When I was reading the latest about the coronavirus on The New York Times website yesterday, I was distracted by a banner ad from Sotheby’s announcing a sale titled, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe and Juan Hamilton: Passage. The one picture in the announcement was of a silver “OK” brooch. I immediately clicked on it. I thought it was O’Keeffe’s famous jewel by the artist Alexander Calder.
You know the piece. Calder gave it to O’Keefe during the 1930s, a period when he often whipped up jewels for his friends. She wore it pinned sideways on her jackets and tops for so many photographs it has undeniably become the most famous Calder jewel.
Most of the images of O’Keefe wearing the brooch are in black and white, but there is one in color and it reveals that the Calder jewel was brass. It’s something I knew, but had clearly forgotten when I enthusiastically clicked on the Sotheby’s ad of the silver OK brooch in the sale with O’Keeffe’s possession that were among the belongings she bequeathed to her companion and caretaker Juan Hamilton.
So, what goes on here? Well, the story on the Sotheby’s website explains that the artist’s style extended to her attire and hair. She was precise in how she wanted to look. When her hair turned grey, it seems she felt the brass of her beloved Calder brooch clashed with the color of her coiffure. She remedied the situation during a trip to India in 1959 when she had an artisan recreate the Calder brooch in silver to match her mane. She paid $5 for the new piece and wore it exclusively for the rest of her life.
The jewel, that is a spectacular rendition of the original, goes on the auction block in the sale that includes lots of other personal possessions such Alfred Stieglitz’s black cape and several photographs. There are few O’Keeffe paintings, some of her clothes and pigments she used for painting.
The sale can be seen at Sotheby’s in New York every day until the auction on March 5, 2020.