by Mike Templeton 

Continuing through May 7, the Cincinnati Art Museum is offering a special exhibition of the photography of Georgia O’Keeffe at the Thomas R. Schiff Gallery. We are familiar with O’Keeffe’s paintings, but this show foregrounds O’Keeffe’s photographic vision. The exhibition includes “a complementary selection of paintings and drawings” that will provide reference points for the photography. As part of this exhibition, the museum will offer a Keynote Presentation by people closely involved with the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition. The presentation is by Michael Thompson and is titled “Georgia O’Keeffe: the Power of Place and the Creative Ecosystem.” We profiled Michael Thompson in this blog. In addition to Thompson, the presentation includes Core UACC Member Sherry Cook Stanforth with additional insight from photographer Asa Featherstone, IV. 

Michael Thompson is a multidisciplinary artist and poet originally from Richmond, Kentucky. His work has been featured at the Contemporary Arts Center, among many other places. He brings his insights and conceptual process to the photography of Georgia O’Keeffe to explore the ways O’Keeffe interrogates and configures the idea of place and space in her photographs and her paintings. Thompson’s ongoing project, “Sanctuaries,” treats the issue of space and creativity and the ways people define themselves in relation to these spaces. “Sanctuaries” specifically “focuses on the nuances of creatives, placing ultimate value on the individual and the intimacy of their sacred space, rather than indulging in homogenized narratives regarding their practice.” Thompson explained that his idea for the presentation involves the ways “O’Keeffe was deeply influenced by the land and her home. These themes intersect with much of the work I’m doing with ‘Sanctuaries.”  Since O’Keeffe’s work is deeply rooted in her surroundings, Thompson’s presentation will focus on how her work speaks to “her understanding of the environment and its influence on everyday life,” he told me. These themes lend themselves to the processes of building community, something of tremendous importance to UACC, and a natural point of contact with some of the work of Thompson’s friend and mentor Sherry Cook Stanforth.

Core member Sherry Cook Stanforth, and founder/director of Originary Arts Initiative, said she was “excited that Michael reached out to me on this. He is very much a Cincinnati artist and one who works in the spirit of collaboration.” The spirit of collaboration is at the heart of Stanforth’s latest project: The Cincinnati Place Keepers. Stanforth describes this project as a “Highly accessible and dynamic eco-social arts encounters that serve diverse community groups while emphasizing and celebrating rising young talent. These encounters may productively challenge binary assumptions of novice/expert, youth/elder, city/country, insider/outsider, and art/science.” It is easy to see how these ideas complement what Thompson is doing with “Sanctuaries” and the ways practices like eco-social arts initiatives make an ideal point of intersection with the work of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Sherry Cook Stanforth said that one of these ideas that stands out for her is that “O’Keeffe was so attuned to the first law of ecology, which is that everything is connected. She allowed herself to wander in unfamiliar landscapes and found ways to break down the binary thinking that separates us from nature and each other.”  Examples of binary thinking include black vs white; city vs urban; self vs other.  Place Keepers is focused on getting beyond binary thinking that creates boundaries between different kinds of people and different generations, and even different artistic media. Again, the points of contact between the work of Thompson, Stanforth, and O’Keeffe are clear.

Joining this presentation will be photographer Asa Featherstone, IV. Like Thompson and Stanforth, Featherstone is working in several areas. In addition to photography, Featherstone is also a documentarian and archivist. Much of his work has been focused on people of color, and as he explained, “this means shifting the perspective so that people like me feel seen and that we make an equal contribution to everyday life.” In shifting the focus, Featherstone finds his point of intersection with O’Keeffe. He told me “O’Keeffe’s method of composition is one that pays meticulous attention to perspective. This means the slightest shift in perspective shifts the center of our attention.” While O’Keeffe is known for shifting that perspective in the most technical ways, Featherstone performs similar work by shifting our attention to who we are seeing in works of art. Featherstone says this is his way of “shifting perspective to focus on the margins toward inclusivity.”

I can give only the briefest sketch of what this presentation will offer. With three multi-genre artists providing insight into the work of Georgia O’Keeffe and the ways her work makes contact with contemporary ideas that define our cultural life in Cincinnati, it is apparent that there are plenty of reasons to attend. Core member Sherry Cook Stanforth summarizes the importance of this event by explaining that “the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition hopes to cultivate ongoing partnerships and impactful new visions for creative place-keeping stewardship throughout our cultural and ecological landscapes.” These ideas and values are precisely what the presentation at the Art Museum is all about.

The presentation “Georgia O’Keeffe, the Power of Place, & the Creative Ecosystem” will be at Fath Auditorium on Thursday, March 30, 2023, from 6–8:30 p.m. There is a $5 admission fee for the general public. Admission for teachers and college students is free. The Georgia O’Keeffe, Photographer exhibit will run through May 7, 2023.

Full information on the presentation, along with full artist bios, is at this link:

Information about the Art Museum and the exhibition, “Georgia O’Keeffe, Photographer,” is at this link:

Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the forthcoming The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available later this year from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iskra Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.

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