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New York Botanical Garden’s Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit will transport you to Hawaii

The flora and fauna of Hawaii that Georgia O'Keeffe captured in 1939 is at the center of this exhibit.

Georgia O'Keeffe's work depicting the beauty of Hawaii

Georgia O'Keeffe's work depicting the beauty of Hawaii is on its way to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Photo Credit: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS)

If you’re looking to escape to a tropical paradise this summer, you might be surprised to find one in the Bronx.

The New York Botanical Garden is transforming into a Hawaiian haven in a forthcoming Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit called “Visions of Hawai’i,” which showcases paintings the renowned artist completed during and after a trip she took to the islands in 1939.

Most known for her New Mexican landscapes and New York cityscapes, O’Keeffe’s paintings of colorful Hawaiian plants may come as a surprise, but the skill and beauty they exude is on par with the rest of her work.

O’Keeffe traveled to the islands for work — a Hawaiian pineapple company hired her to produce images for a promotional campaign. She was there for nine weeks, but was able to capture the splendor of its beauty with her brush strokes.

The works, which haven’t been seen together in New York since they were first debuted in 1940, are plants that were used in the company’s advertisements and include heliconia, crab’s claw ginger, pineapple bud, hibiscus with plumeria and landscapes of Maui’s interior ‘lao Valley and its lava-made shorelines.

While the paintings are evocative of Hawaii’s beauty, they may not be what you need to truly feel that you’re in a tropical environment, but the garden’s got you covered.

Settled into the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the islands’ native flora and fauna will be on display, including the plants O’Keeffe painted and others like the ti plant, frangipani, bougainvillea, heliconia, hibiscus, bird-of-paradise, ginger and others. The tropical plants will be surrounded by set pieces by Tony Award-winner Scott Pask as well as an open-sided thatched-roof pavilion like traditional Hawaiian hale.

It’s not just for looks — visitors will learn about what’s being done to preserve the islands’ endangered plants with vignettes scattered across the conservatory.

There’s also a slew of ways to celebrate Hawaii and its beauty at the Garden:

Weekend music, dance and film

Saturdays and Sundays, May 19 - Oct. 28

Hawaiian artisans will introduce you to their culture with hula, plein air painting and lei-making workshops. There will also be screenings of a short film featuring some of O’Keeffe’s personal letters to her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

Hawai’i weekends

May 19-20; July 28-29; Aug. 18-19; Oct. 27-28

Performers, artists and artisans from the islands will showcase their traditions and cultural heritage.

Poetry walks

Ongoing

The writings of former U.S. poet laureat, W.S. Merwin of Hawaii, will be featured across the garden. His work uses his knowledge of ecology to explore the relationship between humans and nature.

Art classes and talks

Ongoing

From watercolor to photography, you’ll learn how to capture Hawaii’s beauty, including the hibiscus flower, the bird-of-paradise, and more about O’Keeffe’s artistry and personal life with talks between experts.

“Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and the voluminous letters she wrote while in Hawai‘i reveal that she was astonished and inspired by the plants and landscapes she encountered there,” said Joanna Groarke, the garden’s director of public engagement and library exhibitions curator. “We hope our visitors will be similarly inspired to a greater appreciation for the flora of Hawai‘i through O’Keeffe’s unique vision.”

For a full schedule of events and ticket information, visit nybg.org.

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