Category Archives: Women’s Art History Month

Woman Artist: Estelle Peck-Ishigo

Estelle Peck Ishigo  – Watercolorist, American (1899- 1990)

Estelle Peck Ishigo is best known for her watercolors sketches documenting the three long years she spent with her Japanese- American husband, Arthur Ishigo, in the Japanese internment camps during WWII. Ishigo was one of the few white women who volunteered to follow her husband when he was required to deport for the camps. Her story became nationally known in the early 1990’s when filmmaker Steven Okazaki, inspired by Ishigo’s book “Lone Heart Mountain”, made her the subject his Academy Award winning documentary ‘Days of Waiting’.


Portrait of Estelle Peck-Ishigo while at Heart Mountain

Ishigo was born in Oakland, California in 1899. Her mother was an opera singer and her father was a painter and piano tuner. When Ishigo was about 12 years old her parents would often leave her in the care of one relative or another.  These situations were not always happy circumstances for the young Estelle.  As soon as she could, Ishigo left to be on her own and would eventually attend and earn a degree from Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.

Ishigo met her husband, Arthur, in 1929 and declared that it was “Love at first sight”.  Because at the time it was illegal for a white person to marry someone outside other his or her race the couple decided to travel to Mexico and get married. After the couple’s return, she was disowned by her family because of her marriage. She and her husband would settle down in a local Japanese community.


In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor both the Ishigos were discriminately fired from their jobs and Arthur received notice from the MP that he was to report shortly to the Ponoma Assembly Center where he was to wait for relocation to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Estelle, not wanting to be separated from her husband, packed her belongings and joined him. Immediately, while sitting with several families waiting to board, Ishigo pulled out a pencil and some paper and began sketching. She captured the long waiting, the fear, the feeling of uncertainty and the harshness of this new reality.


Her artistic talent earned her a position in the camp newsletter as “Documentary Reporter”. Through out her time spent in the camps Ishigo documented, primarily with watercolors, everything from women hanging the laundry to children playing. There was nothing for the prisoners to do but wait for their time in the camps to come to an end. Nobody knew how long they would be forced to wait. Ishigo wrote “thousands of people with nothing to do but wait … watch the sunset … and wait for the next day to begin”

When the war ended the Ishigos, along with the other camp prisoners, were allowed to return to their home. The couple lived the rest of their lives in poverty because of their experience and the discrimination they faced afterwards. Estelle Peck-Ishigo never painted again.

Arthur Ishigo passed away in 1957 and Estelle lived a reclusive life after his death. During the 1970’s a book of Estelle’s paintings was published, it has since gone out of print, and an exhibit of her work was shown in 1972. It was the only time her work was to be publicly exhibited. In 1983 she was found in a basement, by a group of friends from her years in the camp, barely living and immobile. She was transferred with the help of her friends to a hospital where she passed away in 1990 shortly before the completion of Okazaki’s ‘Days of Waiting’, a documentary that focused on her and her work during the war.

The first thing I noticed about Ishigo’s paintings was the lack of anger and bitterness in her mark making. Instead I see honest and dignified depictions of the mundane existence and the heavy loneliness that came with camp life. Her interests were obviously not to express personal feelings of what was happening, but to accurately record what she saw.  In some part I am sure that her watercolors was a tool to help pass the time away, in another part I believe she was a compassionate woman wanting to bring some color into a dreary predicament.

For more information please check the following links. “Days of Waiting” can be ordered via PBS.


PBS – Days of Waiting

Estelle Peck-Ishigo Collection 



Woman Artist: Deborah Butterfield

Deborah Butterfield – American sculptor (1949 – Present)


Deborah Butterfield received both her BA and MFA from the University of California, Davis. She is primarily known for her prolific series of horse sculptures created in an array of sculptural material, some traditional like steel and others less traditional like driftwood, found objects and the remains of old buildings.


I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel across the United States for the last seven years and during my travels I have been fortunate in my ability to visit many great art museums. Sometimes it seems as if every museum in the country has in their collection their own wonderful Butterfield Horse. Once you are familiar with her horses you can easily recognize them on sight and yet it’s impossible to be bored by them because each one feels like a different animal. Though the horses are not realistically represented they do represent actual individual horses. Butterfield’s skill with material and her ability to capture the truest character and essence of the horse is extraordinary, one would half expect them to show signs of life when approached in the gallery. One, mostly I, would wish that they would.

Butterfield’s knack to creatively invoke the spirit of the horses into sculpture no doubt comes from her extensive experience with horses.  She has even claimed that her obsession for the majestic animal stems from her birth on the 75th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby. While still in college she purchased her first horse.

“I ride and school my own horses and feel that my art relies heavily upon, and often parallels, my continuing dialogue with them,” – Deborah Butterfield

Butterfield and her artist husband, John Buck, divide their time between a working ranch in Montana and a studio in Hawaii. Butterfield schedule consists of working on her sculptures only during the winter season while in Hawaii and then spends the rest of the year studying and working with her horses on the ranch in Montana. Because she tends to limits herself to creating her work only in the winter it can sometimes takes 3-4 years to complete one horse thus leaving a growing list of eager collectors waiting a long time.

For more information about Deborah Butterfield and her horses I recommend checking out the following links

University of Texas at Austin

Equitrekking – Visiting Deborah Butterfield’s Horses

Woman Artist: Ana Teresa Barboza

Ana Teresa – Peruvian Fiber artist (1980 – Present)

Ana Teresa, a graduate from Faculty of Art at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, is fiber artist from Lima, Peru and is probably one of the top contemporary artists who consistently and prolifically work with embroidery as one of her main choices of medium. Her imagery often depicts the human – usually female – body in an array of situations ranging from animalistic connections with nature to intimate images of self-stitching women. The concept behind her work generally centers around the affects of relationships on human behavior and empathetically depicts their inner pain.

The first piece of Ana Teresa’s work that I had seen was an image of a woman who was intensely focused on pulling these vividly colorful feathers off her body. Instantly I froze and my gut immediately knotted into a tight ball. The image reminded me of a similar nightmare I had years earlier. In my dream I was desperately trying to expose my real self beneath an artificial façade of oblong colorful pearly shells. I felt gross with these shells attached to my skin and helpless that it was impossible to remove any of them. Because of my nightmare, I felt an immense amount of empathy for this woman featured in Teresa’s work. For me THAT intense reaction toward someone’s artwork is always a good indicator that someone is creating art that is so much more than just something “cool” or “neat” to look at. Instead Ms. Teresa is making profound artwork that is meant to resonate and be experience beyond a casual viewing. Her work engages the multiple senses from the texture of the embroidery fibers to the vivid choice of color and thought provoking imagery.

My favorite pieces are of a woman stitching decorative embellishments into herself. The woman’s efforts echo the social pressures felt by every woman to maintain her beauty artificially by compulsively covering her “flaws”. This beautiful self-manipulation becomes a painful method to hide a deeper internal pain.  Teresa, when describing her art making process, explains that the decorative embellishments “Serve as Camouflage”.

Another powerful set of imagery titled ‘Animales Familiares’ by Teresa features the more animalistic side of human nature using embroidery to make her subjects appear “more familiar and more domesticated” and yet they still maintain a raw sexual edge. Sometimes she delicately morphs human and animal characteristics seamlessly together as if they are one and then sometimes she arranges both the human and animal characters into intimate and intense compositions. Both compositional arrangements allure to the varying perspectives of and responses to relationships.

It is difficult to find personal information about Ana Teresa in English. I was hoping to find something referencing her creative influences and more of her own thoughts behind her choice of medium.  The same quotes are repeated over and over again from website to website. Despite the little bit of her biography available her work is strong and unforgettable.

Enjoy more of her images by clicking on the links below:

Ana Teresa Barboza –> Blog in Spanish

Now Contemporary Art –> Imagery and interview

Hi Fructose: New Contemporary Magazine –> Imagery

Juxtapoz –>Imagery

Jealous Curator –> Imagery

Woman Artist: I Want More.


To start off a month featuring several highly talented women in the arts I would like to share a couple of videos that have recently caught my attention.

The first is a beautiful montage of women as subjects in the last 500 years of mainly European art morphing from one masterpiece to another.  The video montage was created by Phillip Scott Johnson (aka eggman913) and was nominated for a 2007 YouTube Award for “Creativity”.  Every year this video makes its social media rounds and it is really quite fun to watch and try to identify the masterpieces. But of the 90 works of art featured in the video ONLY TWO of the portraits were painted by two women artists and interestingly they are evenly spaced apart as if to create a balance between each other amongst their male counterparts.

#32. (.58) Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun – self portrait, 1782

#64. (1.58) Mary Cassatt – Woman with a Pear Necklace in a Loge, 1879

I am not setting out to imply that the intentions behind the video were meant to disparage women artists. I don’t believe at all that that is the case and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the video as much as anyone else who is a fan of art. These works of art are the staple of any introduction to art history course – I was having flashbacks – and women have been subjects of great art since the moment humans began making their first marks on the walls of caves.

But, in simple terms, I want more. I want more works by women depicting women in art. AND I want a video of men as subjects in artistic masterpieces depicted by both men and women across the globe. I want more representation. I want more points of view.

The second is a recent video “Unlock Art: Where Are the Women” by the Tate featuring Jemima Kirke from the acclaimed HBO’s series Girls discussing women’s absence from history books despite their existence in art history. Its short educational video that is worth a watch.

And finally, as an expansion of the ideas presented by Jemima Kirke in the previous video, the third video “A Woman’s Touch: The National Museum of Women in the Arts” a short educational film from Great Museums of the World featuring the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) and their efforts illustrating the history of women in the arts.In the beginning many critics claimed that there was no need to “separate women artists” into the National Museum of Women in the Art. To which Wilhelmina (Billie) Holladay, co-founder of NMWA, responded:

“They were separated, they weren’t included and were not going to be included unless something heighten the awareness occur. Until we opened there were hardly ever any exhibitions of women in the arts. Less than 2% of all the paintings in museums were women”

Today, thanks to the strong and unyielding efforts of women and men dedicated to shedding light on the existence of women in arts, women DO have a stronger presence in galleries and museums across the country and beyond borders than they did 30 years ago.  But, I still want more.

The arts are the foundation of EVERY culture and yet representation in the arts is often still very narrow. Yes, there are improvements and visibility of the underrepresented are becoming clearer with each generation, but; there will always be room for improvement, new ideas will always evolve and history books will still be written by a select few unless we keep pushing for more.


The Tate’s Youtube page:

List of artists featured in Phillip Scott Johnson (youtube: eggman913) 

National Museum of women in the arts:

Great Museums of the world:

Woman Artist: Hong Chun Zhang

HONG CHUN ZHANG  – Chinese American Painter/Drawer

Hong Chun Zhang was born in the Shenyang, China and currently resides in Kansas. Zhang grew up within an artistic family. Both of her parents were art professors and her two sisters are also successful artists. Zhang began her artistic studies with her twin sister, Bo, at a young age and both girls attended the high school attached to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. In 1996 Zhang moved to the United States to continue her education at the University of California in Davis, CA. She has remained in the United States ever since.


Zhang’s work often focuses on cultural identity and the connections she shares with her family. Her influences stem from her own experiences growing up in China, her family and her current home in the United States. In interviews she discusses the differences between working as an artist in China and in the United States. In China Zhang was exposed to cultural and traditional artistic techniques as a part of her artistic training, but in the United States she is less confined in her artistic subjects and concepts as well as access to materials not readily available in China. Through her work she finds ways to connect her dual cultural experiences that


Two thought provoking series, “Three Generations” and “The Long Hair”, has been bringing her plenty of recent attention and success in the art world.

The long Hair” series are divided into two categories. One is a series of beautiful and impeccable charcoal drawings of long gorgeous black hair. The drawings are larger than life in size and the image of hair very appealing. The drawings are hair portraits of Zhang and of her sisters. The drawings represent the connection between hair and culture, between her and her sisters, and the beauty of long hair. From a distance they appear to be photographic it is not until you come closer that you can appreciate and see the charming detail of charcoal. The images are drawn on large paper scroll, another connection to her creative heritage.


The other category of the “Long Hair” series focuses more on the repulsive side of hair, another cultural connection we have with hair, with a bit a sense of humor. Hair is seen as being beautiful when it is clean and existing only where we want it to. When an individual comes across a strand of hair in his or her food, clogging a sink, or on the floor it becomes something that is repulsive and unappealing.

In an interview with Leslie VonHolton, Zhang explains how she wanted to address the dual perspective and cultural connection with hair

“Somebody with long hair is beautiful, but when you see hair in your food or in your sink, it becomes very gross,” Zhang explained. “I wanted to address the repulsive aspect of hair. I also wanted the subtle surrealism and humor.”

 – Hong Chun Zhang


Grandmother’s cage

With the portrait series titled “Three Generations” Zhang focuses her attention on the connections with her mother and with her grandmother. The portraits depict the individual and generational connection each of the women have with their Chinese culture.  Zhang’s Grandmother is completely confined inside the birdcage with her feet bound, while her mother has a little more freedom but still limited by the mid century communist party. Zhang depicts herself outside the cage with a considerable amount of freedom compared to the first two generations, but still limited by present day ‘one child’ regulations.


What I love about Zhang’s work is how she balances the thoughtful perspective and ‘connection’ behind her work with some sense of humor and plenty of elegance. I came across her work not too long ago and she is already one of my favorite contemporary artists.

for more information please visit the links below:

Hong Chun Zhang – Zhang’s personal website. See more of her work.

B. Sakata Garo – Article about the Zhang sisters – Article by Leslie VonHolton

La Grange – University paper

Woman Artist: Romaine Brooks

Romaine Brooks – American Painter (1874-1970)

Self Portrait

Romaine Brooks was born in 1874 as Beatrice Romaine Goddard to a wealthy and very dysfunctional American family. Her father left the family shortly after her birth and her mother abandoned her to the care of the family laundress and then later to a poor family in NYC while she travelled across Europe. Throughout her childhood Brooks was subjected to emotional abuse from her mother who made it very clear that she favored Brook’s mentally unstable older brother over her daughter. These experiences had a profound impact on Brooks in her adult life and with her artwork.

Brooks eventually left her abusive mother and brother in 1893. First to Paris where she worked in cabaret as a singer while living off the meager allowance from her mother and then later to Rome to pursue her studies in art.  After some additional art studies in Paris, Brooks would settle for a few years in Capri and rent herself a small studio.

In 1901 her brother died and shortly afterwards her mother would also pass away as well, leaving a very surprised Brooks with a vast amount of wealth for her inheritance. Brooks would then use her new financial independence to live where she pleased, paint whatever she wanted and be herself. A new her was just around the corner.

In 1903 Brooks married her friend, the pianist John Ellingham Brooks, even though she was fully aware that he was gay. It is commonly believed that this was a marriage purely of convenience for the both of them. The marriage lasted less than a year. Almost immediately the couple began to quarrel, mostly over Brooks new appearance.  She decided to cut her hair short and then ordered for her self a new wardrobe consisting of men’s clothing. Brooks husband would refuse to be seen in public with her when she was dressed in her new attire.


Eventually they would divorce and Brooks would decide to keep her married name ‘Brooks’ out of personal preference. She would also at this time drop her given name ‘Beatrice’ and for the rest of her life be known as Romaine Brooks.

Alone Brooks was now free to explore art on her own terms. She ignored the new popular art movements of her time, like cubism and fauvism, and instead took her artistic influence from the recently deceased artist James McNeill Whistler – famously known for his portrait of his mother and his muted color palette.


Brooks would paint mostly portraits of young nude women and aristocrats in an androgynous manner that she would become well known for. Her subjects were always painted alone, in muted colors within vague landscapes. Brooks would explore the topics of gender and sexuality with her art and for her exploration she can be cited as an influence for several contemporary artists who continue to explore similar themes.


In 1910 Brooks had her first solo exhibit of 13 paintings.  Her body of work, which consisted of several self-portraits of herself depicted in typical “Aristocratic Male Dandy”, made it very clear to the public of her identity as a lesbian, though she did have occasional relations with a few men, specifically a brief affair with Italian writer, politician and life long friend – Gabriele D’Annunzio.


In 1911 Brooks would meet and begin a relationship with the famed Russian ballet dancer, Ida Rubenstein. The relationship would last for about three years and Rubenstein, who suited Brooks artistic aesthetic, would become one of Brooks favorite models for several years. Most of Brooks early important works, such as ‘Weeping Venus’ and ‘The Cross of France’, depicted Rubenstein.

Red Cross France

Cross of France” was painted at the beginning of the First World War and has been compared to Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading Her People”. Where as Delacroix depicts Liberty as a woman amongst the people marching into battle, Brooks Liberty is depicted as a stoic nurse standing in a heroic fashion as a French city burns in the background. The “Weeping Venus” was painted after the war and was meant to represent for Brooks as “the passing away of familiar gods”.

Weeping Venus

Brooks and Barney

At the beginning of WWI Brooks met Natalie Barney, an American writer living in Paris, who she would spend the next 50 years with. They had a special house built for themselves to preserve their independence – two wings connected at the dinning room. The house was destroyed during the Second World War and the couple would flee to Italy. Brooks and Barney was not a monogamous couple, both had their fair share of affairs in the open. They would eventually separate in 1960 due to Brooks increasing desire for isolation and odd behavior.

Natalie Barney

Brooks would die in 1970, alone in Nice, France at the age of 96. She practically stopped painting around 1925 and made only one known portrait after the Second World War. In her final years she lived in complete isolation and would refuse company even from Barney.

For additional information about Romaine Brooks please see the links below


The Advocate

Weimar Art Blog

Woman Artist: Mary Jackson and the Sweet Grass Basketry

Mary Jackson – African-American Sweet basketmaker (B.1945)

and Sweet Grass Baskets from the Low Country.

The history and tradition of sweet grass basketry dates back to the 17th century when enslaved West Africans were brought over to South Carolina to cultivate rice in the low country.

Originally the task of making the baskets were completed by the men and the baskets served two important purposes. The first being purely functional in helping with household chores and rice harvesting. The second purpose was a cultural connection to their ancestral homes across the Atlantic Ocean.

It was not until after the Civil War when the traditional roles of basket making switched from men to women. Since then the women have continually taught the craft from one generation onto the next. It takes a lot of time, patience and creativity to make a single basket. There are no patterns or many, if any, ‘how to’ books; and most basket makers today have a difficult time in explaining the full process. It’s a tradition that one grows up with, learning the skill from a very young age from the elders in the community. Currently the state of South Carolina has gone to great lengths to preserve the heritage of basket making in the low country and there is a community push to preserve the land and marshes where most of the grasses grow from commercial overdevelopment.


In the beginning the grasses used for the basket making was Bulrush and Palm, very similar to what the early displaced Africans were familiar with from their homeland. With changing purpose of the baskets from purely functional to more decorative and cultural objects for selling to tourists, Sweet grass became a more popular choice of grass to use as the primary material with other natural grasses for visual and decorative contrast. The sweet grass is cultivated from local swamps and marshes by the family and the finish products are sold from makeshift stands along Rt 17 – also known as Sweet Grass basket highway- in Mt Pleasant, SC.


The first of these basket stands was established in 1916 and since the 1930’s they have become a standard stop for tourists visiting the low country and wanting a piece of the local culture to take home with them. I am one of those “tourists” and since 2006 have been the proud owner of my own little basket. I was very curious about the stands and the women making the baskets as their husbands ran the stands and register. I love my little basket and it currently sits on my dresser holding my favorite bracelets.

Mary Jackson

Today of the most notable contemporary basket maker and recipient of the National Endowment of the Arts National Heritage Award, among many other awards, would be Mary Jackson.

Jackson was born in Mt Pleasant, SC – a community near Charleston- and is a descendant of the Gullah community. Despite the long tradition of basket making in her family and community, she did not begin creating her baskets until she was an adult in the early 1970’s and selling them in the 1980’s. Today she is a very accomplished sweet grass basket maker and her craft has become a full family affair with her making the baskets, her daughter working as an administrator for the family business and her husband and son gathering the grasses. Jackson has exhibited her work in museums across the country and is a cofounder of the Mount Pleasant Sweet Grass Basket Makers Association.

Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson is also an activist in preserving the lands where the grasses grow.Presently there is always a fear that overdevelopment of the land for commercial purposes. The grasses are native, but like other species, they are only able to grow in specific areas. The basket maker’s tradition and livelihood depends solely on the ability of gathering their grasses. If the land is not properly preserve we as a nation will loose a piece of heritage.

Mary Jackson

Please visit the below links to learn more about Mary Jackson and the Sweet grass tradition.

Mary Jackson Sites:

Craft in America – Wonderful Vid of Mary Jackson discussing the history of a Fanning basket and her new twist the an old favorite.

National Endowment for the Arts – Interview with Mary Jackson

Washington Post  – Article

Sweet Basket making Sites:

African American Charleston – Local history

Simply Baskets – History

Savannah Now – Article on the currents threat to Basket makers

Sweet Grass History – paper on the history and constraints to industry growth

Mount Pleasant  – More history.

Winnowing Hands

Woman Artist: Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi – Italian Baroque Painter (1593-1653?)


Self Portrait


Artemisia Gentileschi was the daughter of the well-known and talented painter Orazio Gentileschi. From a young age Artemisia would study painting alongside with her brothers in their father’s studio. When Gentileschi was rejected from several art academies – it was nearly impossible at the time for a woman to gain entry – she then continued her artistic training under guidance of her father’s friend, the infamous Agostino Tassi.


In 1612 Tassi raped the young Gentileschi, with the assistance of another man, during one of these private lessons in perspective. In 17th century Italy the act of rape was considered an offense against the woman’s father or husband, not a crime against the woman. The woman was often seen as being responsible for what happened to her. If the victim was unmarried then everything could possibly be forgiven only if the rapist would agree to marry his victim. Originally Tassi had planned to marry Gentileschi, thus preserving her honor in the eyes of society, and because of this promise he would continue to demand sexual favors from her; but in the end Tassi chose not to marry her.

Tassi’s unwillingness to marry the young Gentileschi would have ruined her reputation in society. Regardless of how Gentileschi lost her virginity, her peers would always consider her a “ruined” woman. Orazio Gentileschi then proceeded to officially accuse Tassi of rape and the theft of a painting.



The trial was seven months long, public and very traumatic for Artemisia Gentileschi. In the early 17th century it was custom for the court to torture victims of rape with thumbscrews and other means to ensure that they were telling the truth – it was commonly believed that women were natural and persistent liars, often a willing man would have to step in and speak for a woman in court. The court decided that Tassi was guilty of rape, theft of a painting and with possibly killing his wife who had long disappeared. He was sentenced to a single year in prison and never served a day of it.


Sleeping venus

Gentileschi would go on to marry another painter and she had a very successful career in both the city of Florence and Naples. She was the first woman allowed entrance into the Academy of Design and would often be commissioned by the royal court and De Medici family. Gentileschi would befriend many notable artists of her time from Michelangelo the Young to Sofonisba Anguissola, another famed woman artist; and would travel around Europe as her popularity grew. It is unclear on exactly when Gentileschi passed away. All that is known is the she died sometime around 1656 in Naples possibly due to a plague.

Gentileschi’s experiences have made her a person of interest in the 20th century with art historians and feminist scholars alike. It is commonly believed that Gentileschi used her personal life to influence her choice of subjects and themes in her work.


Suzanna and the Elders

Prior to the rape and the trial Artemisia Gentileschi painted ‘Suzanna and the Elders’, one of her most famous and earliest known works. The image of Suzanna and the elders was a popular biblical story for artists, depicting creepy old men lusting for the young and tormented Suzanna. In Gentileschi’s version of the story the focused is the actual torment of Suzanna. Gentileschi captured the anguish and fear felt by Suzanna so perfectly that scholars have theorized that Gentileschi chose to express her own exhausted experiences of being harassed by men, or specifically Tassi, through her image of Suzanna.


Judith Slaying Holofernes

After the trial ended Gentileschi began painting images that depicted stronger less timid women like ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’ several times. Instead of a woman as a victim of unsolicited attention, she would paint women who took charge and revenge against men who tormented their people. Her treatment of the female form, heavily influenced by Caravaggio, was more natural and expressive of emotion in comparison to the stylized depictions painted by her father and other male contemporaries. Looking at Gentileschi’s Judith it is easy to see the strength and the determination in her facial expression and body language as Holofernes struggles for his life against the overpowering Judith, who is not looking too queasy about her gory task. This take on Judith was original in a time when women were seen as anything but strong.


Unfortunately, despite her success during her own lifetime, history almost completely erased Artemisia Gentileschi from the books – her life was not typical for a woman and though she was highly respected and protected by her patrons for her talent she still received plenty of disdain from shortsighted peers. Like many women artists of her time, her name and fame would fade from memory, and her work would be credited to other male artists, specifically her father. It was the effort of feminist scholars and dedicated art historians that helped in reaccrediting Gentileschi body of work back to her.

Judith and her Maidservant

Woman Artist: Maria Martinez

Maria Martinez – Native American pottery maker (1887?-1980)

Maria Martinez, born Maria Antonia Montoya, of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, just outside of Santa Fe, NM, can be thanked for her successful efforts in reintroducing the craft of pottery to her people both as a means of creative expression and culture preservation.

Maria and Julian

The craft of Pottery making was fading away by the time Martinez was a young child. Women of the pueblo no longer needed to make functional pottery for their families because they had access to cheap tins and enamelware. Despite the waning popularity in the craft Martinez still loved to watch her aunt make pottery and over time developed a local reputation for her skills in pottery making the.


In 1908 the discovery of some ancient pottery pieces were found at an excavation site close to San Ildefonso Pueblo. Archeologist and museum director, Dr Edgar Lee Hewett, looking to commission some replicas of the ancient pottery pieces, asked Martinez for her expertise in reproducing similar pieces for his museum.

From the collection of the McNay House

From the collection of the McNay House

From this request began a husband wife collaboration that would last a lifetime. According to the Pueblo tradition Maria Martinez, the wife, would collect her materials, form the vessels and fire the clay. While her husband, Julian, would paint the vessels. The Martinezs were not the first in the region to create the popular black stoneware, but they did invent a technique of their own that would allow them to have both matt and glossy black finishes on the pottery. This new style would make them famous around the world and would grow into a strong family business.

Maria and Julian Martinez collaborated together until Julian’s death in 1948. Afterwards Maria worked closely with her son and daughter-in-law to continue the family business. Her Daughter-in-lay would help with the painting and firing of the pottery while her son would work on selling and marketing his mother’s work. Throughout her career Martinez would graciously share her knowledge with anyone wanting to learn and loved to talk with visitors.

From the Denver Art Museum

From the Denver Art Museum

Martinez passed away in 1980 and today her work can be seen in museums around the world.  I was fortunate to have seen her work first hand at least twice to my knowledge. Once in the Denver Art Museum and another time in the McNay house in San Antonio, TX.

You can learn more about Maria Martinez via her official website.


Please watch this YouTube vid of Maria martinez at work

Woman Artist: Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta – Cuban born artist (1948-1985)

Ana Mendieta was born in Havana Cuba to a politically prominent family. At the age of 12 her parents sent her and her older sister to the United States via operation Peter Pan to escape Castro’s regime. She spent several years in a foster home in Iowa with her sister until she was finally reunited with her mother and younger brother in 1966. Her family was later reunited with her father in 1979 when he was released from a Cuban prison for his role in the Bay of Pigs.

Mendieta attended the university of Iowa where she earned her BA and MA in painting and MFA in intermedia.

Her work, described as autobiographical, explored the themes of body image, feminism, cultural identity, body politics, and exile. She used sculpture, video, paint and photography to express her views and record her performances.

Mendieta is most commonly known for her earth body work, the Silueta Series  (1973-1980), where she would either use her own body or create a simple primordial female figure out of natural materials like mud, rocks, leaves, sand, etc in various locations between Iowa and Mexico to address the spiritual connection between nature and body.

‘Through my earth/body sculptures I become one with the earth… I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body”

 – Ana Mendieta

Her tragic death in 1985 shocked the art world. According to reports from neighbors she and her artist husband, Carl Andre were having a loud argument moments before she fell out of the window from their 34th floor apartment in SOHO. Andre was tried and later acquitted of murder charges to the dismay of Mendieta’s close friends who believed that she would never have gone near an open window due to her fear of heights.

Mendieta’s career may have been short lived, but her work is still relevant today with artists, such as myself, who still find ourselves questioning our own physical connection with nature in an age where technology is involved with just about every aspect of our daily lives.  I often wonder how Mendieta would incorporate the current trends of phone apps and social media with body image and politics into her Silueta Series if she were alive today.

For additional information about her work and life check out these informative articles below.

Art in America 

Brooklyn Rail

Women Art and Culture

Moca Art

The Serial Spaces of Ana Mendieta