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Georgia O’Keeffe is known for painting details of flower petals and the landscapes near her homes at Abiquiú and Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.
But a new, unadorned biography for middle readers, “Who Was Georgia O’Keeffe?” introduces the famous American artist in a different setting – meeting with the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
In 1951, O’Keeffe and a few friends drove to Mexico. She and Kahlo met at Kahlo’s home 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 developed an enduring friendship.
“They had a lot in common,” author Sarah Fabiny writes in the biography.
“Both had quite unique styles of painting, 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-based photographer/gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. Kahlo’s husband was the artist Diego Rivera.
“I was asked to pull Frida in to link 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 nice way to put female artists to the front.”
Kahlo looked up to O’Keeffe because she blazed a trail in a field dominated by men. “Georgia painted what she wanted to paint, dressed the way she wanted to dress, and lived the way she wanted to live – independently,” Fabiny writes.
Not only did O’Keeffe inspire Kahlo, but she inspired – and continues to inspire – female artists worldwide, the book notes.
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O’Keeffe grew up on a dairy farm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The book blends O’Keeffe’s life as an art teacher, her professional and personal relationship with Stieglitz, and her life as an artist in New York and later in New Mexico.
In an email, Fabiny explained how her book is different than the five other O’Keeffe titles for young readers listed in the bibliography.
“I feel that this book really does a good job of making Georgia O’Keeffe more relatable, human and approachable to readers, especially during her childhood years,” she said.
Indeed, all the books in the “Who Was?” series have that objective.
“I aimed to add details, obscure facts and interesting events and experiences that help a reader understand that even though Georgia O’Keeffe is famous, she, too was once a child who experienced the same hopes and fears, ups and downs, obstacles and joy that today’s readers experience,” Fabiny said.
“I also think my book – and again the entire series – looks to draw comparisons and show how topics in a famous person’s life are relevant today, so that even though they may have lived 100 or 1,000 years ago, there are some things in the world that are constants.”
Among the other subjects of her “Who Was?” books have been Frida Kahlo and artist/illustrator Norman Rockwell, and authors Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne.
On the website, “Who Was?” is billed as a “high-interest nonfiction series of illustrated biographies for young readers featuring significant historical figures, including artists, scientists and world leaders.”
Fabiny said in her email the series gives readers “the sense that they have the potential to make a mark on the world, just as any famous person in the series has.”
Fabiny, a freelance writer, has been in children’s book publishing for 35 years, most recently overseeing the “Who Was?” series; it was part of her job as editorial director for the Penguin Workshop imprint that publishes the “Who Was?” books at Penguin Random House.

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