Where Did Georgia O’Keeffe’s Career Start? Right in Our Home State of South Carolina

by Abby Henthorn
Georgia O’Keeffe is one of America and the world’s most well-known female artists. Before a research project I wrote on this incredible woman in the spring, I asked my friends and family to name the first female visual artist that popped into their head. Almost every single one, whether they were familiar with art history or not, named Georgia O’Keeffe. I occasionally received a Frida Kahlo but the response was overwhelmingly Georgia O’Keeffe. Her name is not well-recognized for nothing as she made historic strides in the visual art world as well as the political and feminist climate of her time and truly left an incredible mark on the world. 

Before this fame and recognition, however, she was an art student and subsequently an art teacher, as are many artists on their way to success. What most people do not know about her journey is where her first teaching job was and how it influenced her style of painting and more importantly, her mindset to create pieces that were so far from what she had been taught in art school. This first teaching job took place at Columbia College in our own Columbia, SC. Georgia started teaching at Columbia in 1915 at the age of 27.
Being on her own for the first time and fully relying on her artistic abilities, through the likes of teaching or her own commissions, allowed Georgia to explore artistic visions that had not been exercised during her time at neither the Art Institute School in Chicago nor the Art Students League where she learned her craft as a student. Georgia was able to experiment with charcoal and wide strokes, creating abstract paintings that stemmed far from the mainstream realism at the time in the art world. It was in Columbia where Georgia crafted the style of an up-close and abstract lens that we all know and love from her.

She found inspiration through long nature walks in our beautiful woods as well as local flora that were seldom seen in her hometown of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Georgia enjoyed cloud gazing and hikes down the Congaree river and many South Carolinian flowers can be seen as inspiration in her larger-than-life interpretations. 

Once she had completed her series of charcoal drawings she sent them to her good friend Anita Pollitzer in New York City. From there, Anita presented these drawings to famed photographer and art gallery owner, Alfred Stieglitz (who later became O’Keeffe’s husband). Stieglitz saw great potential in this young, daring, female artist and put her drawings on display in his next show at the 291 Gallery and thus her career took off. 

Meet the Author

Abby has a strong passion for Art History and the stories and inspiration behind any given piece.

Abby Henthorn

Summer Intern at Artists Collective | Spartanburg
We are so excited to welcome Intern Abby Henthorn to the Artists Collective! Abby will be joining us for the summer and interning under Operations Manager, Merry-Beth Noble. Abby is a Spartanburg local and just finished her first year of college at The New School, NYC and will be transferring to Vanderbilt University in the fall to as a double major in Vocal Performance and Art History. Abby has a strong passion for Art History and the stories and inspiration behind any given piece. Though not an artist herself, she is quite a talented singer, and she’s also fascinated with the process of creating.

She will be helping out around the Collective, learning how a Collective runs and taking on a variety of projects throughout the summer. She is helping with the upcoming Juried Exhibition as well and writing content for our social media! Please feel free to reach out to her via email, abbyhenthorn at, with any questions or concerns!


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