“Free the Women Artists” cries a poster from The Guerrilla Girls. The poster demands that the artistic work of women, now locked in museums’ storage areas, be released to see the light of day.
I’ve been metaphorically locked in my house for about two weeks, taking time off from my role as printmaker to put on my mothering and caregiving caps. Worry, lack of sleep and many hours watching almost all of the Harry Potter movies kept me from creating in my studio. With everyone recovered, I knew I needed some artistic refreshment.
A trip to the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Looking West exhibit provided just the inspiration I needed. The exhibit showcases prints, watercolors and photographs from 1870 to 1940, when both men and women were venturing (and adventuring) west in search of new subjects and inspirations.
I was most struck by the work of three women:
- Norma Bassett Hall‘s (1889-1957) wood cut, Navajo Land, depicts the landscape with such delicacy that it looks like a watercolor.
- Frances Gearhart’s (1869 – 1958) Stark Country and Rain Tomorrow combine subtle tones with detailed key blocks to highlight what must have been exciting topography.
- Fanny Vandegrift Stevenson‘s (1840-1914) two watercolors, Cabin, California and Tent, California show us simple camp life, perhaps painted while on honeymoon with her new husband, Robert Louis Stevenson. Be sure to watch the museum’s short video about her life. She sounds like the best type of woman artist.
|Heather Henson helps a giant crane take flight.|
Works on paper are often hidden in museum files, and this is a shame. They have such a feeling of immediacy, as if the artist just sat down under a lonesome pine tree to paint a watercolor or sketch directly on a block. I’m already thinking about how to get this sense of time and place in my new work.
A final bit of inspiration for the day came from Heather Henson’s IBEX Puppetry. In this picture you can see Heather (daughter of the late Jim Henson of Sesame Street and Muppets fame) running with a giant crane. A group of artists presented a celebration of spring featuring the migration of the sandhill cranes. Large birds and butterflies along with more traditional kites soared in the breezy afternoon sunlight. Leafless maples and sycamore provided a fitting backdrop for the event.
So women, and printmakers! What are you doing to free your work?