highs and the lows, obstacles and joy that readers experience today,” said Fabiny.

“I also think my book – and again the whole series – seeks to draw comparisons and show how topics from a famous person’s life are relevant today, so that even if they lived 100 or 1,000 years ago, there are certain things in the world that are constants.

Among the other subjects of his “Who Was?” the books were Frida Kahlo and artist/illustrator Norman Rockwell, and authors Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter and AA Milne.

On whowasbookseries.com, “Who Was?” is billed as a “highly engaging non-fiction series of illustrated biographies for young readers featuring significant historical figures, including artists, scientists and world leaders”.

Fabiny said in her email that the series makes readers “feel like they have the potential to make a mark on the world, just like any famous person on the show.”

Fabiny, a freelance writer, has worked in children’s book publishing for 35 years, most recently overseeing “Who Was?” series; it was part of her job as editorial director for the Penguin Workshop imprint which publishes the “Who Was?” books at Penguin Random House.


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