5 Fast Facts: Loïs Mailou Jones

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Loïs Mailou Jones (1905–1998), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Designing Woman

Loïs Mailou Jones began her career as a textile artist, designing drapery and upholstery fabrics for prestigious firms in Boston and New York. She incorporated traditional motifs, such as flowers and leaves, as well as more unusual Caribbean- and African-inspired imagery, in her designs.

Detail of Jones’s signature in Ode to Kinshasa

Detail of Jones’s signature in Ode to Kinshasa

2. What’s in a Name?

Jones lamented that the design world was mostly anonymous:[O]nly the name of the design printed on the borders of the fabric was known, never the name of the artist who created it. That bothered me because I was doing all this work, but not getting any recognition.” Consequently, she shifted her focus to painting—and signed every work.

3. Educator and Mentor

As a member of the art department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., from 1930 until 1977, Jones influenced several generations of African American artists, including Elizabeth Catlett, David Driskell, and Sylvia Snowden.

4. Out of Africa

Inspired by the Black Arts Movement, Jones documented contemporary African Diaspora art of Haiti, Africa, and the United States. She traveled to 11 African countries between 1970 and 1972, visiting studios and workshops, interviewing artists, and making thousands of slides of their work. These experiences also directly influenced the subjects and style of her future paintings.

5. Best of Friends

On her first trip to Paris in 1937, Jones began her lifelong friendship with French-born artist Céline Tabary (1908–1993). Tabary spent part of World War II living in Washington, D.C. During that time, she delivered Jones’s entry to the Society of Washington Artists exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art because African American artists were forbidden to participate.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­—Deborah Gaston is the director of education and digital engagement at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Coiled, Built, and Fired: An Ancient Process for Contemporary Art

Now on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara presents recent work by Albuquerque-based artist Jami Porter Lara (b. 1969), who hand-builds and pit-fires clay sculptures resembling a ubiquitous icon of modern life—the plastic bottle.

Jami Porter Lara harvesting clay; Photo courtesy of the artist

Jami Porter Lara harvesting clay; Photo courtesy of the artist

Porter Lara learned traditional techniques from potters in Mata Ortiz, in northern Mexico. She describes, “In the 1970s, there was a Pueblo pottery revival in Mata Ortiz. The people there started making ceramic pots that bore a lot of stylistic relation to ancient pot sherds and artifacts found in that vicinity, from the Casas Grandes and Mimbres cultures. They locally sourced their materials and figured out how to make ceramic vessels in the same way as the people who preceded them.”

With a group of fellow art students, Porter Lara went to stay in Mata Ortiz to learn from potters Graciela and Hector Gallegos. “They showed us how to soak the clay and filter it and then let it dry. They also taught us how to build out of coils and how to burnish with a stone.”

The forms and meaning of Porter Lara’s art are distinctly contemporary, but her materials and techniques connect her work to the Southwest and to people who preceded her in the region.

The Artist’s Process:

  • She digs clay from an arroyo (stream bed) near her home.
  • In a lengthy process, she mixes the clay with water and strains the excess moisture.
  • To form the base of each vessel, she uses a plaster cast of the bottom of plastic bottles as a mold.
  • To create the body of a vessel, she forms clay coils, stacking one coil on top of another, continually pinching them together and smoothing the surface.
  • After it is dried, the pottery is burnished: Porter Lara rubs the surface with a smooth stone, using either coconut or olive oil as a lubricant.
  • She fires the vessels in an outdoor pit, covered with a galvanized aluminum tub. During this “reduction” process, the pottery is kept away from flames and oxygen. Carbon released by sawdust and newspaper surrounding the work bonds with the clay and turns the vessels black.

Porter Lara’s works also engage with the industrialized mass production that characterizes modern consumer culture. While she recognizes the detrimental impact of this culture, Porter Lara states, “Saying that humans are only pollutants is a failure of imagination. Yes, we’re destructive, but we’re also creative. . . . I want to create the possibility that we can see things differently and contribute to the world. My work is my refusal to say that the earth would be better without me, and the determination to become equal to that claim.”

Visit the museum to see Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara, on view through May 14. Learn more through the audio guide and meet Jami Porter Lara at the museum for a special Artists in Conversation program on April 6, 2017.

Adapted from text by Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: March 10, 2017

International Women’s Day and #ADayWithoutAWoman made headlines in the art world this week. In advance of March 8, sculptor Kristen Visbal’s Fearless Girl was placed in front of the Wall Street Bull to call on the financial industry to include more women in leadership positions.

Several outlets, including the Art Newspaper and the Art League, discussed NMWA’s #5WomenArtists social media campaign on International Women’s Day. Apollo magazine cites the campaign and asks, “Are things looking up for women in the arts?The Huffington Post also commemorated the day by publishing a list of 201 women artists to know.

On March 8, a Google Doodle featured 13 pioneering women. Actress Emma Watson hid feminist books at statues of iconic women in New York City and a Cleveland bookstore celebrated by turning every fiction book written by a man backward on its shelf.

Front-Page Femmes

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling discusses the “Old Mistresses” of art history.

NMWA Library and Research Center Director Sarah Osborne Bender discusses this weekend’s Wikipedia Edit-a-thon.

Hyperallergic raves about Jordan Kasey’s “compellingly odd paintings” of thick figures and mysterious light.

Conceptual artist Sophie Calle is on the shortlist for the 2017 Deutsche Börse photography prize.

Amy Jorgensen creates cyanotype prints of British suffragists on vintage handkerchiefs.

Turkish painter and journalist Zehra Dogan was sentenced to two years and ten months in prison for her painting depicting the destruction of the city of Nusaybin.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses conflicting opinions about feminism today and her new book.

The children’s book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls shares stories about 100 inspirational women from across the globe.

Paula Rego’s son creates “a brutally honest BBC film” about Rego’s depression and “the self-portraits she made to survive.”

Artsy features 16 women excelling in the design world, including NMWA artist Sonya Clark, and Fresh Talk speaker Liz Ogbu.

artnet shares 14 exhibitions around the country featuring women artists.

Bustle reflects on Viola Davis’s speech about the power of acting.

IMDB adds an “F” classification to highlight films by or about women, following three criteria.

Known as the “grandmother of the French New Wave,” 88-year-old artist Agnès Varda discusses her career.

Shows We Want to See

Mari Katayama: On the Way Home is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in Gunma, Japan. Japanese artist Mari Katayama, who was born with tibial hemimelia, uses her body in her dazzling work.

Gillian Wearing imagines herself as a 70-year-old in a new series of images unveiled as part of the exhibition Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask.

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s retrospective Civic Radar, on view at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, explores identity, surveillance, and culture through female personas.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Opening Tomorrow: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum

Images that embody both precision and spontaneity are the focus of NMWA’s new exhibition Chromatic Scale: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum, on view March 10 to July 2, 2017.

Born in 1955 in Philadelphia, Polly Apfelbaum is best known for her large-scale installations and “fallen paintings,” compositions of dyed synthetic fabrics that she places directly on the floor. Apfelbaum studied painting and printmaking at the Tyler School of Art in Pennsylvania, receiving a BFA in 1978. She moved to New York City, where she was inspired by installation art and started experimenting with elements from two- and three-dimensional mediums. Despite studying printmaking as an art student, she didn’t revisit the medium until 2002.

Polly Apfelbaum, Little Dogwood 71, 2012; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 20 x 20 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Polly Apfelbaum, Little Dogwood 71, 2012; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 20 x 20 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Working primarily in woodblock printing, Apfelbaum intuitively positions inked wood blocks on thick, handmade paper, which is then pressed, transferring the inked design from the blocks to the paper. The blocks are carved from plywood according to Apfelbaum’s designs and are inked by hand in systematic spectrums of lush, saturated colors. Recently, she has experimented with more fluid coloring and shapes, using a “rainbow roll” technique, in which multiple colors are partially mixed to achieve continuous gradient tones.

Apfelbaum pursues a precise balance between color and shape to create sequences that elicit a particular feeling or sensation. She views color as both structural and emotional. In Little Dogwood 71 (2012) Apfelbaum achieves subtle variations among the circles by forming her blocks from slices of dogwood tree branches sourced from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where she works with Durham Press. Apfelbaum’s exuberantly colored prints are meticulously handmade and her compositions are often improvisational.

Polly Apfelbaum, Emperor Twist, 2015; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 25 3/8 x 25 3/8 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Polly Apfelbaum, Emperor Twist, 2015; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 25 3/8 x 25 3/8 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Apfelbaum’s striking colors and bold abstract shapes reference Minimalist and Pop art. Her most recent prints, like Emperor Twist (2015), demonstrate her increasingly complex use of patterns and color. Inspired by medieval mosaic floors from Italy, she created this print using scores of small hand-inked blocks. The broad range of colors and alternating zigzag and diamond shapes create a dynamic visual rhythm.

This exhibition continues the museum’s exploration of innovations in printmaking, a medium in which women have worked since the 16th century. Featuring prints in NMWA’s collection along with complementary loans, Chromatic Scale takes a focused look at Apfelbaum’s print work—a part of her oeuvre that has not been extensively studied—and examines how the artist extends the conventional boundaries of color and technique.

Visit the museum and celebrate spring with these bright prints on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery.

–Madeline Barnes is the winter/spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: March 3, 2017

The National Museum of Women in the Arts launched the second year of the #5WomenArtists social media campaign, which asks the question, “Can you name five women artists?” More than 2,000 people have shared the challenge in the last three days, using the hashtag in more than 4,000 tweets and more than 700 Instagram posts. The Huffington Post and USA Today also reported on the campaign. Keep sharing the stories of women artists using #5WomenArtists!

Front-Page Femmes

Washington City Paper writes that Jami Porter Lara’s works are “beautifully made and give viewers the surreal feeling that they are looking at something new, yet also familiar.”

New media artist Lorna Mills says, “Everything I do has the smell of digital wafting into the air around it.”

The Camille Claudel Museum, dedicated to recognizing the talent of the 19th-century sculptor, will open in France on March 26.

Twelve-year-old Gwendolyn McNamara won Doodle 4 Google’s contest for her climate-conscious drawing.

The New York Times publishes an article titled “Why the Met Should Appoint a Female Director.”

The Washington Post shares portraits of celebrities in the 1920s that launched photographer Berenice Abbott’s career.

Jennifer Bolande’s billboards advertise surrounding California landscapes.

Hyperallergic writes, “It’s so refreshing to visit an art fair dominated by women artists.”

London-based collector Valeria Napoleone discusses the importance of acquiring works by women artists.

A pumpkin sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama was damaged by an art fan who fell over while taking a photo.

French graphic designer and photographer Marilyn Mugot photographs city streets in China illuminated by neon.

“I think landscape is as much about what you don’t see as what you do see,” says Teresita Fernández.

Artist and curator Ingrid LaFleur is running in the upcoming Detroit mayoral race.

Zadie Smith reads “Crazy They Call Me” aloud for the New Yorker.

Nina McNeely’s choreography is “animated by a tension between agency and constraint.”

Charlotte Sleigh’s book The Paper Zoo explores 500 years of scientific animal illustration from the British Library.

Bridget Quinn’s book Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and History (in That Order) contains illustrations of iconic women artists by Lisa Congdon.

Shows We Want to See

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum features more than 60 items of the iconic artist’s wardrobe, including dozens of garments she made herself.

Liz Glynn installed 26 cast concrete sculptures in New York’s Central Park. The exhibition, Open House, portrays an “open-air ruin,” based on a now-demolished Fifth Avenue ballroom.

Fascinated by boundaries, Diana Al-Hadid questions use of space with her incredible room-sized sculptures in Liquid City, on view at the San Jose Museum of Art.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Digging In: Vessels by Jami Porter Lara in “Border Crossing”

Now on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara presents recent work by Albuquerque-based artist Jami Porter Lara (b. 1969), who hand-builds and pit-fires clay sculptures resembling a ubiquitous icon of modern life—the plastic bottle.

Jami Porter Lara firing; © Jessamyn Lovell

Porter Lara was inspired to synthesize ancient pottery-making methods with the contemporary form of the plastic bottle after encountering the detritus of human cultures separated by time rather than geography. While near the U.S.–Mexico border, she was struck by the similarity in function of pots from ancient cultures, whose broken pieces had been cast into a trash heap, with discarded two-liter plastic bottles used by migrants to carry water through the harsh environment.

Noting that both types of objects were used by people for the same purpose—to carry water—and that both were cast off when no longer needed, Porter Lara began this series. She says, “In the beginning, for me, it was about the connection between the plastic bottles and the pot sherds and thinking about how they represented this unbroken lineage of people moving through the landscape. Initially, I wanted to create vessels akin to those that traditionally would have carried water across this landscape. The first plastic bottle form I made out of clay cracked during firing, because I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time. But that crack in the ceramic was what made me first think of these pieces as contemporary artifacts.”

In reframing the plastic bottle, Porter Lara questions the culturally defined categories of art and trash as well as common presumptions about the people who used, and discarded, both the ancient and contemporary vessels. She says, “I was thinking of the plastic bottle as the most iconic vessel of my time. I felt that that form needed to be engaged and represented as opposed to just rejected as trash.”

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-6SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 10 x 6 ½ in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-6SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 10 x 6 ½ in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

Porter Lara describes, “This is not a recycling awareness campaign. The message behind my work has much more to do with the continuity between the ancient pot sherds and the plastic bottle, between the person who passed through this land 2,000 years ago and the person who passes through now. It is not a diatribe about pollution and consumption. In many ways, it’s an attempt to humanize the vessel and humanize the people who carry it.”

Visit the museum to see Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara, on view through May 14.

Adapted from text by Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Challenge Accepted: Can You Name Five Women Artists?

Ask someone to name five artists and responses will likely include names such as Warhol, Picasso, van Gogh, Monet, da Vinci—all male artists. Ask someone to name five women artists, and the question poses more of a challenge.

Back by popular demand this March, the National Museum of Women in the Arts continues to ask, “Can you name five women artists?” This simple question calls attention to the inequity women artists face, inspires conversation, and brings awareness to a larger audience. Last year, the campaign struck a chord, and tens of thousands of posts were shared on social media. This year, more than 200 institutions from 50 states, 22 countries, and seven continents have already signed on to participate.

Join us throughout the month to share stories of women artists using the hashtag #5WomenArtists on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Challenge your family and friends.
  2. Share posts about your favorite women artists.
  3. Share a work by a woman artist at a museum or gallery near you.
  4. Explore NMWA’s artist profiles to discover artists you may not know.
  5. Get the facts about art world inequality and track campaign updates all month long.

To kick off the month, learn more about five influential women artists from the museum’s collection who defied expectations:

Left to right: Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of a Noblewoman (ca. 1580) and Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Jar (ca. 1939); NMWA; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Left to right: Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of a Noblewoman, ca. 1580 and Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Jar, ca. 1939; NMWA; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Renaissance painter Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614) is regarded as the first professional woman artist. For 20 years beginning in the 1580s, Fontana was the portraitist of choice among Bolognese noblewomen. Not only was Fontana the breadwinner of her family, she also gave birth to 11 children.

For more than eight decades, Maria Martinez (1887–1980) revived and continued the centuries-old black-on-black pottery traditions of San Ildefonso Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Through her creative vision and skill, Martinez influenced generations of artists.

Left to right: Clementine Hunter, Untitled, 1981; NMWA, Gift of Evelyn M. Shambaugh; Lola Álvarez Bravo, De generación en generación, ca. 1950; NMWA, Gift of the Artist; © 1995 University of Arizona Foundation, Center for Creative Photography

Entirely self-taught and immensely prolific, Clementine Hunter (ca. 1887–1988) earned critical acclaim for vibrant paintings depicting life in the Cane River region of central Louisiana. Hunter did not start painting until the 1940s, when she was already a grandmother.

Lola Álvarez Bravo (1907–1993) was one of Mexico’s first professional women photographers, documenting daily life and portraying prominent world leaders. Like her friend Frida Kahlo, Álvarez Bravo celebrated the traditional costumes and customs of her country’s varied regions. She cannily blended nationalist content with the expression of universal human emotions.

Lee Krasner, The Springs, 1964; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Lee Krasner (1908–1984) was one of the first generation of Abstract Expressionist painters. Through six decades devoted to art, she explored innovative approaches to painting and collage. Often overshadowed by her husband, Krasner declared, “I’m always going to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock . . . but I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock.”

Want to help advocate for women in the arts? Starting March 1, take the challenge and post about #5WomenArtists on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and tag us @WomenInTheArts.

Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: February 24, 2017

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, on view at Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, dominated art news headlines this week. Featuring 70 years of the iconic Japanese artist’s work, the Infinity Rooms “delight as much as they disorient,” writes Hyperallergic. The museum also created a virtual reality simulation of the exhibition to make it accessible to all visitors.

The Huffington Post calls the exhibition “majestic” and describes Kusama as “an artist whose grasp of the world is profoundly prophetic.” Juxtapoz interviews Hirshhorn Assistant Curator Mika Yoshitake. The Washington Post publishes an interview with Kusama and ARTnews shares a 1959 review from the artist’s first New York solo show.

Front-Page Femmes

The Huffington Post features black women artists whose contributions to art history have been overlooked.

Artsy includes Border Crossing artist Jami Porter Lara in their list of 20 artists who are shaping the future of ceramics.

Deborah Kass discusses her accomplishments and the importance of representing Jewish culture in the art world.

Zoë Buckman and Natalie Frank created a “painful, yet necessary” mural titled We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident, incorporating statements politicians have made about women.

Sara Ouhaddou chronicles her journey across the U.S. in search of a symbol that is significant to both Arab and American cultures.

Hyperallergic interviews curator Jamillah James about her background, recent projects, and new role as head curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Emil Ferris’s debut graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters draws on her own childhood and on the experiences of Holocaust survivors.

Naima J. Keith was awarded the David C. Driskell Prize for her major contribution to African American art history.

Painter Beverly Fishman’s abstract works address technology and the pharmaceutical industry.

NPR interviews Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez about her new collection of stories, Things We Lost in the Fire.

BBC asks, “Is it still a man’s world behind the camera?

Women in the World reports that the number of women film protagonists reached an all-time high in 2016.

Shows We Want to See

artnet highlights Dutch designer Iris van Herpen’s 2008 dress Refinery Smoke, on view in her solo exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures, on view at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, displays sculptures made of everyday materials—such as pantyhose and sand—that are stretched and twisted to occupy space.

Five decades’ worth of Alice Neel’s paintings and drawings of people of color are on view in an exhibition at David Zwirner gallery.

Paste spotlights three of the nine Australian Aboriginal women artists whose works are featured in Marking the Infinite.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.