Color Blocking & Blending: Polly Apfelbaum’s Prints

Polly Apfelbaum (b. 1955) is best known for her large-scale installations and “fallen paintings,” compositions of dyed synthetic fabrics that she places directly on the floor. The exhibition Chromatic Scale: Prints from Polly Apfelbaum, currently on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery, presents a focused survey of Apfelbaum’s recent prints.

Installation view of Chromatic Scale: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Installation view of Chromatic Scale: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

In more recent years, Polly Apfelbaum revisited printmaking, a process she explored as an art student at the Tyler School of Art in Pennsylvania. Creating most of her prints at Durham Press, Apfelbaum often collaborates with master printmaker Jean-Paul (J.P.) Russell to create her colorful, abstract works. Her works reference abstract, minimalist, and Pop art. She was influenced by artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Jackson Pollock, but Apfelbaum’s work differs in style by incorporating energy, playfulness, and wit, as well as her love of popular culture and affirmative view of femininity.

Because of her prints’ clean-edged shapes and even color, one might assume that Apfelbaum’s works are mechanically produced. However, they are meticulously handmade. Apfelbaum works closely with master printers to cut woodblocks from plywood in shapes based on her hand-drawn doodles. The blocks are then inked by hand in a broad but ordered spectrum of colors. “Many times these are a vocabulary of shapes that fit into each other perfectly, but also interchangeably,” explains Apfelbaum. “This allows for a wildly fast and intuitive process, where it would be impossible for me to work like this by myself.”

Polly Apfelbaum, Little Dogwood 66, 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 66, 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

Her “Dogwood” prints are the result of woodblocks made from from slices of dogwood tree branches sourced in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where Durham Press is located. “The ‘Dogwood’ prints were made from the wood of a dogwood tree, the Pennsylvania state tree. I grew up in Pennsylvania, Durham Press is in Pennsylvania on Dogwood Lane, and a dogwood fell down on their property. So we put it to work,” says the artist. Apfelbaum’s arrangements are generally improvisational, though she cites a dress from the Finnish design firm Marimekko as inspiration for the dogwood prints like “Little Dogwood 66” (2012).

Polly Apfelbaum, Byzantine Rocker 6, 2014; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 24 1/8 x 37 in.; Printed and published by Durham Press; Image courtesy of Durham Press, © Durham Press and the artist

Polly Apfelbaum, Byzantine Rocker 6, 2014; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 24 1/8 x 37 in.; Printed and published by Durham Press; Image courtesy of Durham Press, © Durham Press and the artist

“Byzantine Rocker 6” (2014) is a prime example of Apfelbaum’s fondness for blending colors through a “split-fountain” or “rainbow roll” technique, in which multiple colors are partially mixed on a block to achieve a gradient effect when printed. “In the print world the technique is considered really cheesy, and that makes me like it even more. As far as the process goes, we lay out two-color and three-color combinations, which get rolled onto the shapes. I then place the blocks face-up until I’m satisfied with the composition.” The title of this work implies a back-and-forth movement, mimicking the way the eye moves across the bands of color.

Visit the museum to see Chromatic Scale: Prints from Polly Apfelbaum before the exhibition closes on July 2, 2017.

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

Who Did Simone de Beauvoir Inspire?

In the installation From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir, visitors can consider the influence and intellect of writer Simone de Beauvoir in an interpretation of her Paris studio alcove. Museum visitors can sit at a desk and read works that Beauvoir either read, wrote, or inspired. Beauvoir had an impact on women in her own time and she continues to hold a place of remarkable influence today.

Bettina Flitner, The studio of Simone de Beauvoir, rue Schoelcher 12 bis, Montparnasse, Paris, March 1986; Photograph; ©bettinaflitner.de

Bettina Flitner, The studio of Simone de Beauvoir, rue Schoelcher 12 bis, Montparnasse, Paris, March 1986; Photograph: ©bettinaflitner.de

Cover of Sexual Politics by Kate Millett, 1969

Cover of Sexual Politics by Kate Millett, 1969

Sexual Politics by Kate Millett, 1969

Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics was released in the U.S. in 1970 by Doubleday Books and is frequently cited alongside The Second Sex as an influential feminist text. Millett and Beauvoir became friends late in Beauvoir’s life, and the two spent substantial time together on Beauvoir’s final trip to New York, in 1983.

Beauvoir and Western Thought from Plato to Butler, 2012

This collection of essays delves into Beauvoir’s relationship with Western philosophical thought and her resistance to being defined as a philosopher. This book includes an autobiographical essay by feminist, activist, and teacher bell hooks, who closes with:

“Whereas I was once most attracted to her intellectual partnership with Sartre, I am now seduced by the awareness that no matter what her relationship was to him, or any partner, the true constant in her life was thinking, working with ideas, and being a philosopher in the truest sense of the word.”

Cover of the June/July 2016 issue of BUST

Cover of the June/July 2016 issue of BUST

BUST, “Kathleen Hanna: Rock’s Reigning Feminist,” June/July 2016

Kathleen Hanna helped establish the feminist hardcore punk rock genre riot grrrl, fronted the band Bikini Kill, and took part in the zine scene in the Pacific Northwest and Washington, D.C. When discussing her inspiration for writing lyrics, Hanna said, “I wouldn’t have lyrics if it weren’t for people like bell hooks. I wouldn’t have lyrics if it weren’t for people like Simone de Beauvoir and Shulamith Firestone, and other feminist writers.”

Diaries by Eva Hesse, 2016

Born to a Jewish family in Nazi Germany, Eva Hesse (1936–1970) and her family fled Germany in 1939 for the U.S. Hesse was raised in New York and became an influential artist, working with a variety of mediums. Her diaries include not only ideas and plans for artworks, to-do lists, and accounting ledgers, but also document her illness, brain tumors, and multiple surgeries, which took her life at age 34.

In a few entries from 1964, Hesse transcribed passages from The Second Sex as she tried to bolster her confidence and advance her artistic process. She quoted from Beauvoir, “In boldly setting out towards ends, one risks disappointments; but one also obtains unhoped-for results; caution condemns to mediocrity.”

Visit the installation and peruse these publications along with works that inspired Beauvoir as well as works she wrote. From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir is on view on the museum’s fourth floor through August 16, 2017.

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

Can Art Rouse the Spirit? Experience “Revival” this Summer!

On June 23, NMWA’s second floor will come alive with brilliant contemporary sculpture and photo-based art by 16 women artists in the summer exhibition Revival. The show explores the featured artists’ representations of the body, the child, and other creatures through a remarkable range of media, scale, and techniques.

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Three chromogenic prints mounted on aluminum, 66 x 150 in. overall; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Badger Mars, Sunny Scully Alsup and William Alsup, Mr. Sharad Tak and Mrs. Mahinder Tak, Marcia and Frank Carlucci, and Nancy Nelson Stevenson; © Lalla Essaydi

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Three chromogenic prints mounted on aluminum, 66 x 150 in. overall; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Badger Mars, Sunny Scully Alsup and William Alsup, Mr. Sharad Tak and Mrs. Mahinder Tak, Marcia and Frank Carlucci, and Nancy Nelson Stevenson; © Lalla Essaydi

Hanging sculptures, video projections, and large-scale photographs create immersive, mesmeric environments while smaller meticulous works draw the viewer close, beckoning toward sensations that spark memory and emotion. Each artist connects to the unconscious through highly allusive depictions of human and other animal bodies. The artists in Revival employ a wide range of materials in their works. Working with hair, yarn, velvet, wax, marble, found objects, taxidermied birds, and lens-based media, to name a few, these artists explore materiality in meaningful and impactful ways.

In the triptych from the series Bullets Revisited #3 (2012), Lalla Essaydi portrays a reclining woman with her face turned toward the viewer, confronting the historical Orientalism of Western artists, particularly sexualized depictions of women. Upon a closer look, the viewer will notice that the figure’s body is covered in henna calligraphy, challenging the tradition of calligraphy as a male-dominated art form. The woman’s dress and surroundings are elaborately decorated with silver and gold bullet casings. Essaydi explains her use of bullet casings as a commentary on violence against women in a new post-revolutionary era following the Arab Spring.

Sonya Clark, Cotton to Hair, 2012; Cotton and human hair, 14 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 5 in.; Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Sonya Clark, Cotton to Hair, 2012; Cotton and human hair, 14 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 5 in.; Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

In Cotton to Hair (2012), Sonya Clark juxtaposes a boll of cotton with human hair to allude to the history of slavery in the U.S., acknowledging cotton as a key contributor to U.S. trade and wealth in the early 1800s. Clark combines cotton with a tuft of dark human hair, referencing African American slaves who worked in the fields to create this wealth.

The exhibition features powerful works by Louise Bourgeois, Petah Coyne, Alison Saar, Joana Vasconcelos, Patricia Piccinini, alongside other artists featured in NMWA’s collection. Revival illuminates women who regenerate sculpture and photo-based art to profound expressive effect. A survey of the museum’s collection in its 30th year inspired this exhibition, which is enriched by important loans from public and private collections as well as artists’ studios.

Visit the museum and see Revival, on view from June 23 to September 10, 2017.

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

What Did Simone de Beauvoir Write?

In the installation From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir, visitors can consider the influence and intellect of writer Simone de Beauvoir in an interpretation of her Paris studio alcove. Museum visitors can sit at a desk and read publications that Beauvoir either read, wrote, or inspired. Beauvoir spent an extraordinary amount of her life writing. Her output included the groundbreaking feminist treatise The Second Sex, for which she is most well remembered. She also wrote novels, essays and articles, a play, daily letters to friends and lovers, and four memoirs. These selected titles provide a glimpse into her remarkable body of writing.

Covers of Simone de Beauvoir’s L’Invitée, 1943 (left) and America Day by Day, 1948 (right)

Covers of Simone de Beauvoir’s L’Invitée, 1943 (left) and America Day by Day, 1948 (right)

L’Invitée, 1943

Beauvoir labored over this first novel, known in English as She Came to Stay, for three years. She studied the techniques of authors such as John Dos Passos, D. H. Lawrence, and William Faulkner to help her construct her characters. The story was inspired by the love triangle between herself, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Olga Kosakiewicz—an important woman in both of their lives for many years. Tenets of Existentialism run throughout the novel.

America Day by Day, 1948

After feeling jealousy at Sartre’s first trip to the U.S., Beauvoir soon arranged her own: a five-month lecture tour that began in New York in January 1947. This book is her travelogue (though comprising recollections from several trips), with characteristically self-centered, but highly detailed and obviously dazzled, accounts of New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Hollywood. Always up for an adventure, Beauvoir visited jazz clubs, smoked marijuana, gambled in casinos, and met and fell in love with Nelson Algren.

Covers of Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1958 (left) and Adieux: a Farewell to Sartre, 1981 (right)

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1958

The first of Beauvoir’s four memoirs, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter covers the years of her birth up to age 21. It details her family dynamics and education, her first powerful friendship with Zaza Mabille, her first romantic attempts with her cousin Jacques, and the beginning of her decades-long relationship with fellow philosophy student Sartre.

Adieux: a Farewell to Sartre, 1981

This book chronicles the last ten years of the of Sartre, Beauvoir’s life partner, as well as conversations between the two (which they recorded during their last summer visits to Rome) about Sartre’s work and legacy. Upon publication, Beauvoir was surprised when it was met with outrage from Sartre’s legions of admirers at the unsparing details of his physical decline. Some accused her of taking advantage of having the last word.

Visit the installation and peruse these selections of Beauvoir’s writings along with books she read and works she inspiredFrom the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir is on view on the museum’s fourth floor through August 12, 2017.

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

What Did Simone de Beauvoir Read?

In the installation From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir, visitors can consider the influence and intellect of writer Simone de Beauvoir in an interpretation of her Paris studio alcove. Museum visitors can sit at a desk and read books and magazines that Beauvoir either read, wrote, or inspired. The installation includes a selections of books that Beauvoir read during her youth that helped develop her love of reading and storytelling.

Cover Image of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll showing a young girl crouched in the gras sunder branches while a rabbit in a red coat scurries away from her.

Cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, published by Rand McNally & Company, 1916.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1868/1869

Beauvoir read Little Women by the time she was ten. She identified deeply with the character of Jo, the creative and independent March sister. In the first volume of her autobiography, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958), Beauvoir says that when she was developing The Second Sex, she projected the four sisters of Little Women into adulthood and used their personality types to form some of her ideas.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865

Beauvoir was a voracious reader as a child, a habit fed by her father Georges, who supplied her with a constant supply of high-quality books. She stated in an interview, published in the The Paris Review in 1965, that “English children’s literature [is] far more charming than what exists in French.” Though she began learning English around the age of eight, she likely read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in translation.

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, 1860

In her Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958), Beauvoir recalls reading The Mill on the Floss when she was around 13 years old:

“About this time I read a novel which seemed to me to translate my spiritual exile into words: George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss made an even deeper impression upon me than Little Women. I read it in English, at Meyrignac, lying on the mossy floor of a chestnut plantation. Maggie Tulliver, like myself, was torn between others and herself: I recognized myself in her. She too was dark, loved nature, books and life, was too headstrong to be able to observe the conventions of her respectable surroundings.”

Cover Image of The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, published by Hurst and Company, New York, c. 1911. (left) and cover image of Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann, published by Henry Hold and Company, New York, 1927. (right)

Cover of The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, published by Hurst and Company, New York, c. 1911 (left) and cover of Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann, published by Henry Hold and Company, New York, 1927 (right)

Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann, 1927

Published when Beauvoir was 19, the novel Dusty Answer was extremely popular with young women—in order to keep re-reading it, Beauvoir had to return the library’s in-demand copy and buy her own. Beauvoir said that she was fascinated by the description of university life and its associated freedoms. Lehmann was influenced by English novelist George Meredith, whose novels Beauvoir also read intensely and used as models.

Visit the installation and peruse these books along with works Beauvoir wrote or inspiredFrom the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir is on view on the museum’s fourth floor through August 12, 2017.

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

What #BeauvoirSays to NMWA

Visitors ask me why the National Museum of Women in the Arts has a dedicated installation to honor Simone de Beauvoir. Beauvoir was not an artist, not a patron, and not a noted art collector—though she did collect books, souvenirs, snapshots, and a few works of art from friends, including Alberto Giacometti. As I gathered research for the installation, I found an interview with Beauvoir from 1984, in which she reflects on the work of emboldened women activists in the late 1960s in Paris. Her comments in that interview made the relationship between NMWA and Beauvoir clear to me.

Installation view of From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Installation view of From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Beauvoir wrote, “[Women] realized that they would have to take their fate into their own hands and separate their battles from the larger revolutionary rhetoric of the men. I agreed with them because I understood that women could not expect their emancipation to come from general revolution but would have to create their own. . . . I realized that women would have to take care of their own problems in ways that were personal, direct, and immediate. They could no longer sit waiting patiently for men to change the society for them because it would never happen unless they did it themselves.”

Installation view of From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Installation view of From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

I nodded along to these words and reflected on the motivations of NMWA’s founder, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay. Mrs. Holladay and her husband, Wallace Holladay, could have donated their growing collection of art by women to an established museum. Perhaps Mrs. Holladay’s name would appear on a gallery wall and the collection would find a place with—likely be obscured by—notable works by male artists. But instead, the Holladays chose to create a space, a grand museum only blocks from the White House, and name it the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Mrs. Holladay wanted a dedicated space in which to address art world sexism. She took action and for that we are thankful.

Visit the installation From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir, on view on the museum’s fourth floor through August 12, 2017.

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

Artist Friendships: Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) and Remedios Varo (1908–1963) met in Paris and became close friends after finding refuge in Mexico City?

Surreal Sisters

Both Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo painted primarily in a Surrealist style, infusing their works with mysticism and otherworldly elements. NMWA owns five works by Carrington, including one print, two paintings, and two sculptures. Although Carrington did not begin producing sculptures until 1990, The Ship of Cranes (2010) is exemplary of Carrington’s interest in mythology and use of animal symbolism.

One the three paintings by Varo in the collection, La Llamada (The Call) (1961), is on view on the mezzanine level. La Llamada (The Call) provides viewers with signature traits of Varo’s work, including an ethereal being dressed in gold against a darker, castle-like background.

A Match Made in Mexico

Carrington and Varo met in Paris during the Surrealist movement, and were seen as the “femmes-enfants” to the famous and much older male artists in their lives. Varo had left Spain with poet Benjamin Péret and Carrington was in a relationship with Max Ernst. Their friendship then moved overseas to Mexico City as the outbreak of World War II in Europe caused them to move. In their new home, the two saw each other almost daily, of which Carrington said, “Remedios’s presence in Mexico changed my life.”

Though they painted separately, they did spent time together cooking, writing spells, and looking for ways to prank guests. Their mutual interest in alchemy is evident in their works. Both artists often depicted magical, alternate realities that are characteristic of Surrealism. While Carrington and Varo shared subject matter based on the universe, the supernatural, alchemy, and astrology, they interpret these topics differently in their works. In the book Surreal Friends: Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Kati Horna, Stefan van Raay writes, “Carrington’s work is about tone and color and Varo’s is about line and form.”

In Carrington’s book The Healing Trumpet, she modeled the two main characters after much older versions of herself and Varo, revealing how important she felt the friendship was to her and her wish that it would last well into their old age. Varo also included their friendship in stories she wrote, creating characters just as outlandish as Carrington’s.

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

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

Artist Friendships: Loïs Mailou Jones and Céline Tabary

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that Loïs Mailou Jones (1905–1998) and Céline Tabary (1908–1993) were close friends who met in Paris before establishing art classes and a studio group in Washington, D.C.?

Lasting Impressions

NMWA’s collection contains six works by Loïs Mailou Jones. Her colorful landscape painting Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées (1949) was completed while the artist was on a sojourn in France. Other works by Jones are much more modernist in style, with bold colors and an African influence veering towards abstraction.

Céline Tabary’s painting Terrasse de Café, Paris (1950) is also part of NMWA’s collection. Tabary painted in an impressionist style for most of her career, but Terrasse de Café, Paris reveals an emerging cubist influence.

Little Paris in Washington, D.C.

Loïs Mailou Jones, Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées, 1949; Oil on canvas, 19 1/2 x 23 5/8 in; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of Gladys P. Payne

Loïs Mailou Jones, Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées, 1949; Oil on canvas, 19 1/2 x 23 5/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Gladys P. Payne; © Loïs Mailou Jones

Jones moved to Paris in 1937 to study at the Academie Julien. Jones fell in love with the French way of life and lack of racial prejudice, and was introduced to Tabary, a fellow student, when she needed help translating. The two became friends, and Jones visited Tabary’s family in the north of France. Jones considers paintings she did there some of her best.

Jones returned to Washington, D.C. in 1938, and Tabary joined her, as they both planned to go back to France together. However, the start of World War II prevented their return, and Tabary and Jones continued working together in the United States and established Saturday morning art class for children as well as a salon style group to promote the artistic practice of public school art teachers. Alma Thomas, another prominent artist represented in NMWA’s collection, was also a part of the “Little Paris Group” run by Jones and Tabary.

Jones and Tabary remained very close friends throughout their careers. Due to racial tensions in the U.S., Jones did not want to reveal to the institutions acquiring her work that she was African American. In these instances, Tabary delivered Jones’s paintings for her, ensuring her friend’s works were exhibited. Tabary eventually returned to France, but even in an interview in the late 1980s, Jones mentioned visiting her friend. “Very soon I’ll be goin’ to visit Céline. . . . Before I return to Haiti, I’m goin’ back to paint with her again, like in the old days, even at my age which is now 83. That is certainly many, many years since it all started in Paris at the Academie Julian in 1937.”

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

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

Artist Friendships: Lola Álvarez Bravo and Frida Kahlo

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that Lola Álvarez Bravo (1903–1993) and Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) became friends through the same social circles in Mexico?

Nationalist Pride

One of Mexico’s first women photographers, Lola Álvarez Bravo’s works are celebrated for documenting daily life in post-revolutionary Mexico. Álvarez Bravo said, “If my photographs have any value, it’s because they show a Mexico that no longer exists.” Her work in NMWA’s collection, De generación en generación (1950), expresses a strong sense of Mexican nationalist pride combined with universal human emotions.

Frida Kahlo is renowned for her poignant, often shocking, self-portraits. Although she is referred to as a Surrealist, Kahlo maintained, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” Remembered for her tragic life story and her turbulent marriage to famed muralist Diego Rivera, Kahlo was foremost a fierce painter and political activist. Her work in NMWA’s collection, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937), is one of Kahlo’s softer self-portraits, meant to commemorate her brief affair with the Russian revolutionary Trotsky.

Amigas for Life

Álvarez Bravo started taking her own photographs after serving as an assistant to her husband, photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. After their divorce, she began her own successful, independent career. It was also through her husband that she met Kahlo. Both artists were involved in the same social circles in Mexico and shared similar nationalistic outlooks that influenced their respective artistic practices.

Álvarez Bravo’s most well-known photos featuring Kahlo are often praised for their honesty and intimacy. Kahlo even fastened one of these portraits to the front of her diary, indicating the respect that she had for the photographer. In addition to capturing numerous portraits of Kahlo, Álvarez Bravo also directed a film starring the painter, but it was never completed because of Kahlo’s declining health. Álvarez Bravo hosted Kahlo’s first solo exhibition in Mexico at her own gallery, shortly before Kahlo’s untimely death.

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

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

Artist Friendships: Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Mary Jane Russell

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895–1989) and model Mary Jane Russell (1926–2003) developed a close friendship after collaborating on photo shoots for years?

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Mary Jane Russell in Dior Dress, Paris, 1950; Gelatin silver print, 14 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler; © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Mary Jane Russell in Dior Dress, Paris, 1950; Gelatin silver print, 14 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler; © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Fixative Focus

Renowned for her work with Harper’s Bazaar, Louise Dahl-Wolfe revolutionized the fashion industry by arranging models outdoors or in front of interesting backdrops that rivaled the clothes they were wearing. Dahl-Wolfe spent 22 years working in the fashion world before retiring from the magazine in 1958. NMWA’s collection contains more than 100 photographs by Dahl-Wolfe, including five works that feature Mary Jane Russell.

Mary Jane Russell signed as a model with the Ford Agency in 1948, just in time for the debut of the “New Look.” She was a favorite model of many photographers, including Dahl-Wolfe. One of Dahl-Wolfe’s photographs in NMWA’s collection, Mary Jane Russell in Dior Dress, Paris (1950), features Russell posing in profile and elongating her neck, while putting on elegant evening gloves. Dahl-Wolfe placed Russell in front of a luxurious background that challenges the dress, while the contrast between the two directs the viewer’s eye directly to the dress and Russell.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, courtesy of the Louise Dahl-Wolfe Archive. © Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents, 1989

Fashion Forward Friends

After meeting on a set, Russell quickly became one of Dahl-Wolfe’s favorite models. Dahl-Wolfe’s eccentric techniques coupled with Russell’s short stature and elongated neck resulted in unconventional photographs that brought personality and life to fashion advertisements. Dahl-Wolfe valued Russell’s input on shoots, making the photographs a joint effort. “Louise was a benevolent dictator, except with Mary Jane. She’d let Mary Jane say, ‘I think the dress would show better this way’” Russell’s husband, Edward, recalled.

The photographer even broke an unwritten industry rule not to photograph the same model for more than two collections after trying unsuccessfully to find a suitable replacement for Russell. Dahl-Wolfe later said, “I hated the popular look of models in those days. I called it the ‘Candy Box’ look—all translucent white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. I liked yellowish skin and green eyes, and I found it with Betty Bacall, and above all with Mary Jane Russell, who was marvelous.” By the end of her career, an estimated 30 percent of Dahl-Wolfe’s photos featured Russell.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Plan of Paris (Mary Jane Russell in Dior Gown), 1951; Gelatin silver print, 4 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Plan of Paris (Mary Jane Russell in Dior Gown), 1951; Gelatin silver print, 4 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler; © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Their friendship lasted 12 years, producing some of the most iconic photographs of the time. Reflecting on their relationship, Russell said, “One was never selfish with Louise. There was an extraordinary, immediate communication of her conscientiousness, her seriousness. She was wicked, challenging, exasperating, and heavenly. It was a rare, rare, extraordinary experience. She was the most beautiful person in my working life.”

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

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