Above New York and Below New Mexico

Georgia O'Keeffe last will and testament
Georgia O’Keeffe

The following is an excerpt from “Wills of the Rich & Famous: A Fascinating Glimpse at the Legacies of Celebrities”  by Herbert E. Nass, Esq.

November 15, 1887
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

March 6, 1986
St. Vincent’s Hospital
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the unique artistic forces of the twentieth century. In 1916 she had a one­ woman exhibition of her paintings at famed photogra­pher Alfred Stieglitz’s legendary “291” Fifth Avenue gallery in New York. That show established O’Keeffe as an important emerging artist; she continued to delight critics until her death seventy years later at the age of ninety-­eight.

O’Keeffe’s relationship with Stieglitz was more than merely professional. They were married in 1924 and col­laborated personally and professionally until Stieglitz’s death twenty-one years later. After Stieglitz’s death, O’Keeffe left the urban sprawl of New York and went to live in the starkly contrasting desert of New Mexico. With the change of landscape, O’Keeffe’s art continued to ex­press a deeply individualistic spirit.

After O’Keeffe had settled in her studio in an Abiquiu, New Mexico, ranch a new man appeared in her life. A young potter named “Juan” (not Don) Hamilton ap­peared at O’Keeffe’s door one day looking for work and never left. Hamilton certainly won the trust and love of an opinionated and often brusque woman. He assisted O’Keeffe with the production of a book about her and a documentary film and attended to all the other things that a nonagenarian might want and need from a man in his thirties.

In her 1979 Will, made when she was ninety-one years old, O’Keeffe gives:

all my right, title and interest to my ranch, consisting of a house and acreage located outside of Abiquiu, in the County of Rio Arriba and State of New Mexico, which was formerly part of the “Ghost Ranch”…together with the furnishings therein…to my friend, JOHN BRUCE HAMILTON, or if he does not survive me, to THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, located at 475 River­side Drive, New York, New York, for its general pur­poses.

In addition, Mr. Hamilton was allowed to select any six of O’Keeffe’s paintings on canvas and any fifteen works from among O’Keeffe’s drawings, watercolors, or pastels not otherwise disposed of in the Will.

O’Keeffe specifically bequeathed certain paintings to each of eight museums expressly named in her Will: The Art Institute of Chicago, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, New York’s Modern, Metropolitan, and Brooklyn muse­ums, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Mu­seum of Art, and The National Gallery of Art received “all photographs of me taken by my late husband, ALFRED STIEGLITZ, which are presently on loan to said institu­tion.” She gave all her “letters, personal correspondence and clippings to YALE UNIVERSITY.” All the rest of “my writings and papers, together with all copyrights thereon and rights of publication thereto,” she gave to “my friend, JOHN BRUCE HAMILTON.”

As one might have expected, O’Keeffe appointed Mr. Hamilton as the sole excecutor of her Will. In a 1983 cod­icil, his fee for acting as executor is limited to a not-so­-mere $200,000. We need not be concerned about the plight of Mr. Hamilton because in a 1984 second codicil to her Will, O’Keeffe gives her entire residuary estate to “my friend, JOHN BRUCE HAMILTON.” If Hamilton failed to survive her, O’Keeffe’s estate would pass as he would appoint under his own Will. The changes made by this last codicil are even more incredible as that clause concludes, “In default of [John Bruce Hamilton’s] effec­tive exercise of this power of appointment, my residuary estate shall instead be distributed among the heirs o fJohn Bruce Hamilton as if he had died intestate.” The ninety-­six-year-old’s signature on that final codicil is very shaky. It is interesting to note that on the probate petition sub­mitted with the Will and codicils, the “John Bruce Hamil­ton” mentioned repeatedly in the Will signed his name as “Juan Hamilton.” Let’s hope that at least O’Keeffe had the right man in mind.

That same codicil giving O’Keeffe’s entire residuary es­tate to Hamilton also includes a one-dollar in terrorem clause just in case anyone was considering contesting the disposition of her estate. O’Keeffe was survived by a sister named Catherine Klernet. Sister Catherline lived in Portage, Wisconsin, and is not mentioned in sister Geor­gia’s Will.

Finally, the Will makes no mention of O’Keeffe’s bur­ial, funeral, or cremation provisions. O’Keeffe’s attorney said that she had been cremated and her ashes would be scattered in New Mexico, but he would not reveal where or when. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”; it seems fitting that the last remains of Georgia O’Keeffe should be spread on the desert lands that she had loved.

/s/ Georgia O’Keeffe

Will dated August 22, 1979
First Codicil dated November 2, 1983
Second Codicil dated August 8, 1984

View our large selection of will covers, envelopes, paper and supplies.