Recipes of Georgia O'Keeffe up for auction

American artist Georgia O'Keeffe's recipe collection (left) - a card file containing about 300 items - will go under the hammer next month.
American artist Georgia O'Keeffe's recipe collection (above) - a card file containing about 300 items - will go under the hammer next month.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • In looping handwriting, American artist Georgia O'Keeffe sketched out a method for making chicken flautas, from rolling up chicken in tortillas to cooking a creamy green chile-spiced sauce.

After about 10 minutes in the oven, they would be done, just the way she liked them.

"Do you think other people eat as well as we do?" she would often wonder aloud.

For the first time, O'Keeffe's collection of recipes - a card file containing about 300 items - is going up for auction.

Many are penned, or pencilled, by the artist. Along with the chicken flautas, she copied out recipes for pecan butterball cookies, fresh applesauce, and leek and potato soup, among others.

"There's a certain pleasure in reading other people's letters," said Mr Justin Caldwell, a senior specialist in Sotheby's books and manuscripts department, which is holding the auction. "But this is different. This takes you into her kitchen."

The card file is just one of more than 100 pieces of artwork from the personal effects of O'Keeffe; her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who died in 1946; and artist Juan Hamilton.

The objects are from Hamilton's personal collection, most of which he inherited from O'Keeffe when she died at age 98 in 1986.

Beginning on Feb 26, the recipes will be on view in advance of the March 5 auction.

"You certainly won't find 'open a can of this, open a can of that' in here," Mr Caldwell said. "I catalogued a lot of things in the sale, but this was my favourite."

Few recipe collections have ever been put up for sale and the team at Sotheby's settled on US$6,000 (S$8,300) to US$8,000 for the pre-sale estimate.

"This is more like selling a piece of her art," said Ms Bonnie Slotnick, the owner of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, in New York. "It's almost more personal than her art. It's something she might have referred to and handled almost every day."

Some of O'Keeffe's recipes are remnants of the baroque thrills of early-20th-century entertaining.

An ile flottante - an elaborate dessert made from meringue floating in creme anglaise, a custard - might have been prepared only for guests, Mr Caldwell said.

A tomato aspic - one of the first recipes in the alphabetically organised box - is a throwback.

But florid dishes are the exceptions. Instead, many call for fresh produce, fresh herbs and simple preparation. There are soups, vegetables and easy chicken recipes.

O'Keeffe kept an expansive garden at her home in Abiquiu, New Mexico, growing much of her own food.

"She was very much ahead of her time in terms of organic gardening and eating well," said Dr Barbara Buhler Lynes, an expert on O'Keeffe's life and art.

"She was very aware of nutrition."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Recipes of Georgia O'Keeffe up for auction'. Print Edition | Subscribe