All posts in “Women’s History Month”

Object of the Week: Mending the Tears

This etching, Mending the Tears, by Winslow Homer is often celebrated for its quiet dignity, beauty, and composition. Scholars look to, for example, “the strong but simple modeling of the two girls, the boldness of their silhouettes against the misty background, and the play of the erect girl’s posture against that of the bent-over mender,” and “the relaxed crossing of feet or the curl of hair casually freeing itself from the formality of a bun,” as examples of Homer’s mastery.[1]

Homer is rightly renowned for his contributions to American painting and printmaking, but less addressed in the scholarship surrounding this work are the actions of the depicted women—mending a net and darning a sock—from which the title bears its name. Once we consider the date of Mending the Tears, made during the middle of the women’s suffrage movement in 1888, this romanticized image of women doing domestic work takes on different meaning.

The women’s suffrage movement, which began in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is inextricable from the history of women’s labor in the United States. At the time, many working class women, enduring 14-hour shifts in garment factories and textile mills, would participate in the kind of work pictured in Mending the Tears, albeit on a much larger scale and in less picturesque settings. However, as early as 1844, women activists were speaking out against the working conditions of these workplaces: women working in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts formed the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA); in 1866, shoe stitchers formed the first national women’s labor union, the Daughters of St. Crispin; and, that same year, newly freed black women in Jackson, Mississippi also formed a union demanding higher wages, The Washerwomen of Jackson. The list of such accomplishments, driven by women workers across the country, goes on.

The labor movement was largely inspired by the republican values of a just society, social equality, and virtuous labor, as well as the socialist theories of David Ricardo. Mending the Tears, based on a watercolor made by Homer in 1882 while in England, beautifully captures one version of 19th-century life—and the role of women within it—but it is an idyllic one, and one at odds with much of the social and political changes taking place in the United States during the late 19th century.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Philip C. Beam, Winslow Homer at Prouts Neck (Lanham, Maryland: Down East Books, 1966), 58; Doug Gruse, “‘Impressions’ of a master,” The Post-Star, October 5, 2008.
Images: Mending the Tears, 1888, Winslow Homer, etching, 17 3/4 x 22 7/8 in., Josephine and Windsor Utley Purchase Fund, 98.21. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Women strikers in the early 19th century.
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Object of the Week: Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper

In recognition of International Women’s Day, as well as Women’s History Month, this week we look at Mary Beth Edelson’s Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper. Printed during a historic decade of feminist activity, this 1972 lithograph takes Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Last Supper and replaces the biblical male figures with contemporary female artists. Jesus, represented instead as Georgia O’Keeffe, sits at the center of the (literal and proverbial) table alongside a number of other pioneering women artists: Miriam Schapiro, Hannah Wilke, Yoko Ono, Faith Ringgold, Lee Bontecou, Eleanor Antin, Agnes Martin, Lee Krasner, Carolee Schneeman, Lynda Benglis, Alice Neel—the list goes on. In the spirit of this feminist work, one that gives representation to an international and overlooked roster of women, below are four quotes from four generations of feminist writers, philosophers, and activists: Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), Luce Irigaray (b. 1930), bell hooks (b. 1952), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (b. 1977).

 To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue nonetheless to exist for him also: mutually recognising each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other. The reciprocity of their relations will not do away with the miracles—desire, possession, love, dream, adventure—worked by the division of human beings into two separate categories; and the words that move us—giving, conquering, uniting—will not lose their meaning. On the contrary, when we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form.

– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1952[1]  

How can I say it? That we are women from the start. That we don’t have to be turned into women by them, labeled by them, made holy and profaned by them. That that has always already happened, without their efforts. And that their history, their stories, constitute the locus of our displacement. It’s not that we have a territory of our own; but their fatherland, family, home, discourse, imprison us in enclosed spaces where we cannot keep on moving, living, as ourselves. Their properties are our exile.

– Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 1977[2]

Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and practice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving.

– bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics, 2000[3]

Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.

– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists, 2014[4]

[1] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Knopf, 1952), 767.

[2] Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 212.

[3] bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics (New York: Routledge, 2000), 123-124.

[4] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists (New York: Anchor Books, 2014), n.p.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, 1972, Mary Beth Edelson, offset lithograph, 37 1/2 in. x 20 3/4 in., Leonardo Lives Exhibition Fund, 98.14 © Mary Beth Edelson
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Can You Name Five Women Artists?

This March, Seattle Art Museum is participating in a social media campaign led by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) to celebrate Women’s History Month in a new way.

The goal is for museums across the country to share information about women artists—their histories, birthdays, quotes, and more—using the hashtag #5womenartists to highlight works in their collections and exhibitions made by women.

The impetus for the project? According to the campaign’s press release:

“Through #5womenartists, the Women’s Museum hopes to help the public answer the question—without hesitation—‘Can you name five women artists?’” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “By calling attention to the inequity women artists face today as well as in the past, we hope to inspire conversation and awareness.”

We all know the artists that most people are able to list off automatically, right?  The list usually goes a little something like…Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Lange, etc. And they are all fantastic women artists worthy of such recognition! But there’s so many more out there. Our goal at SAM is to share a wider range of women that may not be as well known, including women of color and more contemporary artists, all from our collection.

We’re going to share more than five women artists here, and here is the first: a collaboration by artists Dawn Cerny and Victoria Haven (under the group moniker DAFT KUNTZ) called SO GOOD IT COULD HAVE BEEN. The piece tends to speak for itself in terms of why we’re highlighting it first, and it was a comment made by a male colleague to the artists. How you choose to view it—as a compliment, or as a statement highlighting the fact that the art world still defines most achievements as defined by men—is up to you. But we love the work because it confronts the fact that there is a significant gender imbalance in the art world, (their representation, and exposure to them and their works) head-on.

A few other museums are participating in this campaign, including: Brooklyn Museum, The J. Paul Getty Museum, The National Gallery of Art, the New Museum, LACMA, and more.

Be sure to check back for more posts about women artists we think you should know from SAM’s collection.

We’d also love our readers’ participation in this important initiative. Who are #5womenartists everyone should know?

IMAGE: SO GOOD IT COULD HAVE BEEN, 2012, DAFT KUNTZ, Collaboration between Victoria Haven and Dawn Cerny, Victoria Haven, American, born 1964, Dawn Cerny, American, born 1979, Silkscreen on paper, 33 1/2 x 26 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Matthew Offenbacher and Jennifer Nemhauser with funds from the 2013 Neddy Award in Painting, 2015.2.1, © Victoria Haven and Dawn Cerny, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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