Recent Acquisitions at the LRC: Richenda Cunningham’s Letter

The next time you visit NMWA, come to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) to see new books on art, as well as reference books, artists’ books, and more!

Richenda Cunningham, Temple of Caius & Lucius Caesar, or Maison Carre (from the series "Nine Views Taken on the Continent"), ca. 1830; Lithograph on paper, 13 x 16 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Richenda Cunningham, Temple of Caius & Lucius Caesar, or Maison Carre (from the series “Nine Views Taken on the Continent”), ca. 1830; Lithograph on paper, 13 x 16 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

The LRC recently acquired an original letter from British printer Richenda (Gurney) Cunningham (1782–1855). Her lithographic portfolio of travel prints “Nine Views Taken on the Continent” (ca. 1830) resides in the museum’s collection and was on view in the 2011 exhibition The Art of Travel: Picturesque Views of Europe by Richenda Cunningham.

“Nine Views” consists of nine 13-by-16 inch prints that were drawn by Cunningham and produced by prominent English lithograph printer Charles Joseph Hullmandel. The series includes drawings of landscapes and tourist locales such as Provence and the Rhineland, which Cunningham visited when touring Europe in 1815.

Cunningham was greatly influenced by Romanticism, a pervasive movement sweeping England in the 18th and 19th centuries that encouraged a love of nature and travel. Cunningham’s “Nine Views” could be compared to other popular travelogue-style lithographs  from the time. The artist included visually enticing elements of rugged landscapes for embellishment. Her lithographs were likely produced in the 1820s and 1830s, before lithography became a more commercial practice in the mid-century.

Richenda Cunningham, Villar, Valley of Luzerne, Piedmont (from the series "Nine Views Taken on the Continent"), ca. 1830; Lithograph on paper, 13 x 16 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Richenda Cunningham, Villar, Valley of Luzerne, Piedmont (from the series “Nine Views Taken on the Continent”), ca. 1830; Lithograph on paper, 13 x 16 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Cunningham’s prints were in such high enough demand that they had to be re-printed several times, evident from the letter, which is a response to a request for more prints by a patron, Ms. Thompson. This letter shows Cunningham dealing with her own business transactions as a professional artist. In the letter Cunningham “takes the liberty of charging” Ms. Thompson with two more copies of her prints, then politely invites her to the artist’s home “should any circumstances lead [Ms. Thompson] into our neighborhood.” This letter is both a business record and a piece of personal correspondence, helping us to better understand the daily interactions of a woman artist in the 19th century.

Letter from Richenda Cunningham to Ms. Thompson. Dated September 21, 18--. Betty Boyd Library & Research Center, National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Letter from Richenda Cunningham to Ms. Thompson. Dated September 21, 18–. Betty Boyd Library and Research Center, National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The LRC is always thrilled to acquire primary source material concerning artists represented in the museum’s collection. This letter is particularly interesting because there is so little known about the details of Cunningham’s life.

All are welcome to view this letter in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you’re touring the museum’s exhibitions, the library is open to the public and makes a great starting point on the fourth floor. In addition to beautiful books and comfortable chairs, library visitors enjoy interesting exhibitions that feature archival manuscripts, personal papers by women artists, rare books, and artists’ books. Reference Desk staff members are always happy to answer questions and offer assistance. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Lauren Redding is the spring 2017 intern in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Down to a Science: #5WomenArtists Spark #5WomenScientists

For Women’s History Month, NMWA posed the question, “Can you name five women artists?” While social media users shared stories of women artists with #5WomenArtists, other science museums and cultural institutions expanded the challenge by posting content about #5WomenScientists.

Maria Merian, Plate 9 (from "Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam", second edition), 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 1/4 x 14 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Maria Merian, Plate 9 (from “Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam,” second edition), 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 1/4 x 14 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Art and science are two fields which seamlessly overlap. Both encourage close observation, experimentation, and innovation. Women are often overlooked and underrepresented in both fields. NMWA features a collection of works by women artist-scientists.

Because of their purported keen powers of observation, women artists historically were encouraged to render the natural world. After studying dried specimens of plants and animals that were popular with European collectors, botanical illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) decided to study them in their natural habitats. At the age of 52, Merian and her younger daughter embarked on a dangerous trip, without a male chaperone, to the Dutch colony of Surinam in South America. She spent two years studying indigenous flora and fauna. Her book, the lavishly illustrated Insects of Surinam, was published in 1705 and established Merian’s international reputation.

As tools for observation became more advanced, photography emerged as a new medium to explore, record, and interpret nature. Molecular biologist-turned-photographer Amy Lamb (b. 1944) continues the tradition of women artist-scientists by producing large-scale “portraits” of plants. For Lamb, observation is a vital part of her creative process. She grows most of the plants that she photographs, which allows her to become intimately familiar with their life cycles. Studying plant maturation repeatedly helps her anticipate when to have the camera ready.

Amy Lamb, “Magnolia,” 1998, Iris print, 13 1/4 in x 20 1/8 in; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, Maryland, in honor of the artist, ©1998 Amy Lamb, all rights reserved

Amy Lamb, Magnolia, 1998, Iris print, 13 1/4 in x 20 1/8 in; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, Maryland, in honor of the artist, ©1998 Amy Lamb, all rights reserved

The influence of science is a common thread in NMWA’s collection. Floral still-life paintings by Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750), cliché-verre prints by Maggie Foskett (1919–2014), and etchings by Monika E. de Vries Gohlke (b. 1940) engage with science and nature. Angela Strassheim (b. 1969), trained in forensic photography, lends a scientific eye to her oeuvre, while Michal Rovner (b. 1957) simulates the feeling of a laboratory through a video work involving petri dishes.

Continue exploring the stories of women artist-scientists. Browse a selection of #5WomenScientists posts from institutions ranging from the Field Museum, to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Franklin Institute, and the Science Museum, London.

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

Artist Spotlight: Julie Roberts

Paintings by Julie Roberts (b. 1963, Fflint, Wales) are both realistic and otherworldly, often focusing on the restraint of the human body and the power structure of institutions. Roberts finds inspiration in works by various artists and thinkers, as well as in memories of her own childhood.

She cites French philosopher Michel Foucault as a major source of inspiration. Artists Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger also influence Roberts’s work, particularly in her exploration of the female body and womanhood. Evidence of the artist’s upbringing is visible in her oeuvre. As a child, Roberts often spent time in a former morgue or at the nursing home where her mother worked. Medical equipment and furniture often appear in her paintings.

Julie Roberts, Gynaecology Couch, 1992; Oil and acrylic ground on canvas, 83 7/8 x 72 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

Julie Roberts, Gynaecology Couch, 1992; Oil and acrylic ground on canvas, 83 7/8 x 72 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Roberts’s unsettling works from the 1990s lack figures. Instead, symbols of institutional management of the body, such as a straightjacket, a gynecological chair, and a nightgown, seem to float in the center of the canvas. Backgrounds containing rich color fields and subtle vertical stripes produce an “optical kind of fizzle.” Roberts’s thickly-painted objects appear in a “frenzy” against the structured and controlled backgrounds. While they suggest the human body, they are never occupied by one.

Gynaecology Couch (1992) shows an empty seat with stirrups against a deep blue background. Isolated from figures or other objects, the couch conjures senses of sterilization and solitude often associated with hospital visits. With no light source and no cast shadow, the chair appears surrealistic. Upon closer examination, exquisite details in the couch pillow reveal a deep impression, as if someone was just sitting on it. Without visual context, viewers are left to speculate about the couch’s story and purpose.

Roberts’s more recent paintings represent an aesthetic departure from her earlier work. As her practice developed, she “slowly started creeping towards the edge of the canvas.” Dormitory (2011) exemplifies Roberts’s expressive and highly stylized application of paint featuring graphic circles and lines that form distinctive patterns. This painting recalls the exaggerated perspective Surrealists like Giorgio de Chirico used in 20th-century Europe.

Dormitory also reflects Roberts’s recent interest in displaced and orphaned children in Europe during the mid-20th century. The depiction of an orphanage dormitory includes an orderly rows of beds with crisp sheets, evoking a sense of sterilization and anonymity. The room does not look like that of a child. There are no toys, decorations, or traces of life, other than the beds themselves. Even the blinds have been drawn to precisely the same height. The detachment of children from their parents in an orphanage is mirrored by the separation of human from object in her paintings. Roberts, along with her siblings, spent brief periods in foster homes growing up. This body of work, she says, “doesn’t come from an ideology, it comes from the pit inside of me, somewhere in my soul.”

—Casey Betts was the summer 2016 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

An Artistic Tribute: Women Painting Women

Artists May Stevens and Faith Ringgold highlight other prominent women artists through paintings currently on display in the museum’s third-floor galleries. Stevens and Ringgold chose their subjects for their impact on the arts as well as broader social issues. Stevens’s SoHo Women Artists and Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas share common themes: women celebrating women, artists honoring artists, and women reclaiming their places in history.

May Stevens, Soho Women Artists, 1978; Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 142 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

May Stevens, SoHo Women Artists, 1978; Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 142 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

In SoHo Women Artists (1978), Stevens includes a self-portrait along with depictions of artist Miriam Schapiro and critic Lucy Lippard—two other members of the collective and feminist journal Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics. In addition, Stevens depicts other friends and neighbors who helped shape the 1970s feminist art revolution in New York City, including artists Harmony Hammond, Joyce Kozloff, Louise Bourgeois, and Sarah Charlesworth.

Stevens’s frieze-like composition is reminiscent of traditional western history paintings, which praised important thinkers but often excluded women. Through depictions of her contemporaries, Stevens emphasizes her friends’ influential roles in advancing the feminist movement. Working from candid snapshots of her friends, Stevens captures their respective personalities. Although each figure is distinct, they are layered to form a cohesive unit. Overall, the monumental painting embodies a sense of collaboration, friendship, and celebration.

Installation view of Faith Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas; Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

Installation view of Faith Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas; Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas (1997) honors the world-famous dancer Josephine Baker (1906–1975), who gained renown in her adoptive country of France during the 1920s. Ringgold captures Baker’s vivacious personality through five iterations. Each of the five portrayals shows Baker with a wide smile, expressive gestures, and costumed in her iconic skirt made up of artificial bananas. The overlapping, sequential arrangement of the figures across the canvas makes it seem as though Baker is in motion, performing one of her signature dances. Through these images, along with depictions of musicians, audience members, and boldly colored patterns, Ringgold creates an atmosphere of celebration.

Jo Baker’s Bananas references nostalgia for the jazz age, but also pays homage to Baker. Upon her return to the U.S., Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences and became a civil rights leader. Ringgold has portrayed Baker several times, including in the painting Jo Baker’s Birthday and the mosaic mural Flying Home Harlem Heroes and Heroines.

Because women artists have often been overlooked and ignored in the history of art, it is rewarding to see women artists celebrated by other women artists. May Stevens and Faith Ringgold recognize and praise the significant social and artistic contributions made by other great women.

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

Pillar Perfect: Louise Nevelson and Anne Truitt

Visitors exploring NMWA’s third-floor galleries may find themselves near two similarly shaped sculptures. Artists Louise Nevelson (1899–1988) and Anne Truitt (1921–2004) worked within different art movements but employed a similar column structure in their sculptures. Viewers can compare and contrast elements of the artists’ respective styles. While both works are abstract, it is interesting to investigate the progression from Louise Nevelson’s 1959 Abstract Expressionist work White Column (from Dawn’s Wedding Feast) to Anne Truitt’s 1971 Minimalist take on the column in Summer Dryad.

Louise Nevelson, White Column (from Dawn’s Wedding Feast), 1959; Painted wood, 110 x 15 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.; Gift of an anonymous donor; © 2012 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Louise Nevelson, White Column (from Dawn’s Wedding Feast), 1959; Painted wood, 110 x 15 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.; Gift of an anonymous donor; © 2012 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Both artists’ works set them apart in primarily male-dominated art movements. Nevelson (b. 1899, Kiev) rose to prominence as an Abstract Expressionist sculptor whose works also included a strong Cubist element. Nevelson developed her signature style of large, monochromatic assemblages to rival the scale of the canvases that many male Abstract Expressionists painted.

As Nevelson began to gain recognition, she was deemed unworthy of the attention by one critic, who stated, “We learned the artist is a woman, in time to check our enthusiasm…otherwise we might have hailed these sculptural expressions as by surely a great figure among moderns.” Nevelson continued to develop her practice, and as the scale of her sculptures grew, so did the respect of critics.

In a response to Abstract Expressionism, the 1960s saw the rise of Minimalism. Abstraction was pushed further into flatness and non-representation. Truitt (b. 1921, Maryland) created her sculptures with the geometric simplicity that characterized Minimalism.

Truitt made the style her own and separated herself from male artists through her use of expressive titles. Unlike most Minimalists, Truitt’s titles reference some level of iconography in her work, but she denies any direct representation, unlike Nevelson’s abstracted wedding figures.

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 inches; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Color plays a key role in each artist’s process. Both Nevelson and Truitt use color to evoke emotion and draw in viewers. However, the artists employ different palettes. Truitt’s works contain bright hues while Nevelson chose to envelop her works in matte shades of white or black.

Before coating Dawn’s Wedding Feast in a serene white, Nevelson primarily worked with black paint to communicate a feeling of enormity. White Column was created as one many sculptures meant to immerse the visitor in a white “wedding” in her installation Dawn’s Wedding Feast, part of the Museum of Modern Art’s 1959 exhibition 16 Americans.

Truitt applies multiple layers of paint to her geometric sculptures, creating clean, smooth surfaces. While her works vary in color, Summer Dryad’s bright green hue calls to mind elements of nature in the warmer seasons.

Visit NMWA and see these sculptures in the museum’s newly reinstalled collection galleries!

—Meghan Masius is the winter/spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Kiki Smith

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Kiki Smith (b. 1954), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Kiki Smith, Untitled (for David Wojnarowicz), 2000

Kiki Smith, Untitled (for David Wojnarowicz), 2000; Etching and engraving, with aquatint, spitbite, and sugarlift on Hahnemühle paper; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and her biographer, former NMWA Chief Curator Helaine Posner

Kiki Smith (b. 1954)

1. Spirited Away

Smith cites Catholicism’s focus on the human body as source material. “Catholicism is a body-fetishized religion. It’s always taking inanimate things and giving meaning to them.” Smith has based sculptures on Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary, but uprooted traditional expectations.

2. Proof is in the Print

Although she is best-known as a sculptor, Smith has also worked in printmaking since the late 1970s. The “endlessly fascinating” printmaking process allows Smith to examine proofs at various stages, offering the artist the flexibility to experiment and re-work an image until she is satisfied with the result.

3. Poetic License

Smith’s work on view at NMWA highlights her interest in the relationship between women and nature. She illustrated Sampler, a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson, and assembled the drawings into one hand-colored and gilded layout. Smith’s imagery was inspired by embroidered samplers from the 18th and 19th centuries.

A visitor studies Kiki Smith’s Sampler, 2007 on view in NMWA’s collection galleries

A visitor studies Kiki Smith’s Sampler (2007), on view in NMWA’s collection galleries

4. Life and Death

Smith lost her father in 1980 and her sister, Beatrice, to AIDS, in 1988. These deaths prompted Smith to explore themes of ephemerality and mortality. In this vein, she has created death masks in homage to her family and friends. She also cited Gray’s Anatomy as inspiration and studied cadavers.

5. Matter of Opinion

Friends fuel Smith’s creative process. She explains that “you get the benefit of everyone’s opinions and so it’s not just about you in your you-dom.” Welcoming other perspectives, Smith says, “I’d rather make something that’s very open-ended that can have a meaning to me, but then it also can have a meaning to somebody else.”

5 Fast Facts: Remedios Varo

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Surrealist painter Remedios Varo (1908–1963), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

varo the call

Remedios Varo, La llamada (The Call), 1961; Oil on masonite, 39 1/2 x 26 3/5 in.; NMWA, Gift from Private Collection

Remedios Varo (1908–1963)

1. Stranger in a Strange Land

Varo spent the majority of her adulthood as a political refugee. She left her native Spain for Paris during the Spanish Civil War and could not return due to her political ties. She then fled Paris after Germany’s 1940 occupation. She escaped to Mexico, where she lived for the rest of her life.

 2. Hanging with the In-Crowd

Varo’s relationship with French Surrealist poet Benjamin Péret introduced her to other Parisian Surrealists. While outwardly accepting, the male-dominated movement placed limitations on women artists by portraying them as innocent and child-like. This view often created obstacles for female Surrealists trying to gain credibility and develop their own creative identities.

3. Paying the Bills

After moving to Mexico, Varo supported herself through various odd jobs, including sewing, restoring ceramics, creating advertisements for pharmaceuticals, and creating technical drawings for the Ministry of Public Health. Although commercial, this work helped her develop a style that was uniquely her own.

varo weaving

Remedios Varo, Tejido espacio-tiempo (Weaving of Space and Time), 1954; Oil on masonite, 32 x 28 in.; NMWA, Gift from Private Collection

4. Fashionista

Although she is renowned as a painter, Varo also designed costumes for theatrical productions. She even made her own clothing, believing that tailors had no knowledge of a woman’s anatomy and figure. Her sewing machine held a place of honor at the 1983 retrospective of her work in Mexico City.

5. Best Friends Forever

Varo was close friends with fellow Surrealist Leonora Carrington. The two often discussed philosophy and collaborated on stories, games, and plays. One of their favorite pastimes was creating recipes that promised to chase away problems like, “inopportune dreams, insomnia, and deserts of quicksand under the bed.”

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

Subconscious Reality: Women Surrealists in Mexico

NMWA’s third-floor galleries feature works by European artists Remedios Varo (1908–1963) and Leonora Carrington (1917–2011). In 20th-century Europe, critics often dismissed women artists working within the male-dominated Surrealist movement. World War II later forced many artists into self-exile, effectively ending the movement in Europe. Hailing from Spain and England, respectively, Varo and Carrington moved to Mexico, where they became involved in a thriving artistic community with fellow refugees from their European Surrealist circles.

varo the call

Remedios Varo, La llamada (The Call), 1961; Oil on masonite, 39 1/2 x 26 3/4 in.; NMWA, Gift from Private Collection

Both artists examined themes of fantasy, magic, and mysticism in their creations. While in Mexico, Varo and Carrington became close friends and collaborators. They explored the occult and alchemical practices—evidence of which can be detected in their works. Although they shared similar interests and inspirations, they developed their own distinctive styles. Abstract and cubist elements played a strong role in Varo’s paintings while fantastical creatures and animal hybrids populated Carrington’s works.

Like many of Varo’s paintings, La Llamada (The Call) (1961) illustrates an ambiguous narrative. Depicted with large eyes and a long straight nose, the central figure may reference Varo’s own distinct facial features. The figure seems to walk fearlessly through a mysterious courtyard as though halfway through a momentous quest. Surrounded by otherworldly creatures, the glowing figure carries alchemical instruments containing precious liquids—symbols that allude to Varo’s belief in mystical forces. Uncanny perceptual distortions and her characteristic combination of vibrant and tarnished colors shape the dreamlike scene.

Leonora Carrington, The Ship of Cranes, 2010; Bronze, 26 x 14 x 42 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Paul Weisz-Carrington, M.D.

Installation view of Leonora Carrington’s The Ship of Cranes (2010) in NMWA’s galleries

Carrington also developed a personal symbolism that she chose not to explain to others. She intended her complex, densely layered images to be pondered—but not necessarily decoded—by the curious viewer. Primarily a painter, Carrington did not begin sculpting until the 1990s. Her sculpture The Ship of Cranes (2010) represents her adaptation of the Mayan belief that all humans have specific animal companions or guides. A ship fashioned after a crane carries four other anthropomorphic bird-like creatures in the midst of what may be a spiritual journey. This sculpture in NMWA’s collection emphasizes Carrington’s belief in—and use of—animal symbolism.

Both Varo and Carrington channeled the subconscious in their work. They employed recurring motifs that develop from their imaginations. The beings they created represent their influences and dreams. Their mystical and eerie works provide viewers with a glimpse into their minds—where personal, subconscious reality dominates. By communicating the incommunicable, Varo’s and Carrington’s works transcend the esoteric.

—Francisca Rudolph is the fall 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Betye Saar

Impress your friends with five fast facts about American assemblage artist Betye Saar (b. 1926), whose work is in NMWA’s collection.

Betye Saar (b. 1926)

1. Watts Up

As a child, Betye Saar (b. 1926) witnessed the construction of Watts Towers, a large-scale multi-part public sculpture in Los Angeles. A source of inspiration for Saar’s assemblages, this work features a variety of found objects including figurines, glass, and seashells.

Betye Saar, The Long Memory (from NMWA 10th Anniversary Print Portfolio), 1998; Serigraph on paper; 14 1/4 x 11 5/8 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase: funding provided by the Kasser Foundation

Betye Saar, The Long Memory (from NMWA 10th Anniversary Print Portfolio), 1998; Serigraph on paper; 14 1/4 x 11 5/8 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase: funding provided by the Kasser Foundation

2. Deep Impression

Saar studied design in college, though she credits a single printmaking class for converting her into a fine artist.

3. BAM!

The artist actively participated in the 1970s Black Arts Movement. This movement challenged common stereotypes and celebrated cultural difference. In works like The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972), Saar appropriated derogatory imagery of black women and recast them to bring to light racial and gender inequities.

4. Like Mother, Like Daughters

Saar has three daughters, two of whom are visual artists in their own right. Her daughters Lezley and Alison even occasionally collaborate with their mother on works. NMWA’s collection contains works by both Betye and Alison.

5. Not the Retiring Sort

Saar celebrated her 90th birthday this past July. She doesn’t seem so be slowing down though, as she continues to create new works and exhibit regularly. Her latest exhibition, Black White, is on view at Roberts & Tilton in Culver City, California, through December 17, 2016.

—Adrienne Gayoso is the associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Justine Kurland

Impress your friends with five fast facts about American photographer Justine Kurland (b. 1969), whose work is on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries.

Justine Kurland (b. 1969)

1. The Runaways

After “imagining a story, a film…that I wanted to be real,” Kurland began photographing young girls in spectacular landscapes. While creating her narrative of a teenage runaway, she was particularly interested in photographing within small, fringe areas of wilderness that remained between suburban and urban areas.

Justine Kurland, Raft Expedition, 2001; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Justine Kurland, courtesy Mitchell-Innes + Nash

Justine Kurland, Raft Expedition, 2001; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Justine Kurland, courtesy Mitchell-Innes + Nash

2. Girls in Uniform

Kurland continued working with adolescent girls while completing an artist residency in New Zealand.

She learned that students there wore uniforms whether they were in public or private school, and had the girls wear them in her photographs.

3. On the Open Road 

Eschewing the traditional studio, Kurland travels the country to create her images. Whether on her own or with her son, she packs up her camera equipment, steps into her van (which has a bed in the back), and lives on the road for several months.

4. Mama Babies

When exhibiting her mother and child images, Kurland borrowed the title “Of Woman Born,” from the 1978 essay on motherhood by the feminist poet Adrienne Rich. For Kurland, the series was a way for her to reimagine the idea of motherhood.

5. Artistic Beginnings

At a young age, Kurland cut out Victorian artist Arthur Rackham’s illustration, Always Plenty to Eat or Drink, from a book. The fantastical artwork resonated with Kurland. Even today, Kurland keeps the page with her. She feels that the work represents her world view.

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