Challenge Accepted: Can You Name Five Women Artists?

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

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

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

Here are some ideas to get you started:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artist Spotlight: Maria Martinez

Contemporaries and friends, potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979) brought the American Southwest into focus as a culturally rich region that fostered artistic expression. The exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin pairs 26 ceramic pieces by Martinez and her family with more than 40 vintage photographs by Gilpin.

Laura Gilpin, Maria Martinez Making Pottery, 1959; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 14 ½ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Laura Gilpin, Maria Martinez Making Pottery, 1959; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 14 ½ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Maria Martinez is one of the best-known indigenous artists of the 20th century. She belonged to the Tewa linguistic group and lived at San Ildefonso Pueblo, northwest of Santa Fe. Martinez is recognized internationally for the distinctive black-on-black pottery that she developed with her husband, Julian, based on the remains of ancient ceramics.

In 1907 Edgar Lee Hewett, an archaeologist and the first director of the Museum of New Mexico (now the New Mexico Museum of Art), excavated shards of ancient Pueblo pottery at nearby Pajarito Plateau. Hewett encouraged Maria and Julian Martinez to experiment with various firing and painting techniques in order to create contemporary versions of the artifacts. By 1921, the couple had mastered their process for making pottery with a highly glossed finish and matte-black designs.

Maria Martinez learned the fundamentals of pottery making from her maternal aunt. Once the clay dug from the earth had been prepared, Martinez formed snake-like coils of clay that she pinched together to create the basic shape of the pot. She then scraped and smoothed the coils together until the pot was the same thickness all the way around. When it was dry enough to handle, a thin layer of slip (watery clay) was applied over the pot, and then the surface was polished using a smooth, fine-grained stone.

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Storage jar, ca. 1940; Polished blackware pottery with matte paint, 16 x 22 ¼ in. diameter; Philbrook Museum of Art, Gift of Clark Field

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Storage jar, ca. 1940; Polished blackware pottery with matte paint, 16 x 22 ¼ in. diameter; Philbrook Museum of Art, Gift of Clark Field

Tewa prayers were said while digging the clay as well as during the firing process, thanking the Great Spirit and Mother Earth for the gift of the clay. The designs, initially made by Julian and later by other family members, were painted using slip applied with a brush to the burnished but unfired pot.

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Small black-on-black saucer, n.d.; Polished blackware pottery with matte slip paint; Gift of Dean and Carolyn Moffett in Memory of Marguerite F. Moore and Marguerite F. Moffett Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Small black-on-black saucer, n.d.; Polished blackware pottery with matte slip paint; Gift of Dean and Carolyn Moffett in Memory of Marguerite F. Moore and Marguerite F. Moffett; Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Martinez’s pots quickly grew in popularity, and her work was celebrated at art shows, expositions, and fairs nationwide. Her pots were in such demand by the 1920s that she began signing her work—the first Pueblo potter to do so. The popularity of her work was related not only to its highly skilled construction, but also because it fit into the modernist aesthetic.

Martinez went on to teach the process to members of her family and others in her community. Through her creative vision and craftsmanship, Martinez influenced generations of Native artists. She is recognized as a master artist, and her work is found in many major art museums.

Visit the museum and explore New Ground, on view through May 14, 2017.

Adapted from text by Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Christina Burke, curator of Native and non-Western art at the Philbrook Museum of Art, and Catherine Whitney, chief curator at the Philbrook Museum of Art.

Opening Tomorrow: Border Crossing and New Ground

On Friday, February 17th, NMWA will open two exhibitions featuring women artists of the Southwest. In Border Crossing: Jami Porter Lara, Albuquerque-based artist Jami Porter Lara (b. 1969) uses a millennia-old process to make pottery resembling a ubiquitous icon of modern life—the plastic bottle. New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin explores the work of potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979).

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-3SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 16 x 8 in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-3SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 16 x 8 in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

In Border Crossing, conceptual artist Jami Porter Lara explores connections between ideas that are typically set at odds: nature and artifice, art and trash, and past and present. Her works urge viewers to rethink these divisions by combining processes of the past with iconography of the present day. Her clay vessels, coil-built by hand, resemble the plastic bottle, an object that signifies recent human activity and material culture.

She takes inspiration from the remains of ancient pottery, which she has found scattered along the U.S.–Mexico border interspersed with the present-day detritus of migrants heading north. Porter Lara speaks of her work as a reverse archaeological process; she digs into issues of the present and the future by applying tools of the past. Using traditional methods to make contemporary vessels, Porter Lara recasts the throwaway plastic bottle and invites viewers to contemplate how time and place inform our interpretations of objects.

New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin presents a perspective on the Southwest contrary to dominant 19th- and 20th-century narratives, which typically cast the American West as a masculine place of staged romance or rugged conquest. Pueblo potter Maria Martinez and photographer Laura Gilpin brought the American Southwest into focus as a culturally rich region that fostered artistic expression.

Laura Gilpin, Upper End of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, ca. 1960s; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 13 ¾ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman; © 1979 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Laura Gilpin, Upper End of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, ca. 1960s; Gelatin silver print, 10 ¾ x 13 ¾ in.; Eugene B. Adkins Collection at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman

New Ground pairs 26 ceramic pieces by Martinez with more than 40 vintage photographs by Gilpin, offering documentary and physical connections between the land, the people, and their art-making traditions.

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Storage jar, ca. 1940; Polished blackware pottery with matte paint, 16 x 22 ¼ in. diameter; Philbrook Museum of Art, Gift of Clark Field

Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Storage jar, ca. 1940; Polished blackware pottery with matte paint, 16 x 22 ¼ in. diameter; Philbrook Museum of Art, Gift of Clark Field

Martinez’s strikingly modern-looking vessels grew out of ancient Pueblo artistic traditions, which she and her husband, Julian, revived. Gilpin, hailed during her lifetime as the “grand dame of American photography,” is best known for her documentary prints, which include aerial landscapes and intimate portraits.

Works on view in both exhibitions transcend conventional ideas about Southwestern art and explore the region as a place where modernity reckons with the past.

Visit the museum and explore Border Crossing and New Ground, both on view through May 14, 2017.