Not So Thin: Georgia O’Keefe’s Black Crosses

“I saw the crosses so often—and often in unexpected places—like a thin dark veil of the Catholic Church spread over the New Mexico landscape,” said Georgia O’Keeffe.

I didn’t fully grasp O’Keeffe’s meaning at first. I was not in New Mexico. I was at home in Texas, seated at my desk with a roof over my head and a fresh demitasse of espresso in my hand.

But yesterday, while walking the ruins of the Franciscan mission in the Jemez Pueblo, I understood the abstract O’Keeffe.

Under the bright New Mexico sun, I saw the dark veil. It was spread over the broken ground and hung from the crumbling walls of the nave and sacristy. And I think I saw something of its shadow in the faces of the Gisewa Indians who work at the historic site.

O’Keeffe’s paintings of the black crosses of Taos have a spirituality about them that can be difficult to articulate. Much of her work is that way. Like beauty itself, her paintings are more idea and concept than a rendering of physical details.

But just like O’Keeffe’s black crosses, the ruins of the Franciscan mission church convey a spirituality that is difficult to articulate. Without knowing the history of its construction, you might sense a greatness, a power that makes you feel small, perhaps even insignificant, within its walls.

But this is a dark spirituality indeed that can only end in ruin. The Spirit of God does not dwell in houses made by human hands. And black crosses are no sure sign of a life filled with the One who is Light.