Visiting Hawaii in the Bronx

This past weekend was our 39th wedding anniversary. I can’t believe it myself! We usually have a pretty low key celebration, but this year my husband surprised me when he said, “Why don’t we go to that Georgia O’Keefe in Hawaii exhibit you’ve had posted on the fridge all summer , and follow that up with a nice dinner at the Hudson Grill?” Both the exhibit and the restaurant are on the grounds of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

I didn’t hesitate to say “yes.” Our anniversary was the final day of the exhibit and I was ready to see some art. (Full disclosure: I’m always ready to see art!) The dinner venue also sounded appealing as we had eaten there at Christmas with our grown kids and everyone really enjoyed the meal and the setting.

So, off to the Bronx we went. Of course, this being New York, it couldn’t just be an unpremeditated trip because you never know what you will run into. This time our conflict turned out to be the “Tour de Bronx”…a first-time bicycle tour of the Bronx which  might possibly interfere with our drive by creating extra traffic and possibly road barriers. We decided to take a chance.

The final mile and a half of the drive was very challenging thanks to the Tour de Bronx. There were clumps of ordinary local people on all kinds of bikes making their way to the same destination as us.  Fortunately, the Botanical Garden is a big place, so the cyclists were channeled into a different part of the garden. As we creeped toward the entrance our car was surrounded on all sides by kids on bikes doing extreme wheelies while weaving in and out of traffic and circling around our car. Of course, no one was obeying any traffic rules. Welcome to the Bronx!

The first part of the exhibit was in the library, a bit of a stroll from where we entered the park.  I marveled at the classical building that is the library, complete with a bronzed statue of sea nymphs in a copper-clad  fountain.

There was once a “golden age” of architecture in New York City when all sorts of majestic statues and buildings were scattered throughout the boroughs, and most of them, surprisingly, are still in good shape. I think it’s impossible to see them all in a lifetime.

The actual O’Keefe exhibit was small. It consisted of 21 paintings O’Keefe executed while she spent nine weeks visiting Hawaii. She had accepted a commission from the Dole (formerly the Hawaiian) Pineapple Company to finish two paintings that could be used in advertisements in women’s magazines. Her husband,  famous photographer Alfred Steiglitz, did not want her to go and dismissed the idea of working commercially as very proletarian; but off she went and I’m so glad she did. She obviously became very enamored of the lava landscape, the plunging waterfalls, the pounding surf, the neon green mountains and, of course, the exotic, erotic flowers.

When my husband and I were first married,  O’Keefe was very much in vogue and we bought and framed one of her posters of a white trumpet flower on a green background.

We were delighted to find it included in the exhibit and we now realized its origins. Several of her paintings of the Hawaiian landscapes and flowers showed signs of techniques she would continue to use throughout her life, especially her time spent living in the Southwest. She is a genius at capturing the sexual nature of blooming flowers as well as creating colors that no one before her had ever used.

We sat for a while in a small rotunda set apart for a film about her time spent in Hawaii based on her actual words written in letters to Steigliz, narrated by Sigourney Weaver. The film featured  the old Hawaii of the Dole plantation days, dark-skinned dancers dressed in grass skirts, warmly greeting with exotic leis the few tourists who managed to make the journey  to Hawaii which was fairly arduous at that time. It had taken O’Keefe nine days to get there crossing the U.S. by train then taking a steamboat to Hawaii.

We spent too much time in the library leaving barely enough time to walk to the Hudson Grill. Sadly, we did not have enough time to visit the actual flowers in the Conservatory which I know I would have loved.

Dinner was delicious, our drinks…Autumn Falls…were amazing. As we walked slowly and quietly back to our car, passing the few flowers and bushes that were still blooming in the garden, we were both lost in our own thoughts about our special day.