Sotheby’s is about to put a trove of Georgia O'Keeffe items up for sale. While the auction will include paintings likely to go for millions of dollars, we're interested in something less valuable, but to us, way more exciting — O'Keeffe's box of grease-stained, handwritten recipes, one of which you can see here:
This week Dan goes to see the recipes himself and talks with art experts, O’Keeffe scholars, and a woman who cooked for O'Keeffe towards the end of her life to find out what the recipes say about the artist. As for the auction? Well, it doesn't go exactly as planned.
If you’re interested in learning more about Georgia O’Keeffe, check out our guests’ books:
A Painter’s Kitchen by Margaret Wood
Equal Under the Sky by Linda Grasso
Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life by Roxana Robinson
And keep an eye on the Alfred Stieglitz/Georgia O’Keeffe Archive page at Yale’s Beinecke Library.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Hang Tight" by Hayley Briasco
- "Birthday Party" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Kenny" by Hayley Briasco
- "Bourbon Fanfare" by Devon Gray
- "Get Your Shoes On" by Will Van De Crommert
- "Comin For A Change" by Stephen Sullivan
Photos courtesy of Dan Pashman.
Dan Pashman: How'd you get into this?
Justin Caldwell: Well, let's see, I started out in New York working for a literary agent and I decided that dead authors and artists were more interesting than the living, so I switched. Easier to deal with.
Dan Pashman: So they don't talk back?
Justin Caldwell: No. No.
Dan Pashman: This is Justin Caldwell, he’s a specialist in the department of books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, the famous auction house. We’re at their New York location, talking about an upcoming auction of items from the artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
Dan Pashman: Yes, the auction will include paintings likely to go for millions of dollars. But I’m gonna see something else up for sale. It’s not as valuable as one of O’Keeffe’s paintings but to me at least, it’s way more exciting. It’s her box of recipes.
Justin Caldwell: You’re not going to see this side of Georgia O’Keeffe anywhere else. People who love Georgia O'Keeffe were bound to love this. And she certainly— her fans are legion. And nothing like this is going to come up again, this is it.
Dan Pashman: Justin should know. Over the years a lot of famous people’s papers have come across his desk. One of his favorites was an early version of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. I say to him, "It must feel sometimes like you’re communing with the dead." And he says, "When I look through these documents, to me, these people feel very much alive."
Dan Pashman: It's an amazing thing, I would think, to hold a piece of paper in your hands and know that this person, this famous person who did this incredible work has held that same paper written on that same paper.
Justin Caldwell: Yes, that is a wonderful feeling. The one thing I have learned over the years is to put my cup of coffee somewhere else.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful. It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters. I’m Dan Pashman. You know that each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. So what can you learn about a person by going through their box of frayed, grease-stained recipe cards long after they’ve died? Today on the show we’re gonna find out. And later on, we’ll see how much this recipe box is worth.
Dan Pashman: Sotheby’s auction house was founded in London in 1744. When I visited their New York location last month, I was expecting a big room with a podium and a gavel, and hopefully someone pounding the gavel and shouting, “Going once! Going twice! Sold to the mysterious lady in the hat!” Or I don't know, I always imagined a mysterious lady in a hat at fancier auctions. So at the actual Sotheby's, they do have that room, but actually, there’s another part of Sotheby’s where they display paintings and papers that are coming up for auction. That’s where I meet up with Justin Caldwell and that area feels much more like a museum.
Dan Pashman: I’m there one day before this massive auction of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art, writings, and personal effects. As I said, I came for the box of recipes. But first, I will admit I don’t know a whole lot about art. So if you’re like me and haven’t been to an art museum since your 8th-grade field trip, prepare yourself for a mercifully short art history lesson.
Justin Caldwell: Georgia O'Keeffe is one of the great American modernists.
Dan Pashman: O’Keeffe spent most of her adult life in New Mexico. She’s best known for her modernist paintings of the area’s flowers and landscapes. Here she is talking about her love for the desert.
CLIP (GEORGIA O'KEEFFE): As soon as I saw it, that was my country. I never saw anything like it before but it fitted to me, exactly. It’s something that's in the air. It's just different. The sky is different. The stars are different. The wind is different.
Justin Caldwell: Precise drawings of bones, the vegetation, which is infused, I think, with just a little bit of surrealism. A steer skull hovering in the clear blue sky over New Mexico. It's a break with the kind of realism that was established in the renaissance and was dominant up until a late 19th century, early 20th century.
Dan Pashman: So she's sort of one of the leaders in the movement? For centuries, most paintings were people painting pictures of things they could see with their own eyes.
Justin Caldwell: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Whether it's a person or a field of flowers.
Justin Caldwell: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Dan Pashman: And this was sort of the first movement of people painting things that you might only be able to see with your imagination.
Justin Caldwell: Well, subjective views in the real world is certainly what O'Keefe was doing. She's moving into another way of looking at things. And I think in O'Keeffe's particular case, she is able to make you see what's unusual or otherworldly about some of the things she finds on this world.
Dan Pashman: And in the world of art auctions, in particular, I gather Georgia O'Keeffe is a giant.
Justin Caldwell: She is a giant. She is the highest earner for a female artist. Her painting, "Jimson Flower", we'd sold here at Sotheby's a couple of years ago for $44 million. That's a world record for a female artist.
Dan Pashman: And this is the painting of—she was famous for her paintings of flowers.
Justin Caldwell: Of flowers. Yes.
Dan Pashman: These paintings zoomed in on one petal or one blossom.
Justin Caldwell: Mm-hmm. Which, yes....you know, a hyperreal is painting, and that somehow gives it a surrealist feel.
Dan Pashman: You seem like you really like Georgia O'Keeffe.
Justin Caldwell: I do.
Dan Pashman: That's just the vibe I'm getting here, Justin.
Justin Caldwell: Yes.
Dan Pashman: So what is it about her, in particular? Like what stands out for you personally about her and her work?
Justin Caldwell: Well, I like the fact that whilst she is a very strongly American artist, but it's American art as we've not seen it before her time. You know, it's not folksy. It's not down-home. It's clean and it's severe and it's very serious but it could not be mistaken for the art of any other country.
Dan Pashman: And what draws you to her, as a person?
Justin Caldwell: The fact that she was very much her own person. She took control of almost every aspect of her life. You see this not just in the paintings, but she chose where she would live, how she would live, what she would eat for dinner was very carefully planned. What she wore, she was meticulous about her clothes. She knew how to control her image. She wasn't simply the subject of a photograph, but she commanded and took control. And it's what she wanted you to see of her and how she wanted you to understand her.
Dan Pashman: Many of the best known photos of Georgia O’Keeffe were taken by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, a famous photographer. If you’ve never seen a photo of her, picture one of the nuns from The Sound of Music, but in the desert, looking sternly off into the distance. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz lived in New York in the 1920s. O’Keeffe started spending more and more time in the New Mexico desert and eventually moved there full-time after Stieglitz’s death. All along she kept track of her daily life in meticulous notes, which ended up in this auction at Sotheby’s.
Justin Caldwell: We have her address book. And we know that this address book is from the late 1920s, early 1930s. And the whole artistic scene in New York, which is where she kept this address book, comes alive because you have the names of poets she was in touch with, the Museum of Modern Art, which had just been founded, Frida Kahlo, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, art critic Henry McBride. And so this is her world as seen through the people she telephones. You can look at her recipes and you see another side of her world.
Dan Pashman: Now we get to the item in this auction that has brought me here, today.
Dan Pashman: Well, here is the recipe box.
Justin Caldwell: Ah, yes.
Dan Pashman: Wow. It's bigger than I expected.
Justin Caldwell: Well, they're big notecards there. Some of the recipes are quite detailed. And many, many of these recipes have been written out by O'Keeffe. And then at a later date on large note cards, an assistant has typed them out. Of course, it's much more fun to look at the ones which are in her hand but you get what you get here in almost everyone's recipe box. There are many things in her own hand, modifications she's made on other people's recipes. Then you have things she's clipped from newspapers and magazines, recipes in other people's hands, things that they have given her. For instance, local things, such as chicken flautas. There is a recipe here for the St. Peter's cocktail. Now, that is on the letterhead of the famous hotel in Santa Fe, The Fonda. This is from the bar and the bartender's written out the recipe for the Saint Peter's cocktail, which is 4 parts gin, a splash of absinthe and there may be one other ingredient but I just can't remember it.
Dan Pashman: The full St. Peters cocktail is 4 parts gin, 2 parts lime juice, 1 part sugar, then a splash of Pernod or Absinthe.
Justin Caldwell: That's going to have you flying, right there.You don't need another ingredient.
Dan Pashman: That sounds like a perfect drink to drink before going out into the desert and painting some cow skulls.
Justin Caldwell: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Or after a busy day of painting in the desert thing like that.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Justin Caldwell: Something like that.
Dan Pasman: Yeah.
Justin Caldwell: That may give you a false impression of this collection of recipes though. Most things here are very healthy. They depend on fresh food, fresh vegetables, fruits, things that she could grow in her own garden. So for instance, right here, the thing that pops up is freezing peaches. She froze food. She canned food. She made sure she had delicious things all year round. She planned this out very carefully so she could have the best.
Dan Pashman: So when this first came across your desk. What do you think?
Justin Caldwell: Well, I wasn't sure what to think until I sat down and kind of went through it. And then I started finding the recipes in her own hand and so on. And the pattern started to emerge of good, simple food made with fresh ingredients.
Dan Pashman: O’Keeffe’s first home in New Mexico was at Ghost Ranch, about an hour north of Santa Fe. When she moved down the road to Abiquiu, part of what drew her to the new property was that it had space for a garden. Many of the fruits and vegetables she ate were grown there in her yard.
Dan Pashman: At Sotheby’s, as I said, most of the auction items are displayed in what looks like a museum exhibit. But there’s one narrow room with glass cases along both sides, like jewelry cases. This is where O’Keeffe’s papers and letters, and the recipe box, are on display. As I flip through the recipes, I’m struck by O’Keeffe’s handwriting -- thick lines, ornate and twisting. Justin says it reminds him of the vines she often painted with her flowers. And almost nothing is crossed out. If she ever made a mistake on a card, she must have just started a new one. As Justin says, she was very exacting.
Dan Pashman: So I know that a lot of letters, documents, manuscripts come across your desk.
Justin Caldwell: Yes.
Dan Pashman: How is seeing someone's personal collection of recipes different from seeing other kinds of documents?
Justin Caldwell: Well, this takes you into someone's kitchen, which we don't get to go into very often. We're more likely to be in someone's study or even in someone's bedroom before we're in their kitchen, with the manuscripts, the letters and things we deal with. I can't think of another time when I've gotten to do this. Now, I can remember years ago seeing a coconut cake recipe of Emily Dickinson's in a letter, that kind of thing. But this, you can almost feel the pots and pans rattling when you look at these. It's very immediate. And I suppose we don't have as many handwritten recipes as we used to. I still have a few in my mother's hand and that kind of thing but...
Dan Pashman: Right. We don't have as many here in anything as we used.
Justin Caldwell: No. I think most people now use their iPad in the kitchen and prop it up and they've got a recipe in front of them but this is...
Dan Pashman: So like 100 years from now, the person who has your job will get like a hard drive dropped on their desk.
Justin Caldwell: Maybe, so. Yes. Also this is quite different, too, in that it's hard for me to imagine someone actually writing recipes in a kitchen with a fountain pen. And most of these are written with fountain pen.
Dan Pashman: What do you think that says about a person?
Justin Caldwell: A certain formality. And that's absolutely true of Georgia O'Keeffe. I'm sure that there was no sitting with a plate on her lap in front of the television, not not the usual American thing.
Dan Pashman: What are some of your personal favorite recipes in here?
Justin Caldwell: My own favorite, because it's a recipe from the past that you don't see anymore, is tomato aspic.
Dan Pashman: Aspic like a savory jelly?
Justin Caldwell: Yes, it is. It is.
Dan Pashman: Like a Jell-O mold, but it's more like...
Justin Caldwell: Yes, it's a little—it's certainly fancy or nicer than that.
Dan Pashman: Right, right.
Justin Caldwell: But I do like the fact that some of these are things you don't see anymore. Such in Maryland fried chicken. That's a term that doesn't come up, I don't think. And the desserts. There are not many, but they're very old fashioned.
Dan Pashman: Like what? What's one that stands out?
Justin Caldwell: Floating islands or Ile flotant.
Dan Pashman: What's that? How do you make that?
Justin Caldwell: It is an island of meringue floating in a little like of custard.
Dan Pashman: Ohh.
Justin Caldwell: A custard cream.
Dan Pashman: We should bring that back, Justin.
Justin Caldwell: Very pretty. Yes, yes.
Dan Pashman: If some of those dishes sound weird, you probably missed season four of the Great British Bake Off, where they make floating islands. As for Maryland Fried Chicken, that’s like chicken fried steak but made with chicken, so it’s shallow fried, served with white gravy. You can read more marylandfriedchicken.net. I know I did.
Dan Pashman: The recipe box also has instruction manuals for kitchen tools, like a pressure cooker. The page on how to use it to cook fresh vegetables is splattered with grease stains, a sign of how much O’Keeffe used it.
Dan Pashman: Alright, so one is fresh applesauce.
Justin Caldwell: This is the fresh applesauce, which does have yogurt, which is unusual to me at least right now.
Dan Pashman: Right and so it's fresh. So she's not cooking the apples here?
Justin Caldwell: No, no, it's not cooked.
Dan Pashman: Eight ounces of yogurt, A thousand milligrams of vitamin C, two tablespoons of honey. You put that in a blender. Add apples one at a time. Five to seven peeled quart apples. And that is a note here, "Don't let Blender run too long. A little at a time till smooth."
Justin Caldwell: Yes. I'm sure that most Americans in the 50s, if they knew what yogurt was, they probably associated it with what? Beatniks. People with sandals and white socks. That kind of thing.
Dan Pashman: Right. What connections do you see between the recipes in this box and Georgia O'Keeffe's art?
Justin Caldwell: I see that they're both—I've used the term before, but very American. You know, this is not a French-ified collection of recipes. These are all American things. You find spoon bread, corn cakes, all those things. A nice fancy dessert every now and then but most things are plain. They're completely unpretentious. And also with an appreciation for the natural world and natural ingredients. You know, it comes across in her paintings, which not really that much about human beings as much as the things that human beings are seeing. And I am sure that she had the same appreciation for the fresh fruits and vegetables that went into her kitchen, as she did for the ones that went to the studio for her to paint.
Dan Pashman: As Justin and I are talking, there’s a steady stream of visitors coming into this narrow room where the papers are on display. And everyone wants to see the recipe box. One woman asks what I’m taping for. We get to chatting and it turns out she wrote a whole book on Georgia O'Keeffe and feminism.
Linda M. Grasso: Linda M. Grasso. I'm the author of Equal Under the Sky: Georgia O'Keeffe and Feminism.
Dan Pashman: And you were just saying, you have a theory as to why people are so interested in this recipe box, in particular.
Linda M. Grasso: Yes, I think that the part of the fascination is that O'Keeffe is such an iconic figure and there is always a conflict with gender. They always associate her as a painter and being painter and woman and domestic, even in 2020 are still these diametric oppositions.
Dan Pashman: Wait, do you think it also has something to do with—maybe this is an oversimplification but there's like a positive in a negative way to read it. There's one reading, which is like she was this woman who broke through all these gender norms but who was strong and powerful, had an extraordinary career and made her own choices and blazed her own trail.
Linda M. Grasso: Right, so you don't associate her with cooking.
Dan Pashman: Right and then to associate her with cooking and to picture her in the home, making dinner somehow undercuts or diminishes that.
Linda M. Grasso: Or it also expands the idea of what it means to be female and to be a woman. It makes women feel better about being domestic and artistic. Why is it that there are so many women still—``if you go to an exhibition, it's mostly women that you see coming in. Why does she appeal to women so much and generation after generation after generation? And I think that recipe box gets to some of the answers.
Dan Pashman: Just then Linda spots a friend walking by, another O’Keeffe scholar. Turns out I stumbled into a gold mine of guests for this episode. Linda introduces me to Roxana Robinson, author of Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life.
Roxana Robinson: In my book, I have a photograph of her in her pajamas and bathrobe, in the kitchen. And we see her handwriting saying, "This is how to make fajitas." And there's a note here that I saw the other day saying, "Margaret Prosser and I learned to cook. We bought a cookbook."—and Margaret Prosser, who was the housekeeper at Lake George—"We learned to cook together." Georgia O'Keeffe grew up in a farmhouse in a big family and there was a cook there. There were hired hands. There were 9 or 10 people to cook for every day. But she was infinitely adaptable when the family lost money and moved on hard times, she could do anything. She could clean house. She made her clothes. She could plant vegetables. So the idea of this person, who can who can inhabit the world that all women know the day to day world of making breakfast and sweeping the kitchen and also this surreal, mysterious and deeply fascinating and comforting, on some level the world of her paintings, the idea that she can inhabit both those worlds is a matter of such enormous import to women.
Dan Pashman: Georgia O’Keeffe lived in Abiquiu, New Mexico until she died in 1986. She was 98. Since then these recipes and the rest of the items up for auction tomorrow have been in the possession of Juan Hamilton. He was a close friend, confidante, and sometime caretaker of O’Keeffe’s, who is himself an artist.
Dan Pashman: So, Justin, as we record this, this box of recipes along with the other paintings and documents that are part of this collection, are going to be auctioned here at Sotheby's tomorrow.
Justin Caldwell: Tomorrow. Yes.
Dan Pashman: What are you expecting for this recipe box at that auction?
Justin Caldwell: Well, we put a conservative estimate on this recipe box of six to eight thousand dollars. Now, I would be very disappointed if it didn't make more because there's just too much in here.
Dan Pashman: And it's way better than $44 million.
Justin Caldwell: Well, yes. Yes. This is a little more affordable.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, we'll talk with someone who cooked for and with Georgia O'Keeffe almost every night for five years. We'll find out what O'Keeffe taught her about cooking. Then later, the auction. How much will the recipes go for and who’ll be the one to get them? Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. I hope you’re doing okay out there, staying safe. Last week, I told you that in my attempt to stress eat in a healthier way. I’ve been tearing leaves off the head of raw cabbage in our fridge. Well now, I have an update. It was getting close to the core, and we used what was left for soup. So RIP stress cabbage. Thank you for your service.
Dan Pashman: If you’re hunkered down at home, now is a great time to scroll back through our shows, catch up on ones you’ve missed. In fact, The New York Times put together a podcast playlist to help distract You and they recommend the episode we did about a restaurant where grandmothers from around the world come to cook their own recipes on a rotating basis. I went to the restaurant and spoke with a woman, named Maria. After her father passed away, her mother was home alone a lot, depressed. So she convinced her mother to apply for a job to cook at the restaurant.
CLIP (MARIA): They were chopping tomatoes. They were cooking. So my mother just basically went straight for them in the open kitchen and they started—I think they were even hugging and stuff, showing each other how they make their dishes, and this is how they became connected right away.
Dan Pasman: The Times says this episode is, “a tender listen that’ll inspire you to actually use all that pasta you’ve stockpiled." And one of their readers says, "It’ll “remind you to check in on the elderly folks in your community who need support right now.” That episode came out in December it’s called, "Where All The Chefs Are Grandmas", check it out.
Dan Pashman: Now back to Georgia O’Keeffe. We’ll get to the auction but first Georgia O’Keeffe lived in that secluded home in rural Abiquiu, New Mexico towards the end of her life, but O’Keeffe was not alone. She had a team of help with her. Margaret Wood worked there in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Margaret was in her 20s and Miss O’Keeffe, as she was called by all but her closest friends, was in her 90s. Margaret got the job through a friend, who gave her a warning before she started.
Margaret Wood: She just told me that it would require a lot of patience because Miss O'Keeffe was extremely particular. And although kind, but it was a challenge for several months to make that adjustment to the different duties I had to her liking.
Dan Pashman: Is there a specific example you can give me of something that took you a little bit of time to learn to do to her liking?
Margaret Wood: Well, to start off with the food. So she said, "Do you like to cook?" And I said, "Yes, I certainly do." So she said, "Well, let's give it a try." And after two days of my hippie health food, she said, "My dear, let me show you how I like my food." My first way of trying to cook for us was a lot of brown rice and chopped vegetables with chicken added. And that was not what she liked.
Dan Pashman: What did she not like about chopped chicken and brown rice?
Margaret Wood: It just was just too much of a mash of a mixture.
Dan Pashman: Oh interesting. So she liked sort of a clear line between components.
Margaret Wood: Yes. For example, we might have a meal of very nicely roasted lemon chicken. And besides it, we would have steamed broccoli. And then we might have fried potatoes with that. And a nice green salad with lettuce from the gardens and fresh herbs in the dressing.
Dan Pashman: But each thing would be kept separate on the plate.
Margaret Wood: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Like everything in it's right place.
Margaret Wood: Correct.
Dan Pashman: So this sort of current trend, what I think was the sort think is the bowlification of the American restaurant scene where like everything is just sort of start with a bowl, put them ricer or some quinoa or some greens in it and dump a bunch of other stuff on top, that would not have been to her liking I gather?
Margaret Wood: Not at all. No, that would be the opposite of what she would enjoy.
Dan Pashman: Margaret worked the overnight shift, from 5 in the evening until about 8:30 am. So it was just her and O’Keeffe. Margaret would read books and newspapers to O’Keeffe, who had macular degeneration. So she couldn’t see well, at that point. They’d go for walks and they’d have dinner. In 2009 Margaret published a cookbook called, A Painter's Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O'Keeffe.
Dan Pashman: One of the anecdotes that you share, that I loved, is that she had a specific instruction for you for how to stir a pot.
Margaret Wood: That's right. To not scrape the sides, to dig down and lift up. She would give me some instructions like that. Yes, and to chop the herbs very carefully and finally, not to kind of destroy them in the process. After several months, we really did have quite a nice time cooking and trying some new recipes from time to time.
Dan Pashman: Do you still stir pots today the way she told you?
Margaret Wood: I don't really know if I think about that very much, but I guess I still eat often. I eat the way that she liked to with lemon chicken and the simple vegetables. And there are a couple desserts in there that I fix quite often?
Dan Pashman: Like what?
Margaret Wood: Well, there's an apple pie cake that's just delicious. Then there's a recipe that I tried on Miss O'Keeffe from my dorm mother in college. It's a lemon pecan fruitcake and it has pecans and golden raisins and lemon extract. And it's just delicious. I make that every year for my friends at Christmas.
Dan Pashman: That sounds really good. One of the things that was interesting to me when I went to Sothebys, I spoke with a couple of O'Keeffe's scholars. One of the things they felt was especially meaningful about this recipe box was that here's a woman who rose to the very highest heights of the world of art and that she could achieve so much also be domestic, care about food and cooking in the kitchen. It was very meaningful to those scholars that I spoke with. Is that something she talked about?
Margaret Wood: No, I think she just was that. She would say to me, "Do you think others eat as well as we do?" You know?
Dan Pashman: Right.
Margaret Wood: She was not very pleased about how we ate.
Dan Pashman: It almost sounds like she was a little bit cocky about it.
Margaret Wood: Oh, very, very.
Dan Pashman: I love the idea of her being kind of like cocky about the food that is served at her house. You know, because I think it's the kind of thing that like people who are good at cooking and take pride in food, you're not supposed to be that way.
Margaret Wood: Right.
Dan Pashman: And especially society says women aren't supposed to brag. They're not supposed to give credit to themselves, and I like that she is just, "No, no. I know exactly what I want to eat, and I know what’s good and what we eat in this house is good."
Margaret Wood: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: After our conversation Margaret emailed me a few of her favorite quotes from Miss O’Keeffe, including one about soup: “If it doesn’t taste good, it wasn’t made with love.” And O’Keeffe’s overall life motto: “It’s not enough to be nice in the world—you’ve got to have nerve.”
Dan Pashman: Now, the moment that we've been waiting for, the auction. As Justin from Sotheby’s said before, the recipe box was listed at a price of six to eight thousand dollars, but he was hoping for more. I was ready for the bidding back and forth, the drama, the excitement, the sideways glances, and the mysterious lady in the hat. You know, something like this:
CLIP (AUCTIONEER): Lot No. 30 for the Georgia O'Keeffe gaspe. We will start the bidding out here at $3 million. $3,200,000. Here with me at.. $4,100,000...at $5,100,000...at $5,200,000...$5,250,000...$5,300,000...$5,400,000...$5,800,000, then. We're all done now, in fair warning now at $5,800,000. Sold For $5,800,000. Thank you, all.
Dan Pashman: Whatever, $5.8 million and you still don’t know how to make tomato aspic. But when it came time for the recipe box, you’re not gonna believe what happened.
CLIP (AUCTIONEER): We are pleased to announce that the Beinecke Library, Yale University has acquired the following 11 lots, which will be joining the libraries already renowned collection relating to Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. Lots 13, 46, 57...
Dan Pashman: Lot 57 is the recipe box. The night before the auction, just hours after I had been at Sotheby’s, someone straight-up bought it. Apparently that’s a thing you can do, if you offer enough money the auction house might agree to just sell it to you before anyone else gets a crack at it.
Dan Pashman: Now Sotheby's, I know you've been around since 1744. So I don't mean to auctionsplain you, but if you sell an item to someone for an agreed-upon price, that is not an auction. It's just a sale. Where are our gavels? We were promised gavels. Well, once I got over my auction disappointment, I wanted to learn more about who snagged those recipes. Turns out it was Yale’s library of rare books and manuscripts, which maintains an archive of Georgia O’Keeffe items started by the artist herself. I called up Nancy Kuhl, one of the curators of that collection.
Dan Pashman: So where exactly will these recipe's be kept? Help me picture their home.
Nancy Kuhl: Sure. Well, they will be in the stacks of the Beinecke Library, somewhere nearby the—well there are 259 boxes in the Georgia O'Keeffe and Albert Stieglitz papers. They'll be filed somewhere nearby.
Dan Pashman: The Beinecke Library has one of the largest collections of Georgia O’Keeffe’s papers in the world. 40 of those boxes are letters between her and her husband Alfred Stieglitz. Nancy says part of the reason the library wanted the recipes, in particular, is that these days scholars are more and more interested in filling out the whole world of a person they’re studying. They want to understand all the ways an artist’s creative sensibility is formed, and how an artist expresses herself not just on a canvas but also in the kitchen. Of course, artists aren’t the only ones who express themselves in the kitchen.
Dan Pashman: I imagine a librarian's cookbook party, Librarians cook Georgia O'Keeffe. Nowadays, there's cookbook clubs, which are like book clubs except you get a cookbook. And every one of the group cooks a different dish in the cookbook.
Nancy Kuhl: I myself, I'm not a cook. So I will be eagerly there with my napkin tucked under my chin. But it's hard for me to imagine actually rolling up my sleeves.
Dan Pashman: So the person who bought Georgia O'Keeffe's recipes isn't a cook.
Nancy Kuhl: Well, I mean, I'm not the person who bought them.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Nancy Kuhl: They were acquired by the likes of American Literature at the Beinecke Libraries.
Dan Pashman: I understand. Right, right.
Nancy Kuhl: And I'm an enthusiastic eater of all different kinds of things.
Dan Pashman: Okay, well that counts.
Nancy Kuhl: Yeah, cooking is just one way to enjoy food, I think.
Dan Pashman: Right. I think that's fair. That's fair
Nancy Kuhl: There's been a lot of discussion about which of the recipes we might try first. And in fact, some of my colleagues and I have been exchanging text messages based on what we can find in their nearly empty shelves of our supermarkets and what might be appropriate to soundproof Georgia O’Keeffe’s recipes. So, for instance, I just saw recently that about the only thing left on the shelves of the meat department of one of my colleagues' supermarkets was chicken livers. And we're aware that Georgia O'Keeffe has a recipe for chicken livers with onions. So that is a candidate for the near future.
Dan Pashman: I know, Nancy, when I went to Sotheby's. I saw the recipes. Maybe this is an old feeling for you because you work in a prestigious library, but just holding the papers in your own hand and knowing that Georgia O'Keeffe held these same pieces of paper and wrote on these same pieces of paper, and now I'm holding them. I think that's a very cool and obviously tangible connection to somebody.
Nancy Kuhl: It really is. And I'll tell you, it never gets old for me. It can feel like being in a time machine. It can feel as if we are getting a message from the past in some very direct way. And that doesn't get old for me. And I think Georgia O'Keeffe's very distinct handwriting—and her handwriting is very beautiful, even if it's sometimes difficult to read. And so that you always know you're looking at the work of Georgia O'Keeffe's mind when you see her handwriting.
Dan Pashman: Now, I know when I talked to the folks at Sothebys, they said that the asking price for the auction was six to eight thousand dollars, but they were hoping to get more. Can you give me some idea of what you paid?
Nancy Kuhl: I'm sorry, I can't really. We at the library, we don't just close what we pay for our acquisitions, and so I can't speak to that. I can't say anything about the price.
Dan Pashman: So we can't play like warm or colder
Nancy Kuhl: Nope.
Dan Pashman: Well, that sounds good. Nancy, I'm glad I'm glad that the recipes will be in a place where people will be able to see them and have access to them online or in person. It certainly feels better to me than them just like ending up on some billionaire's mantle.
Nancy Kuhl: Yeah, we prefer that too. I mean, it's our real honor and privilege to be able to make these things available to scholars and to the general public and to play a role in promoting the legacy of such an extraordinary artist,
Dan Pashman: That’s Nancy Kuhl, one of the curators at the Yale Library’s collection of rare books and manuscripts. Now Nancy couldn’t tell us what they paid for the recipes, but on the Sotheby’s website there’s a bid price of $11,250. Now, Sotheby’s insists this is not the sale price, it’s a bid that went in before the auction was withdrawn. They won't tell us anything more than that. But we’re gonna go ahead and speculate that the final price must have been higher than that bid of 11 grand. Anyways, the folks at Yale will be digitizing some of Georgia O'Keeffe's recipes. You'll be able to view them online. We’ll make sure to tell you about it in our newsletter and social media when that happens, so keep an eye out for that.
Dan Pashman: In the meantime, if you’re looking for distraction, scroll back through our feed. Check out that episode "Where All The Chefs Are Grandmas" or find another one you like. And if you listen in Stitcher, please take a minute right now to favorite our show. Thanks.