By Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed
PART I – DEPARTURE
Scene 1. A train platform, New York Penn Station, early morning, April 27, 1929. Travelers rush in from the rain and board a train. Rebecca Salisbury Strand James (“Beck”) enters the platform hurriedly and is soon met by Georgia O’Keeffe. Both are assisted onto the departing train by Aubrey Wells, a porter.
Scene 2. While O’Keeffe unpacks in her compartment, Wells takes her ticket and comments on her destination to Santa Fe, “a far cry from New York.” After he leaves, O’Keeffe expresses her doubts about the journey and imagines her husband Alfred Stieglitz waking and discovering the note she left him about her sudden departure. In a split scene, she recalls the content of the note while Stieglitz reads it in the New York apartment they share.
Scene 3. Later that evening, in the lounge car, Beck and O’Keeffe take turns drinking booze from a flask while playing poker, gambling with tubes of paint instead of money. Quoting art critics of the day, including Stieglitz, they lampoon the label of the “woman artist” in society.
Scene 4. After Beck departs, the windows of the lounge car suddenly become drawings in Stieglitz’s 291 gallery and O’Keeffe recalls the first time she and Stieglitz met.
Scene 5. O’Keeffe tries to sleep in her compartment as the train barrels toward Chicago. An extended, dreamlike video sequence with music recounts events in her life that inform her as an artist.
PART II – CONNECTION
Scene 6. A train platform, Chicago Union Station, a day later. O’Keeffe and Beck board the Chief for the second leg of their train ride to Santa Fe, with Wells again assisting them on board.
Scene 7. In the lounge car, O’Keeffe and Beck play a game of “Exquisite Corpse,” while bantering about the difficulties in balancing a marriage with a career as an artist.
Scene 8. Later in the evening in her compartment, O’Keeffe has a nightmare in which she imagines returning to a party at Lake George where she is unhappy and fights with Stieglitz about her discontentment as an artist. O’Keeffe wakes suddenly and finds solace in her paint box.
PART III – ARRIVAL
Scene 9. A split scene, pre-dawn: in New York, Stieglitz attempts to write a letter to O’Keeffe about their relationship while O’Keeffe does the same from her compartment. Stieglitz burns his letter in despair and O’Keeffe stuffs hers into her pocket, vowing to abandon her trip at the next stop.
Scene 10. On the caboose platform, O’Keeffe encounters Wells practicing on a clarinet. Wells senses O’Keeffe’s doubts and tells her to trust her impulses, as one does when one plays jazz. They greet the new day, along with Beck just waking in her own compartment. When she is alone on the caboose platform, O’Keeffe tears up the letter she meant for Stieglitz and reaffirms her decision to leave.
Scene 11. Approaching Santa Fe, April 30, 1929. O’Keeffe rhapsodizes about the new landscape she sees from her compartment. As the train reaches its destination, she bids farewell to all of her apprehensions and emerges from the train into the bright morning.
To Charles Jarden, in appreciation of the many new works we created together. —Mark Campbell
For Claire Jones, my love, and my partner in travel. —Kimberly Reed