Ask Heather Monthly Feature: Treasures of the Library and Research Center: exploring the Doris Lee Archive

Want to know more about a lesser-known woman artist? The history of NMWA? A history of fashion worn to NMWA Galas? Heather Slania, director of NMWA’s Library and Research Center, will dig through the NMWA Institutional Archives, the Archives of Women Artists, and the vast collection of books under her purview to answer your questions! Email your questions to hslania@nmwa.org and your question may turn up in a future blog post!

The Special Collections of the Library andResearch Center includes the personal papers of dozens of women artists and arts organizations. One such collection is the Doris Lee Collection.

Image of Doris Lee, 1905–1983

Doris Lee, 1905–1983

Doris Lee, née Doris Elizabeth Emrick, was born on February 1, 1905, in Aledo, Illinois.

In 1927, Lee graduated from Rockford College in Illinois, majoring in art and philosophy. Upon graduation, she married Russell Werner Lee, an engineer who later became a noted photographer with the Farm Security Administration. Lee studied painting during their honeymoon year abroad in Italy and France. She enrolled in the Kansas City Arts Institute in 1929 to study painting under Ernest Lawson. The following year, she studied under Arnold Blanch at the San Francisco School of Art. (Blanch would become Lee’s second husband after she divorced Russell Lee in 1939.)

During the 1930s, Lee worked in her New York studio on East 14th Street. She also spent time in Woodstock, New York, where she soon settled permanently. In 1935, her painting Thanksgiving won the prestigious Logan Prize at the Chicago Art Institute. The award brought immediate and controversial attention. While many critics found the painting’s subject provincial and cartoon-like, it was hugely popular with the public. A Depression-era audience responded to the work’s nostalgic depiction of simpler, happier times. (To view Doris Lee’s painting Thanksgiving, click here: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/21727).

Only days after receiving the Logan Prize, Lee was awarded a commission from the United States Department of the Treasury to paint two murals for the General Post Office in Washington, D.C. (now the Ariel Rios Federal Building, which houses the Environmental Protection Agency). As part of the Works Projects Administration, Lee also painted a mural for the Post Office in Summerville, Georgia. (To view Lee’s Georgia mural, click here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/auvet/469088213/ ). In the following years, Lee’s paintings of rural America were included in annual exhibitions at the Carnegie Institute. Her painting Catastrophe was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1937, and she also exhibited regularly at the Walker Gallery in New York.

Image of Doris Lee, Cherries in the Sun (Siesta)

Doris Lee, Cherries in the Sun (Siesta), ca. 1941; Oil on canvas, 27 x 36 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Honorable Clare Booth Luce

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Lee undertook several commissions for Life magazine, including travel articles and illustrations that took her to such faraway locales as North Africa, Cuba, and Mexico. The sketchbooks from these trips are part of the collection in NMWA’s Library and Research Center. Lee’s trips to Hollywood in 1944 and 1945 for Life resulted in a series of paintings for two movies, The Harvey Girls and Oklahoma. Lee created illustrations for other magazines, including those published by Standard Oil and Abbott Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company, and she also undertook several book projects, including illustrating The Rodgers and Hart Songbook and children’s books such as James Thurber’s The Great Quillow. Greeting cards, calendars, menus, pottery, and fabric design also featured Lee’s work.

Images of Doris Lee's sketches for James Thurber's The Great Quillow

Images of Doris Lee’s sketches for James Thurber’s The Great Quillow

The Doris Lee Papers consist of a great variety of materials. Personal objects such as photographs, correspondence, awards, and financial and legal documents make up a large portion of the collection, which also includes ephemera such as periodicals, clippings, calendars, postcards, and exhibition catalogues. The collection also contains original work by Lee, which comprise figural sketches, sketchbooks, and drafts for commissioned work. A unique part of the collection is a series called Work Notes, which consists of clippings and photographs of people, animals, and places used by Lee as visual references.

Detail image of a handkerchief in Doris Lee's Work Notes series, for personal or reference use

Detail image of a handkerchief in Doris Lee’s Work Notes series, for personal or reference use

The Work Notes series consists of over 1700 clippings, postcards, photographs, and textiles Lee gathered for reference in her work. Her clippings of people, animals, and places were taken from many sources, including popular magazines, specialized journals for livestock, and hundreds of postcards. Also included in the Work Notes are twenty-two handkerchiefs. Although when the collection was reprocessed the handkerchiefs found among Work Notes, several of the handkerchiefs are embroidered with “Doris Lee,” suggesting these were used as the personal handkerchiefs of Doris Lee and not necessarily used for reference. This collection, like many in NMWA’s Library and Research Center, provides insight into the work, artistic process, and time of a significant woman artist.

—Heather Slania is the director of the Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

From the Vault: Louise Moillon

Louise Moillon, A Market Stall with a Young Woman Giving a Basket of Grapes to an Older Woman, c. 1630, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Louise Moillon is an enigma. Born in 1609 or 1610 in France to a Protestant family, her works reflect a distinct Flemish influence, yet at the same time reject the vanitas symbolism that so often marks Northern still-lifes of the 17th century. She painted finely crafted tableaux as a precociously talented young woman, yet mysteriously appears to have stopped in the 1640s. Her life and career represent a crossroads: the inspired moment when French still-life begins to emerge as an independent tradition meeting the quotidian reality of a 17th century Protestant woman’s life.

From birth, Moillon inherited a rich artistic heritage. Both her father and stepfather were painters and picture dealers, while her brother Isaac was one of the earliest members of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Living in the neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, known at the time for its community of Protestants fleeing persecution in the Netherlands, she was introduced at an early age to the Northern traditions of still-life painting. Surviving business contracts reveal that as early as age 11 she was showing promise as a professional artist. However, her last clearly dated work is from 1641, suggesting that she stopped working long before she passed away in 1696. Art historians generally believe that this cessation is due to her marriage in 1640 to Calvinist wood merchant Etienne Girardot de Chancourt. The duties of wife and, later, mother prevented her from pursuing her painting career, while conservative Calvinist theology discouraged women from working independently from their husbands and families.

Louise Moillon, Bowl of Lemons and Oranges on a Box of Wood Shavings and Pomegranates, n.d., Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Yet Moillon’s works are far from puritanical. Her lush and luminescent palette calls to mind sensuality, not severity. Absent of the strict morality often associated with still-lifes of the period, her fruit baskets shine as symbols of abundance and prosperity. No hint of decay is found, suggesting the present moment, intimately shared, instead of warning against future drama on a monumental scale. Later in her career, she incorporated large-scale human figures in her paintings, one of the first French still-life artists to do so. Enlivening her canvases, these figures place her overflowing baskets in a specific context, one in which the array of fruit is matched by the diversity of figures and experience.

A Market Stall with a Young Woman Giving a Basket of Grapes to an Older Woman, c. 1630, is currently on display in NMWA’s Great Hall. The two female figures, contrasting significantly in age, suggest the cycle of life, but one in which signs of rot and decomposition are not present. Multiple baskets frame the composition, each one overflowing with round, luscious fruits, whether they are plums, apricots, apples, or pears. Both young and old are found in this world of delicious abundance. Comparing this painting to a Flemish still-life indicates how Moillon set out to work in a specifically French idiom. Clara Peeters’s Still Life of Fish and Cat, hanging on the same wall in the Great Hall, more overtly portrays a moral tale; in this case, the transitory nature of the world, where the vivid fish becomes vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the food chain cat and man dominate. Its dark palette suggests a more somber tone than the bright oranges, purples, and greens illuminating Moillon’s work.

Despite the few facts available about her life and limited surviving canvases, we can construct an image of Louise Moillon. She was traditional in the dominance her personal life had over her public image as an artist, yet trailblazing in her brief career as a painter, contributing to a new national style of still-life.

-Rebecca Park is editorial intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

From the Vault: Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra, De Panne, Belgium, 1992, Chromogenic print, 15 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Sea to Shining Sea: Rineke Dijkstra’s cross-Atlantic look at teenagers in the early 1990s

Dutch photographer and video-artist Rineke Dijkstra is well known for her intense and intimate approach to portraiture. Her work, typically executed in a serial format, is predicated on people in a state of transition, particularly teenagers on the verge of adulthood. Giving minimal direction to her sitters, Dijkstra relinquishes her role as director of the scene—producing a photographic situation in which the subjects must reveal themselves or a version of themselves to the camera lens. The artist’s use of a 4-by-5 camera for her work requires a longer exposure period compared to smaller, conventional cameras and in turn requires great concentration from the sitter. This large-format camera also creates a sharp, highly detailed image, a feature that corresponds with the artist’s intent to showcase the subtle nuances of the subject’s facial expression and stance.

After several years as a commercial photographer, Dijkstra garnered international acclaim with her series entitled Beaches, 1992–96, a project that signaled a departure from her previously commissioned commercial works. The photographer traveled from the Netherlands to Belgium, Croatia, Poland, and the United States, with an aim at capturing a cross-cultural look at teenagers she encountered along the European and American shorelines. Throughout the series, Dijkstra positions one to three figures centrally within the picture frame against a neutral background: the sea’s horizon. The aesthetic Dijkstra established in the Beaches series pervades the majority of the artist’s later series and projects; she translated her minimalist compositions and conceptions to video by creating moving portraits of teenage club goers.

NMWA recently acquired four images from the Beaches series from the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection. Hilton Head, South Carolina, USA, 1992, epitomizes Dijkstra’s own sentiments: “I had thought people would be everywhere the same, but they weren’t. In Hilton Head, the bathing suits were more chic. The girls held in their stomachs. They wore makeup.”[1] Consistent with the series’ format, the two bronzed female figures—most likely a young mother and daughter—stand closely together on the sand, suggesting a sense of intimacy between them. The disparity in age underscores two different stages of female development: girlhood and womanhood. With folded hands and slight smile, the youth in a fashionable, flower-printed suit cocks her head to one side, revealing the onset of self-awareness at an early age.

Hilton Head, South Carolina, USA appears in stark contrast to De Panne, Belgium, 1992, where the European adolescent female in a black-and-white, boy-cut swimsuit assumes a rather erect posture, which is accentuated further by her hands held stiff at her sides. She confronts the viewer directly with listless eyes and a clenched jaw. Though the Belgian teen adopts a deliberate, contrived position, she still exudes the insecurity and hesitancy of a girl suspended between two developmental stages. Hilton Head, South Carolina and De Panne, Belgium, along with the other photographs from the Beaches series, exemplify the vulnerability and awkwardness inherent within the adolescent’s physical and emotional maturation.

Rineke Dijkstra, Hilton Head, SC, USA, 1992, Chromogenic print, 12 x 8 1/4 in., Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Born in Sittard, the Netherlands in 1959, Rineke Dijkstra attended the Gerrit Rietvald Academy in Amsterdam from 1981 to 1986. She received the 2003 Citibank Photography Prize and the 1994 Werner Mantz Award for her achievements in photography. Dijkstra currently lives and works in Amsterdam.

–Lindsay Amini is an intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.



[1] Abigail R. Esman. “Rineke Dijkstra.” Art and Auction (December 2004): 38.

From NMWA's Vault: Audrey Flack

Hannah: Who She Is, 1982, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 84 x 60 1/4 inches

 “I believe that through our art, and through the projection of trancendent imagery, we can mend and heal the planet” – Audrey Flack 

Since the mid 1950s, Audrey Flack has fought for her artistic beliefs and explored new dimensions through her work. A member of New York City artist circles, Flack has experimented with painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, bronze work, and book art, as well as teaching, writing, and public speaking. She started her career as an Abstract Expressionist then gravitated towards Photorealism, becoming perhaps the founder of the movement and the only woman artist associated with its ideas. Her work is included in museums, galleries, and private collections around the world.   

Born in 1931 in a suburb of New York City, Flack knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in art despite being discouraged by her middle class family. She attended a performing arts high school in New York City which led to her acceptance and subsequent bachelor’s degree in fine art from Yale University in 1952. During her time at Yale, Flack studied Abstract Expressionism under the tutelage of Josef Albers, embracing the movement and style. Flack attended graduate school at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, where her work began to shift towards realism. She found it difficult to be recognized as a professional artist and felt she was being treated as a sex object and not taken seriously by her peers, pushing her to create more provocative art. Flack began painting photographic stills from newspapers and magazines, beginning with images of Hitler and other prominent World War II figures. She began her experimentation with Photorealism at least five years before the style became popular, and is thus credited by some art historians as the originator of the movement. Photorealist style dominated her art after 1960 and her contemporaries included Chuck Close and Richard Estes. Flack focused on Spanish vanitas, prominent figures like Marilyn Monroe and President Kennedy, and detailed still lifes of feminine objects. In 1966, Flack became the first female Photorealist to have her work acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. 

Not long after her Photorealist work gained fame, Flack decided to switch mediums and focus on sculptural work. She adopted a more Baroque style, abandoning ties to Photorealism, which she found restricting and methodic. Her sculptures over the past twenty years have praised the strength of women on a monumental scale. 

Audrey Flack has influenced many contemporary artists. Notably, Jeff Koons credits her as the reason for his portrayal of artwork associated to kitsch. She has lectured nationally and internationally on her ideas and artwork and authored numerous books and articles. In 1992, NMWA featured an exhibition of her work, Breaking the Rules: Audrey Flack, A Retrospective 1960–1990, and holds several of her pieces in the collection. 

-Ali Printz is an intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts 

From NMWA's Vault: Sue Coe

Second Millenium, 1998, serigraph on paper, 22 x 22 1/2 inches

An extremely intelligent and immensely complicated artist, Sue Coe has been truly groundbreaking in the realm of sociopolitical art. Her signature style of “visual journalism” distributes valuable information to the public to instigate social change for the causes she supports such as ending animal cruelty, economic oppression, sexual exploitation, and political corruption. Her mediums include printmaking and painting, as well as illustration through artist’s books and comics. Her commentary on social injustices has been featured in ArtNews, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, among many others.

Sue Coe was born in 1951 in Tamworth, Staffordshire, England, into a neighborhood still suffering from the aftermath of World War II. She knew at a young age that she wanted to be an artist to express her disdain for the poor working class which surrounded her, as well as the cruelty to animals she witnessed at a local slaughterhouse. Her influences include Jose Guadalupe Posada, Käthe Kollwitz, George Grosz, Rembrandt, and Chaim Soutine. At age 16, Coe earned a scholarship to the Chelsea School of Art. From 1970–1973, Coe attended the Royal College of Art in London and studied graphic design. Shortly thereafter, she moved to New York City and began drawing cartoons for local newspapers and magazines, making her art more available in the public sphere. Her earliest exhibition was in 1979 at Thumb Gallery in London. In 1991, a retrospective of her work was held at at Galerie St. Etienne in New York City.

Currently living in upstate New York, Sue Coe is still producing attention-grabbing work that deals with the most poignant issues in contemporary society. Coe is usually embraced by critics for her inability to hold back her opinions concerning her subject matter, but she has also received considerable negative reactions. In a recent interview, Coe explained, “I realized that our problem as human beings was not that we were all warlike and greedy, but rather that we were too cooperative with the bully.” In an effort to increase public understanding, Coe regularly donates her prints and drawings to charity and fundraisers that support the causes that her work illustrates.

From the series ; Charcoal on paper; 11 x 13 in.; Gift of Patti Cadby Birch; © Galerie St. Etienne, New York

The Last 11 Days, a series of sketches depicting the last days of her mother’s life, as well as several other prints and paintings, are part of NMWA’s collection. Unlike her other work, The Last 11 Days were created without the intention of being shown and reveal Coe’s private struggle with her mother’s illness and eventual death. Sue Coe is inspiring in every form, supporting issues that plague the world and refusing to sit quietly in their wake. She continues to be a magnetic force in the complex world of contemporary women artists.

Ali Printz is an intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

From NMWA's Vault: Tamara de Lempicka

Une Jeune Fille Bretonne, 1975, Oil on canvas, 13 x 11 inches

As a leading portraitist of the Art Deco movement in the 1920s through the 1930s, Tamara de Lempicka is truly a force representing women’s contribution to art.. Her strong will, extraordinary life, and drive for all things avant-garde kept her in the spotlight for most of her life. Lempicka’s technique was elegant and precise, echoing aspects of Cubism, Futurism, and the Bauhaus. Some of her most famous paintings include, Autoportrait, painted in 1929 and Andromeda, painted in 1927, a likeness of the infamous Greek princess.

Born into a wealthy family as Maria Górska in Warsaw in 1898, Lempicka attended boarding school in Switzerland. In 1911, she took an extended trip to Italy and the French Riviera with her grandmother, who introduced her to museums and the great Italian Masters. In 1912, her parents divorced and Lempicka relocated to St. Petersburg where she attended St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Fine Arts and was trained in various styles. As a young beautiful woman, Lempicka attracted many suitors, including Count Tadeusz de Lempicka, who she married at the age of 18. At the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Count was arrested and Lempicka, after several weeks, was able to secure his escape. The couple fled with their young daughter to Paris. It was in Paris where Lempicka began her career in the arts and established her socialite status.

Not long after arriving in Paris, Lempicka continued to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière under the tutelage of André Lhote, a cubist artist of the time. Her first solo show was in Milan in 1925, where she completed twenty-eight paintings in a six month period. After the show, Lempicka became the most fashionable portraitist of her generation, painting the aristocracy and socialites of Europe, as well as showing in elite salons and charging $2,000 per painting.

Famous for her libido, Lempicka was bisexual and often had scandalous affairs. Her paintings were a mirror for her sexual escapades, reflecting the cool, sensual side of the Art Deco movement. Her activities and neglect for her family led to her divorce in 1928. Kizette, her young daughter, was the subject of many of her paintings during her lifetime, even though they had a strained relationship. In 1929, Lempicka painted Autoportrait for the German fashion magazine, Die Dame. The painting became synonymous with the image of the confident, independent woman of the 1930s.

Shortly thereafter, Lempicka became involved with longtime patron Baron Raoul Kuffner, traveling to America with him to show at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. The couple married in 1933 and relocated to Beverly Hills, CA in 1939, settling into a Garbo-esque lifestyle. She continued to paint throughout WWII in her signature style, yet her work became more abstract, and she replaced a brush with a palette knife as the years progressed.

Lempicka exhibited new paintings for the last time in 1962, the same year her husband died, and vowed to never paint again as the show was not well received. She moved to Texas to be with her daughter and her presence in the art world was overlooked until her 1972 retrospective at the Galerie du Luxembourg. This exhibition brought a resurgence of her work to the public and her return to painting personally.

Lempicka spent her final years in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she died in 1980. Her personality and impact on the history of women’s art has yet to be forgotten and her paintings of the 1920s and 30s are an unmistakable example of the sleek, stylistic forms of the Art Deco movement. Une Jeune Fille Bretonne, painted in 1975, is part of NMWA’s collection and showcases the more abstract style of Lempicka’s late career.

Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA

From NMWA's Vault: Lola Alvarez Bravo

De Generación en Generación, ca 1950. Gelatin silver print. 9 x 6 1/8 inches. Gift of the artist.

Lola Alvarez Bravo was a pioneer of the photography movement and perhaps the first professional Mexican woman photographer. She shattered stereotypes by pursuing her dream from behind a camera lens and was associated with and photographed the most famous artists of her day, such as Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Maria Izquierdo, Alfaro Siquieros, and Frida Kahlo. Bravo was a key figure in the cultural renaissance that followed the Mexican Revolution, becoming a positive role model for women artists and gaining international attention for her intimate portraits of Frida Kahlo.

Dolores Martinez de Anda was born in the small city of Lagos de Moreno in Jalisco, Mexico, in 1907 to a wealthy family. Orphaned at a young age, she moved to Mexico City to live with her half brother and met their neighbor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo. In 1925, Lola married Manuel and moved to Oaxaca where Manuel pursued a career in photography and Lola became his assistant. Manuel taught her about photography and she began to capture her own imagery. The couple returned to Mexico City in 1926 before the birth of their son. Heavily influenced by their new friend Edward Westin and his mistress Tina Modotti, an amateur photographer, Bravo was inspired to pursue photography professionally. In 1931, Manuel and Lola won first and second prizes, respectively, at the Exhibición Nacional de la Pintura y la Fotografía, a significant accomplishment for both.

In 1934, Lola separated from her husband, maintaining her married name and began a solo career spanning more than fifty years. She received her first commission in 1936 photographing the choir stalls of a former church, which subsequently led to magazine work with El Maestro Rural, Hoy, and Rotofoto. Bravo dove into photojournalism, portraiture, as well as photomontage, focusing on the cultural life and social problems of Mexico. She moved into an apartment in Mexico City with painter Maria Izquierdo, who led her into many budding artistic circles. In 1944, Bravo held her first solo exhibition at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts. She also taught photography at the esteemed Academía de San Carlos. From 1951 to 1958, Bravo directed her own gallery in Mexico City and in 1953 organized Frida Kahlo’s only solo exhibition in Mexico during Kahlo’s lifetime. Lola had a major retrospective in 1992 in Mexico City, but had stopped making work by then due to failing eyesight. Bravo died in 1993, but her body of work and defiance of social norms will never be forgotten.

Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA

Happy St. Patrick's Day: Kathy Prendergast

Secret Kiss, 1999. Knitted Wool. 12 x 16 x 6 1/2 inches. Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, Broad Strokes is highlighting an artist of Irish descent whose work is in the collection. Kathy Prendergast is a contemporary sculptor, draftsperson, installation artist, painter, and knitter currently working in London. Her work deals with sexuality, identity, landscaping, mapping, control, and power, and revolves around her personal history. Entering the art world in the early 1980s, Prendergast started her career focusing solely on mapmaking and draftsmanship and then segwayed into sculpture, installation, and domestic creations.

Kathy Prendergast was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1958. She attended the National College of Art and Design in Dublin from 1976 to 1980, and again from 1982 to 1983, earning a BFA in drawing and drafting. Upon graduating, Prendergast moved to London and enrolled in an MFA program at the Royal Academy of Art. During her time in graduate school, Prendergast participated in the Paris Biennale in 1985. She created a series of intricate cartographies from various cities, using her body as the horizon line for the map. She then began to explore the female body and identity in the Body Map series in which she painted cross sections of the female body as an uncharted landscape. She explored altering domestic objects in the early 1990s, following the Surrealist techniques of Meret Oppenheim and adding an empty, human element. Secret Kiss, 1999, is an example of this technique.

Prendergast’s work can be seen in a variety of museums and private collections around the world, including the Tate Gallery in London, the Cheekwood Museum of Art in Nashville, and the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu. She was awarded the Premio 2000 for best young artist at the Venice Biennale for her series The City Drawings, which featured several tiny delicate drawings of the street plans of world capitals. In 1999, Prendergast had a solo exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. 

Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA

From NMWA's Vault: Hannah Höch

In Front of a Red Evening Sun, no date, Oil on canvas, 31 1/4 x 29 3/8 in.

 

Hannah Höch was one of the few women artists to participate in the anti-art Dada movement of the early twentieth century. As a printmaker, painter, collagist, and photomontagist, Höch was part of the intellectual renaissance of Weimar Berlin as well as the Berlin Dadaist circle. Her artwork documented the political and social turmoil caused by World War I, as well as the newfound gender issues associated with women earning the right to vote, becoming more financially independent, and acquiring sexual liberation.

Anna Therese Johanne Höch was born in Gotha, Germany, in 1889. She studied graphic arts at the College of Arts and Crafts in Berlin from 1912 to 1914 until she was recruited to work for the Red Cross during the war. Höch also trained in fabric design and textiles after her time spent in the war, working part time for Ullstein Verlag, Weimar Berlin’s largest publishing empire. She created lace tablecloths and needlepoint patterning and most notably had access to the company’s catalogues which she used to create her early photomontages. In 1915, Höch met Raoul Hausmann and through him became associated with the Berlin Dadaists. Hausmann and Höch, under the influence of Dadaism, perfected the art of photomontage and used it as satirical propaganda. Höch became the only female to show works at the First International Dada Fair in 1920.

In 1922, Höch ended her relationship with Hausmann and left the Berlin Dadaists. Known for her independent spirit, masculine dress, and bisexual tendencies, Höch then had a relationship with Til Brugman, the Dutch writer and linguist from 1926 to 1929. She continued to produce her own art and champion female rights until the onset of World War II when the Nazi regime banned all artistic movements, claiming them to be “degenerate.” Instead of fleeing Berlin, Höch chose inner exile so she could protect her precious artwork and Dada memorabilia. After the war, Höch quietly remained in Berlin and focused on smaller works. She died in 1978 at the age of eighty-nine. The Museum of Modern Art in New York held a retrospective of her work in 1997 to commemorate her contribution to Dada and women’s art as a whole. NMWA’s collection includes eighteen objects created by Höch.

Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA

From NMWA's Vault: Bertha Lum

May Night, 1913. Wood engraving on paper. 8 3/8 x 9 3/4 inches (22 x 25 cm). Gift of Mrs. Jefferson Patterson

Bertha Lum, a printmaker and illustrator fairly unknown to women’s art history, features traditional Asian motifs and flat lines in her artwork, but with a distinctive style coveted by critics and collectors from both the East and the West. Born in 1869 in Typton, Iowa, as one of four children, Lum was privy to modest beginnings. Between 1895 and 1869 and again from 1901 to 1902 she took courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in figure drawing, design, and illustration. Lum married in 1903 to a wealthy Minnesotan and decided to honeymoon in Japan to satisfy her curiosity for Japanese color woodcuts. While in Japan, Lum purchased low quality woodblock printing supplies and began to produce her own prints when she returned to the United States.

Several years later, Lum traveled to Japan again and apprenticed with Japanese craftsmen, including an engraver and printermaker, over the course of several months. When she returned to America, she began to sell and show her artwork. In 1912, Lum became the only Westerner to exhibit her work at Tokyo’s Annual Art Exhibition. In 1915, she was awarded one of four silver medals at the prestigious Panama Pacific International Exposition. Lum also became the first American woman artist to have her artwork acquired by the British Museum. Lum took her daughters Eleanor and Catherine on several extended vacations to China and Japan. She divorced in 1917 and took up residence in California, where she established a clientele and lived comfortably earning five hundred dollars per month from sales of her artwork. Between 1924 and 1927, Lum diversified her work and began making screens, a technique she learned in Beijing in the early 1920s.

After 1937, Lum’s eyesight began to deteriorate, ending her ability to make prints. The last years of her life were spent in China, but in 1953, she moved to Genoa, Italy to be with her daughter Catherine. Bertha Lum died in 1954, at the age of seventy-five. Undoubtedly, Lum opened many doors for other women artists reproducing Asian prints in the early twentieth century. NMWA has two of Lum’s engravings in the collection.

 Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA