Friday, December 16, 2011

Patricia Jennings, reading from Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawaii

Patricia Jennings autographing her book Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawaii
based on her experience as a 12 year old guiding O'Keeffe around Maui. 
November 30, 2011
Maui Arts and Cultural Center

There wasn’t enough room in the room. We arrived late, and the volunteers outside said there was standing room only. They opened the doors to the Higashi Room at the MACC and we saw a large group of people shuffling and rearranging themselves to give us room. At least 18 people lined the left side of the room, 23 stood in the back, and 14+ people hovered along the right side of the room, plus another cluster clung to the entrance. The standing audience added about 60 more people to the seated attendees in chairs and those sitting cross-legged on the floor in the front. The volunteers said they weren’t sure if they were going to allow more people to enter, but kept opening the door. 

Patricia Jennings, now 85 years of age, leaned over the page, reading a story about eating too many guavas during one of her outings with Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe, who had a reputation for being difficult, was being surprisingly nice to the young Patricia.

The true-life tales from Patricia Jennings’ book, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii, were based on Patricia’s experiences guiding the famed artist around Maui. Originally, Patricia’s mother was planning to host this “difficult artist” but when Patricia’s mother was called away to help a sick relative, Patricia was asked to step up to the task. Patricia was only 12 years old at the time. 

Since we only caught some of the story, we missed the gradual build-up that led up to the infamous guava incident, and references to Patricia’s dog who apparently made an impression on the painter, by prancing on Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.

Twenty years ago on Oahu, the Honolulu Academy of Arts held an exhibit of O’Keeffe’s work painted during her Hawaii trip or shortly after. There were only about 20 paintings and I recall from the exhibit that O’Keeffe had not been terribly happy during her trip. When we heard about this new Georgia O’Keeffe book and the public reading, I was surprised to find out there was someone still alive who had known O’Keeffe and curious to hear these stories. Local publisher Arnie Kotler said this book has been in the making for at least 10 years, and that the seed for it began when an O’Keeffe scholar, Maria Ausherman, discovered that a 12 year old girl guided the artist around Maui and decided to track her down. Well, Patricia Jennings has been found and is adding her voice to the O’Keeffe mythology.

After the reading, Patricia Jennings fielded questions from the audience about the book and her experiences with the famed artist. Patricia also signed books which were available for purchase afterwards.  A long line of people waited for autographs. I didn't get in line quickly enough since I spotted Maui artist Pat Masumoto, who kindly filled me in on the first part of the reading - and had some great stories of her own.

My favorite question from the audience was the last one, which didn’t get completely recorded. The question as I recall it was, “What did you learn from your time with Georgia O’Keeffe?” Patricia answered right away, “Determination,” which was cut off from the video and followed it by saying that she learned to finish things, which has stood her in good stead all the rest of her life. That’s a great lesson – and reminder for me too. I’m very glad that Patricia Jennings finishes things, including this 10 year book project.  The book is available from


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