4 Questions with Amy Sherald

Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald (b. 1973) spoke with attendees at NMWA’s eighth Artists in Conversation program earlier this year. Designed as an intimate in-gallery discussion, Artists in Conversation offer visitors the opportunity to explore the museum and engage with artists and their works in the galleries. Sherald discussed her background, artistic process, and works featured in the museum, eliciting questions from program participants.

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

How did you first develop your signature backgrounds?

“I was trying to work my way through some ideas, and I actually tried to destroy a painting. I poured turpentine all over it and I just left it on the floor. I came back the next day and there were parts of it that had this speckling effect that I really liked. It’s important that these figures don’t exist in a space or time. I feel like the backgrounds work for that—they exist in a liminal space.”

Can you talk about the way you portray skin color?

“In graduate school I was creating self-portraits. . . . I painted people in different colors. One was black, one was a raw sienna, and one was a yellow ochre. It was a way of deconstructing race and asking that question about what race means to us as a people. The gray was an under color and I decided to leave it. Mars black and Naples yellow make these beautiful skin tones. . . . Each [figure] is a different color because each background is a different color. Green comes through, blue comes through, pink comes through. It just worked.”

What was it like studying with Grace Hartigan?

“She was a great role model—especially the stories she would tell about what her life was like as a woman trying to be an artist, working with [Jackson] Pollock and [Willem] de Kooning, and the tension that was there…the way they would put her down sometimes. All those things were learning experiences.”

Amy Sherald speaks to Artists in Conversation program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald speaks to program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Would you ever consider making smaller works?

“I really love drawing with charcoal…so, yes, I have. But then when I think about the work being in a museum. For me, the bigger the better because I want to take up that space and…I don’t want anyone visiting the museum and wondering if there was an Amy Sherald in there. I want them to know it was an Amy Sherald.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Go Figure! Amy Sherald at NMWA

“These are my favorites,” said Amy Sherald, gesturing to two of her paintings on view in NMWA’s collection galleries. “It was a relief to walk in here and see these. There’s absolutely nothing that I would fix because I had all the time in the world.” After winning first prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for the National Portrait Gallery, the Baltimore-based artist keeps a busy schedule. During an Artists in Conversation program at NMWA on May 9, Sherald shared her sources of inspiration and what she hopes viewers will take away from her work.

Amy Sherald at NMWA

Amy Sherald at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake (2009) relates to Sherald’s life in Columbus, Georgia. “Once I moved to Baltimore I realized no one called me a ‘redbone,’” explained Sherald. “If you don’t know what a ‘redbone’ is…it refers to someone who is supposed to be of Native American, African, and European descent. So, in the South it was very race conscious. . . . My basketball coach called me ‘redbone,’ which I really didn’t mind. And then there were other people who I didn’t know who called me ‘redbone’…and I didn’t like it so much.”

Sherald explained her personal connection to the subject of It Made Sense…Mostly in Her Mind (2011), portraying a horseback rider holding a children’s toy unicorn. “I went to an equestrian riding camp when I was an adolescent,” said Sherald, who later developed the idea for the painting after seeing her friend’s mother do dressage. Sherald asked her friend, Christina, to model for the painting because she embodied the sophistication Sherald wanted to capture.

Both paintings are displayed on the same gallery wall as Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937). “Frida Kahlo was one of my inspirations,” said Sherald. “When I changed my major from pre-med to painting, I had these ideas of painting a lot of the same things she did. I was talking to my art teacher Arturo Lindsay and he said, ‘look up Frida Kahlo.’” Sherald added, “I’m honored, to say the least.”

When discussing the impact of her paintings, Sherald told attendees, “I received emails from all kinds of people that see themselves in this work, and that’s really important too.” Sherald noted, “When you walk through a space like [the museum] you don’t always see this [gesturing to the figures in her paintings]. For me, this became really important, interjecting images of the underrepresented in the dominant circle narrative and making work that I felt would resonate in a way that art history can’t be told without it. . . . I consider myself an American Realist, maybe with a post-modern flare.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Happiest Hours: “Artists in Conversation” Invite You to Eat, Drink, and Connect

How can NMWA offer a distinctive type of artist talk program, one that engages attendees, activates artwork, and highlights the personalities of the guest speakers? The new “Artists in Conversation” program engages small audiences in the galleries during intimate group happy hour events.

Artists in Conversation participants socialize over happy hour in the galleries; Photo: Francesca Rudolph, NMWA

Artists in Conversation participants socialize over happy hour in the galleries; Photo: Francisca Rudolph, NMWA

The museum invited artists Rozeal, Analia Saban, Mira Dancy, and Suzanne McClelland for a series of three “Artists in Conversation” programs highlighting their respective works featured in the contemporary exhibition NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection. In this new format, participants have time to explore the galleries, look closely at the artists’ works, enjoy food and drink, and engage in conversations with the artists and fellow attendees.

On October 18, 2016, Rozeal captivated participants in a discussion of her work Sacrifice #2: it has to last (after Yoshitoshi’s “Drowsy: the appearance of a harlot of the Meiji era). Rozeal explored the influence of American hip-hop culture clichés on Japanese culture, namely ganguro, a sub-culture fascinated with dark tans and thickly applied contrasting makeup.

Rozeal with one of her works in NO MAN’S LAND, Photo: Francesca Rudolph, NMWA

Rozeal with one of her works in NO MAN’S LAND, Photo: Francisca Rudolph, NMWA

Rozeal portrays her protagonists with natural hairstyles such as dreadlocks, knots, or Afros, whereas her villains appear more sexualized, with intricate weaves and extravagant embellishments. Brown’s sources span the gamut—from 19th century Japanese woodblock print techniques and masters to popular culture. She cited J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as an inspiration for her own use of elaborate details in her work. Influenced by comedians like Bernie Mac and Rob Schneider’s Deuce Bigalow character, Rozeal often incorporates Easter Eggs in the form of hidden, humorous references. She revealed, “I usually end up laughing quite a bit when I make these paintings.”

Analia Saban shares her work with attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Analia Saban shares her work with attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

On November 11, 2016, Analia Saban introduced her works Acrylic in Canvas and Acrylic in Canvas with Ruptures: Grids. “While working on my MFA at the University of California in Los Angeles, I was curious why painting received more attention than sculpture,” explained Saban. By using acrylic and canvas in unexpected ways, she said, “My artwork opens up dialog about the boundaries between these two mediums.” Saban amused attendees with anecdotes about her trial-and-error artistic process. She recounted one night when a sculpture “exploded” and flooded her apartment with acrylic paint.

Join us for the delightful opportunity to talk with not just one—but two—NO MAN’S LAND artists in the same evening. On Tuesday, December 13, 2016, Mira Dancy and Suzanne McClelland will converse with small groups about their respective backgrounds, artistic process, and works. Find out what inspires McClelland’s large abstracted canvases and Dancy’s neon nudes. Reserve your spot today for the upcoming “Artists in Conversation” happy hour at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

—Olivia Lussi is the fall 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Brush Up on Your ABC’s: NMWA’s Teacher Institute

This year marked the seventh Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) Teacher Institute at NMWA. For one week this past July, 18 teachers from New York to North Carolina came to NMWA to explore ways to combine the arts with other classroom subjects.

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ABC participants; Photo: Casey Betts, NMWA

The ABC curriculum encourages growth in students’ visual literacy and critical thinking through the creation of artists’ books. It also incorporates the cultural contributions of women artists and provides teachers with resources to help them integrate the visual arts into their classrooms.

Participants began this year’s program with a visit to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC), where they were able to view a selection of artists’ books from the museum’s collection. After seeing examples of the different techniques, participants buckled down to create their own books.

A tunnel book creation (left); Carol Barton assists with paper folding techniques (right); Photos: NMWA

A tunnel book creation (left); Carol Barton assists with paper folding techniques (right); Photos: NMWA

Over the course of the week, participants created a portfolio of artists’ books and writing samples to use as future classroom models. Highlights included the opportunity to learn pop-up techniques from paper engineer Carol Barton. Attendees also experimented with printmaking methods by designing journal covers inspired by the exhibition Alison Saar In Print, currently on display in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery. Over the course of the week, the teachers also learned the basics of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a method of facilitating discussions about art that encourages close looking and engaged thinking.

ABC participants practice Visual Thinking Strategies in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

ABC participants practice Visual Thinking Strategies in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

At the end of the week, teachers brainstormed ways to adapt the presented book formats for students of varying ages and abilities. Each teacher completed the program by submitting a lesson concept that incorporated one of the book forms for their own classroom. Ideas ranged from using accordion books to compare French and English fairy tales to flag books examining the similarities between ancient and modern symbols.

These creative lesson concepts showed the many cross-curricular applications of the ABC curriculum and left the participants excited to adapt the ideas for their own classrooms. One teacher commented, “The course gave me wonderful ideas to use in my classroom. It introduced me to new concepts, and got me excited to use more art and creativity in my classroom.”

To access the free curriculum, visit the ABC website. To learn more about the annual ABC Teacher Institute, check out NMWA’s Teacher Institute page.

—Hannah Page was the summer 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The Pre-K Invasion: Developing New Tours for Young Audiences

This April, some of NMWA’s oldest paintings entertained the museum’s youngest audience. In a series of pilot tours for preschoolers, NMWA’s Education staff led 140 energetic Pre-K and kindergarten students through the galleries to examine portraits, colors, and shapes. Seated on rainbow-colored carpet squares, tiny visitors listened to stories, explored paintings, and experimented with diverse materials in their own art projects.

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Pre-K visitors explore poses and posture in front of Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

As the intern charged with crafting this new tour experience, I quickly realized that flexibility was key. Months of planning and research culminated in three thought-out lesson plans. However, unexpected obstacles still arose. School buses ran late, large events occupied the museum’s Great Hall, and an educator was accidentally scheduled to give two tours at once. I designed the tours to last 45 minutes, allow for ten students per educator, and conclude with an art-making activity in the Great Hall. In the end, the tours lasted an hour and art-making occasionally shifted locations.

Pre-K visitors experiment with art-making in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Pre-K visitors experiment with art-making in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Activities morphed based on the students’ interest, participation, and cooperation. Some of the preschoolers enjoyed using viewfinders to act like “color detectives” while other groups found the tool distracting. By the last program, we had figured out the most efficient ways to use materials in the galleries.

The art-making, movement activities, and stories captivated our young audience. The preschoolers found the dog in Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman and the unicorn in Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly in Her Mind easy to talk about—as well as the eye-catching outfits of each painting’s subject. They enjoyed mimicking shapes and lines with their bodies in front of Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain and using “magic paintbrushes” to imagine the expressive brush strokes in Joan Mitchell’s Orange. Students were eager to mix oil pastels and rip colored tape in their hands-on art activities. While creating self-portraits, they used hand mirrors to admire their faces. They were proud to take their artwork home as a reminder of their experience.

Overall, the program was a huge success! Logistical hurdles aside, we received positive feedback from teachers and chaperones who thought the tours were engaging and age-appropriate. Hearing kids say, “Wow! This place is cool!” or mention how much fun they had made the entire experience worth every ounce of effort it took to make it happen. I am excited for the future of these tours and cannot wait to hear how they play out during the next school year.

—Valerie Bundy was the winter/spring 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is a former Pre-K teacher who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in museum education at the George Washington University.

5 Fast Facts: Elaine de Kooning

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Abstract Expressionist artist Elaine de Kooning (1918–1989), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Speed Demon

Elaine de Kooning had the reputation of being able to paint a full-length portrait in less than two hours.

2. Not-So-Still Life

Though primarily known for her portraiture, de Kooning also experimented with still life. She combined careful depictions of everyday objects with loosely painted, sketchy areas—imbuing the works with a sense of movement contrary to the static feeling of more traditional still-life paintings.

Elaine de Kooning, Bacchus #3, 1978; Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 78 in x 50 in x 2 1/4 in; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Elaine de Kooning, Bacchus #3, 1978; Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 78 in x 50 in x 2 1/4 in; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

3. A Woman’s World

De Kooning first encountered art in reproductions by Rembrandt, Raphael, Rosa Bonheur, and Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun hung by her mother in de Kooning’s childhood home. This experience molded her artistic path. She said she “began life with the assumption that half the painters in the world were women.”

Visitors study Elaine de Kooning’s Bacchus #3; Photo: Dakota Fine

NMWA visitors study Elaine de Kooning’s Bacchus #3; Photo: Dakota Fine

4. Triple Threat

In addition to being a painter, de Kooning was also an esteemed writer and teacher. She became an editorial assistant for Art News in 1948 and taught at the University of New Mexico, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of California—Davis.

5. No Adjectives, Please

Not a fan of the term “woman artist,” de Kooning preferred to just be referred to as an artist. Once a man approached de Kooning and fellow abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell and asked, “What do you women artists think…” and they both walked away without responding.

—Marina MacLatchie was the fall 2015 education and digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Little Legs and Big Imaginations: Tours for Pre-K Visitors

NMWA hosts free and hands-on thematic tours for students in kindergarten through high school. This April, the museum launches a pilot series of tours created specifically for early learners—children ages 3–6. As the Education Department’s intern, I collaborated with the museum’s summer Teacher Institute alumni to create a Pre-K tour for NMWA. Teachers answered surveys, provided feedback on lesson plans, and signed up to bring more than 140 Pre-K students test the museum’s pilot tour.

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Valerie Bundy reads Hanoch Piven’s book to preschoolers; Photo: NMWA

I wanted to create an art-filled tour that would hold the interest of young minds. I considered which museum spaces were best for a young, energetic audience. Are objects positioned low enough for young children to see? Is there space for ten kids to sit comfortably without obstructing other visitors’ paths? Which art materials are allowed in the galleries? How do kids with little legs maneuver quickly through the museum?

Feedback from teachers, personal experience, and collaboration with staff helped answer these questions.

We decided to offer tours that are shorter than 60 minutes, focus on two artworks, and begin before public hours. This project will introduce early learners to art concepts in three categories: colors, shapes, and portraits. Before exploring the collection, students will listen to a story related to the theme of the tour: My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, Perfect Square by Michael Hall, or My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil by Hanoch Piven.

On the tours, we will visit large artworks with a lot of visual interest—like Antoine Cécile Hortense Haudebourt-Lescot’s Young Woman Seated in the Shade of a Tree. Chakaia Booker’s attention-grabbing Acid Rain might be too accessible for little hands, so we wukk explain “museum manners.” They might be asked to look at Lynda Benglis’s Eridanus and re-create its shape and lines with their bodies, identify the colors in Elaine de Kooning’s Bacchus #3 using color-detective spyglasses, or pose like Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman before creating their own self-portraits.

Students explore Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain

Students explore Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain; Photo: NMWA

In the museum’s Great Hall, our tiny visitors will have the opportunity for hands-on material exploration. We will encourage them to experiment with the process of creating by using materials like oil pastels, colored pencils, glue, fabric, and paper scraps. Because the Great Hall’s marble floor would be uncomfortable to sit on, we ordered carpet squares for the kids. Prioritizing the process of making over the final product, we hope to expose Pre-K audiences to authentic materials and get them inspired by NMWA’s collection. The museum’s Great Hall often provides a stunning backdrop for various elegant events, but it’s exciting to think of the space filled with rainbow-colored carpet squares, art supplies, and preschoolers with big imaginations.

—Valerie Bundy is the winter/spring 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is a former Pre-K teacher who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in museum education at the George Washington University.

ABC’s of Art: The 2015 Teacher Institutes

NMWA offered the week-long Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) Teacher Institute for the sixth year, and for the second time also held the Advanced ABC course for returning teachers. Participants spent the dog days of summer, July 13–17, 2015, learning arts-integration techniques. The ABC curriculum is ideal for third- through eighth-grade educators. During the program, teachers explored new avenues of creativity.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

One teacher’s book art project; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, ABC encourages growth in visual literacy and critical thinking, while also highlighting women artists’ achievements. In particular, the work of Maria Sibylla Merian inspired “bug books,” which encourage students to focus on insect life cycles and habitats.

As NMWA’s education intern, I learned as much as the enrolled teachers. I was largely unaware of the many challenges educators face—particularly in issues of literacy in D.C. schools. The Advanced ABC participants discussed ways in which artists’ books could provide visual literacy as a pathway to reading.

Unfamiliar with artists’ books, I was not aware of their practical applications. Teachers found new ways to incorporate concepts into their own curriculum plans. One educator based his flag book on famous women of the American Revolution. Another teacher said these techniques would allow her to “feed the artist in my classroom.” Ranging from investigations of traditional Native American cultures to literacy interventions, many advanced lesson plans were ready to be shared with colleagues by the end of the week.

Teachers wear their hats; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Teachers with their hat creations; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Participants also constructed sculptural hats and “star books”—books with complex folds and covers that demonstrate knowledge of shapes and primary colors.

The Advanced Institute teachers delved deeper and experimented with circuits to add lights and motorized elements to their books.

Toward the end of the program, the two groups converged during a crafty happy hour at the museum. Program participants enjoyed wine and refreshments and then experimented with paste, marbling, and watercolor techniques during a paper-making activity.

While creating personal portfolios of artists’ books, teachers learned the basics of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)—a method for facilitating discussions about art.

VTS encourages close looking and deep thinking, where each student feels his or her opinion validated. This method provides an equal playing field for art appreciation and creative engagement. As an art history student, I often ask about a work’s title, artist, or time period. However, I was exposed to new points of view through hearing participants’ personal connections. VTS creates a culture of thinking where students work together as storytellers.

To access the free curriculum, visit the ABC website. To learn more about the ABC Teacher Institute, check out the museum’s website.

—Brittany Fiocca was the summer 2015 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Internships at NMWA

Have you considered interning at the National Museum of Women in the Arts? Interns at NMWA gain experience in a museum setting, learning and advancing their careers while helping departments from development to education to curatorial. What’s a NMWA internship really like?

Rebecca Ljungren, college senior and NMWA education intern, spring 2015:

  • Why were you interested in a NMWA internship?
  • The unique quality of the museum as the only one in the world solely dedicated to women artists—as well as raving reviews from past interns—pushed me to apply. This is my first internship and I feel lucky that it was at NMWA!
  • Can you describe your job?
  • There is never a dull moment! From helping put together workshops to researching artists, giving tours, and assembling self-guides, the skills I learned are extremely valuable toward my future goals—as well as a ton of fun!
  • What was something unexpected you learned about NMWA?
  • How small each department is, but how much they are able to get done. This place is a powerhouse.
Spring 2015 interns in front of Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain

Spring 2015 interns in front of Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Lucas Matheson, college junior and NMWA development intern, spring 2015:

  • Can you describe your job?
  • My job included recognition projects, funding research, and donor database management. Additionally, I worked on copyright acquisition for the Membership Department and the Registrar.
  • What has been your favorite part of working at NMWA?
  • My favorite part has been communicating with artists as part of my copyright project. It has been wonderful to see how happy artists are to support NMWA. Also, Maria Friberg (an artist from Stockholm) unexpectedly sent a beautiful book of her photographs. That was a wonderful bonus.
  • Anything else you’d like to add?
  • I had not anticipated how supportive NMWA staff would be—both from a professional and an educational perspective. I was encouraged to visit other institutions, ask questions, attend gallery talks, and simply spend time in the galleries. NMWA was interested in my growth as an individual, not just my abilities to support the museum, and that meant a lot.
Spring 2015 interns in NMWA’s galleries; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Spring 2015 interns in NMWA’s galleries; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Monica Varner, recent art history graduate and NMWA library and research center intern, spring 2015:

  • Can you describe your job?
  • I answer questions from researchers using the archives and library resources. I also staff the reference desk to assist patrons. I am learning how to catalogue records for the Archive of Women Artists as well as books and exhibition catalogues.
  • What has been your favorite part of working at NMWA?
  • My favorite part is getting “hands-on” experience in cataloging and working with institutional and artist archives. It is a real advantage to be able to apply theory outside of the classroom.
  • Would you recommend a NMWA internship?
  • I would definitely recommend a NMWA internship. It’s great being at a museum with a strong presence in D.C., but where you’re not lost in a sea of interns.

Interested in learning more? Visit the museum’s website to apply!

Merian’s Daughters: Monika E. de Vries Gohlke, Amy Lamb, and Janaina Tschäpe

Join NMWA on September 3, when contemporary artists engage in conversation about their “artistic foremother” Maria Sibylla Merian. During Merian’s Daughters, Super Natural artists Amy Lamb, Janaina Tschäpe, and Monika E. de Vries Gohlke will discuss their disparate ways of dealing with nature in their work. The three artists credit groundbreaking 17th-century artist and scientist Merian, whose work is also on view in Super Natural, as a major influence on their performances, photography, videos, and prints.

Amy Lamb, Purple Datura, 2015; Digital pigment print of photograph, 34 x 34 in.; Promised gift of the artist and Steven Scott Gallery, Baltimore; © 2015 Amy Lamb, all rights reserved

Amy Lamb, Purple Datura, 2015; Digital pigment print of photograph, 34 x 34 in.; Promised gift of the artist and Steven Scott Gallery, Baltimore; © 2015 Amy Lamb, all rights reserved

Maria Sibylla Merian revolutionized botany and zoology through her studies of flora and fauna. At age 52, Merian and her younger daughter embarked on a dangerous trip to the Dutch colony of Suriname, in South America, without a male companion. She spent two years studying and drawing the indigenous animals and plants. Her lavishly illustrated Insects of Surinam established her international reputation.

Through studying insects, Merian paved the way for centuries of artist-scientists, including Amy Lamb, who cites Merian as a major influence on her career. A cellular biologist-turned-artist, Lamb admires women like Merian for their ability to cross over to the art world.

Lamb’s photographs emphasize the formal properties of her subjects—the color of a leaf, the ruffled edges of a petal, or the reflective qualities of a dew drop. Her photographs recall the painstaking detail found in Merian’s scientific drawings. While Merian emphasized biological detail to foster better scientific understanding, Lamb’s large-scale images elevate the minutiae of her flowers to monumental status.

Janaina Tschäpe, Moais from “100 Little Deaths,” 2002; Chromogenic color print, 31 x 47 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Janaina Tschäpe, Moais from “100 Little Deaths,” 2002; Chromogenic color print, 31 x 47 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Talented and independent, Merian set an example for women like Janaina Tschäpe. Merian ventured beyond 17th-century societal norms by traveling and studying in a foreign country with only her daughter as a companion. Tschäpe also traveled to remote locales for the benefit of her art. She created her “100 Little Deaths” series by photographing her body in natural environments around the world—from Capri to Angkor Wat.

Left: Monika E. de Vries Gohlke, “Caiman” After Maria Sibylla Merian and Daughters, 2012; Etching and aquatint, hand colored, on paper, 11 1/4 x 15 1/4 in.; NMWA, Gift of the artist; Right: Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 69 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 14 1/4 x 20 1/2 in.; NNMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Left: Monika E. de Vries Gohlke, “Caiman” After Maria Sibylla Merian and Daughters, 2012; Etching and aquatint, hand colored, on paper, 11 1/4 x 15 1/4 in.; NMWA, Gift of the artist; Right: Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 69 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 14 1/4 x 20 1/2 in.; NNMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Merian’s influence is evident in Monika E. de Vries Gohlke’s oeuvre. One of Gohlke’s prints, “Caiman” After Maria Sibylla Merian and Daughters, is similar to Merian’s composition showing a caiman struggling with a snake, which is on view next to Gohlke’s drawing. The French phrase “L’homage”—visible on the ground below the fighting figures—underscores the relevance of Merian’s preceding work. Spiders and butterflies along the top of the drawing allude to Merian’s renowned artistic and scientific work on insects. Merian’s illustrations cover an adjacent wall within the same gallery as Gohlke’s Caiman.

Hear from the artists in person at NMWA about their work and Merian’s persistent influence—register today through the online calendar.

—Christy Slobogin was the summer publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.