New York Botanical Garden

Sharon Lorenzo at the New York Botanical Garden

Hawaiian Species Installation in the Haupt Conservatory

A trip by car, subway or bus to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx region north of New York City is an easily accessible field trip to see a gorgeous show of both paintings and horticultural species in this 250 acres campus. More than a million people annually visit this garden where a gift shop, café, walking trails and trolleys accommodate all ages. This summer the green houses are filled with over 300 species from the Hawaiian Islands, flown in to represent the most ecologically diverse biosystem in the world. Of the 1200 species grown on the island’s archipelago, 90% of them only exist there. Since its volcanic origins about 50 million years ago, the islands were first visited in 1778 by Captain Cook from the United Kingdom whose discovery launched many generations of visitors to this tropical paradise.

Even before its statehood in 1959, Hawaii was a destination for American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who was invited to visit in 1939 by the chairman of a major US advertising agency, N.W. Ayer and Sons of Philadelphia. The arrangement was for her to travel at her leisure by boat for 9 weeks and produce for them images to be used to advertise the diverse products of their client, the Hawaiian Pineapple Corporation.   As the wife of noted photographer Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia made this trip alone and was treated like royalty by the natives in all four islands that she visited: Oahu, Maui, Hawaii and Kauai. Upon her return to New York, O’Keeffe’s Hawaiian works were shown in the Stieglitz gallery in 1940, and they are here reunited for an excellent show in the LuEsther Mertz Library which is located in proximity to the greenhouses in the New York Botanical Garden.

Georgia O’Keeffe 1939

The show was curated by the deputy director of the Honolulu Museum of Art, Theresa Papanikolas. “ What she wanted was an adventure,” said Theresa about O’Keeffe’s willingness to venture forth on her own.[1] Noted art historian Wanda Corn said that O’Keeffe made us re-see all the subjects as she painted her flowers in sharp focus with detailed intimacy.[2] Her spiritual reverence for each piece of flora that she chose gives us a deep sense of place with her gracious embrace of the delicate Hawaiian specimens. The landscapes she noted also remark on her appreciation for the quiet waterfalls and inlets amidst the islands’ secret spots.

Hibiscus with Plumeria, 1939 oil on canvas

White Bird of Paradise, 1939 oil on canvas

The Botanical Garden staff has added to these treats a lengthy list of related activities including hula lessons, ukulele concerts, painting classes and children’s programs throughout the summer months.

Black Lava Bridge, Hana Maui coast 1939, oil on canvas

Waterfall No. 1, Maui, 1939, oil on canvas

Hula classes for all ages

Following are the two final products that O’Keeffe produced for N.W. Ayers which they subsequently published as advertisements. For both the crab claw ginger and the pineapple bud she used psychedelic colors so that the glory of the Hawaiian palette jumped off the page with vivid contrast.

N.W. Ayers advertisements from O’Keeffe works in oil. 1939

In 2014, Alice Walton paid $44.4 million dollars for a painting by O’Keeffe for her own museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. Alice is planning to host her own show of works by the artist in the near future. This makes Georgia the most valuable female artist in the world-wide art market today. Please celebrate her success with a visit this summer to the NYBG- a place with vision and energy for all ages.

Jimson Weed, 1972 Walton Collection, oil on canvas

Note from Ginny:

  • The NYBG suggests that you visit the Hawaiian plants in the conservatory first and then go to the library to see O’Keefe’s paintings. Depending on crowds, I suggest that you visit the paintings first and then go and appreciate the plants from which O’Keefe drew her inspiration.
  • There is great information available on your phone for free when you visit – the app is easy to download.
  • A friend and I shared a Poke Bowl lunch (very Hawaiian) from a food truck parked near the library and it was a fresh, light, exotic, delicious, slightly citrussy treat. I know that raw fish + food truck is not obvious, but it was great.


[1] William L. Hamilton, Paradise by O’Keeffe, New York Times, May 25, 2018, p. C13.

[2] Georgia O’Keeffe, Visions of Hawaii. New York Botanical Gardens, 2018, p. 37.