In 1938 Dole, the “Hawaiian Pineapple Company” approached artist Georgia O’Keeffe, offering her an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. For that she would deliver two canvases for use in an ad campaign. O’Keeffe could determine the subject herself.
Dole’s offer came at the right time. O’Keeffe was 51, living full-time in New Mexico while her husband, photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, stayed in New York City. He was having an affair with activist Dorothy Norman and O’Keeffe suffered several nervous breakdowns in the 30s.
And adding to the stress critics called her new desert landscapes and motifs
“a kind of mass production.”
Ouch. According to Abigail Cain, writing for Artsy,
“…a change of scenery came with a particular kind of appeal. And at first, O’Keeffe’s visit to the Hawaiian islands proceeded smoothly. She arrived in Honolulu and was immediately enchanted by the pineapple fields, “all sharp and silvery stretching for miles off to the beautiful irregular mountains,” as she would say. “I was astonished—it was so beautiful.”
But when she asked for a residence near the plantation, Dole’s answer put a damper on O’Keeffe’s good spirits. The company denied her request, believing it would be improper for a woman to live among the laborers. (More recently, Dole has come under scrutiny for alleged labor rights violations on its banana farms.) Instead, it presented her with a peeled, sliced pineapple that the artist dismissed as “manhandled.”
So O’Keeffe set off across Hawaii, spending just over two months between the various islands. On Maui, in the isolated town of Hana, she met the Jennings family. Willis Jennings, who managed the local sugar plantation, enlisted his 12-year-old daughter Patricia to show the artist around.”
Patricia, now in her 80s, remembers O’Keeffe being described as “difficult”, but during the 10 days the pair spent together she began to soften. Years later, O’Keeffe wrote Patricia a letter recalling their time together,
“Of course I will always remember you as a little girl—a very lovely little girl—in a sort of dream world.”
Finally, on April 14, 1939, it was time to leave. When O’Keeffe returned to the U.S., she got sick and wasn’t able to deliver her paintings to Dole until summer. The company got one version of the striking lobster’s claw heliconia and another of a papaya tree. But no pineapple.
Dole was NOT pleased. The company shipped a pineapple plant from Hawaii to O’Keeffe. She admitted that it intrigued her and told TIME magazine later,
“It’s a beautiful plant. It is made up of long green blades and the pineapples grow on top of it. I never knew that.”
Really. After 2 months in Hawaii, and you’re THERE to paint pineapples? O’Keefe’s paintings appeared in ads in Vogue and the Saturday Evening Post.
(Photo of Georgia O’Keefe, Wikimedia Commons; via Artsy)