Women Artists of the DMV: Maria Verónica San Martín’s “In Their Memory”

DMV Color presents artists’ books, graphic novels, photobooks, and zines by women of African American, Asian American, and Latina heritage with ties to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia—known locally as the DMV. The works on view depict intimacies of family life, legacies of enslavement, dislocation tied to immigration, changes resulting from rampant development, and more. On view in NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) through March 4, 2020.


Originally from Santiago, Chile, Maria Verónica San Martín (b. 1981) is a New York-based printmaker, sculptor, performance artist, and bookmaker who attended the former Corcoran School of the Arts & Design in Washington, D.C. Her evocative artist’s book In Their Memory (2012) is featured in DMV Color. San Martín’s work functions as a tactile form of resistance—it critically examines power structures and the sanitization of historical atrocities.

Maria Verónica San Martín holds up her artist's book In Their Memory

Maria Verónica San Martín holds up her artist’s book In Their Memory; Photo courtesy of the artist

San Martín’s work draws upon Chile’s fraught political history. In Their Memory memorializes the Chilean citizens who were tortured and disappeared under General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973–1990). As a result, thousands of Chileans sought asylum in Canada, Sweden, and the U.S., including the DMV area. The full scope of the human rights injustices committed by the regime remains under investigation to this day.

In an interview, San Martín explained her activist approach. “As a second-generation witness of the regime’s atrocities and a first-generation artist experiencing the legacy of the dictatorship on the collective body…my practice rejects the idea of a progressive history with a fixed past.”

In Their Memory invites viewers to grapple with the erasure of the era’s violent political history. Wherever the work travels, it honors and preserves the identities of missing people, along with the resilience of their families. Through archival practices, printmaking, and bookmaking, San Martín also explores the role of collective memory. The flag book structure is both a sculpture and a book immortalizing, through black-and-white portraits and lists of names, the victims of the Pinochet regime.

The process of etching and printing images onto the book’s surface embodies the painful erasure and reappearance of those missing—literally and from the Chilean people’s collective memory. An image of Chile’s presidential palace, La Moneda, is printed onto the back. Images of missing Chilean citizens juxtaposed against the government’s seat of power further embodies issues of unjust institutions.

In Their Memory-21

Maria Verónica San Martín, In Their Memory, 2012

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Maria Verónica San Martín, In Their Memory, 2012

Today, the people of Chile have taken to the streets to protest social inequality. As the country’s economic model was put in place under Pinochet, the dictator’s legacy still looms. In an interview with the LRC, San Martín identified the spike in political engagement among Chileans, especially the youth, as important to transforming economic and social structures that favor the rich and discard the middle class and poor. “When this social crisis arose, there was a [collective] conscious[ness] happening.” In Their Memory is an important vehicle of activism and social justice, connecting Chile’s past to this contemporary moment.

Elizabeth Chung was the fall 2019 Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Women Artists of the DMV: Malaka Gharib’s “I Was Their American Dream”

DMV Color presents artists’ books, graphic novels, photobooks, and zines by women of African American, Asian American, and Latina heritage with ties to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia—known locally as the DMV. The works on view depict intimacies of family life, legacies of enslavement, dislocation tied to immigration, changes resulting from rampant development, and more. On view in NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center through March 4, 2020.


A head shot of author/artist Malaka Gharib. She smiles and wears a red button-up short sleeved shirt and has hear hair braided over her left shoulder.

Malaka Gharib photo by Ben de la Cruz

Washington, D.C., resident Malaka Gharib (b. 1986) is an editor at NPR, co-founder of the D.C. Art Book Fair, and zine artist. Her graphic memoir I Was Their American Dream (Clarkson Potter, 2019), chronicles her multicultural upbringing as the daughter of a Filipino Catholic mother and an Egyptian Muslim father. From her multiethnic hometown in suburban Los Angeles to the majority white upstate New York town where she attended college, Gharib constantly negotiated between her Filipino and Egyptian heritage—and the ideals of white America. “What are you?” is a question the artist explores with heartfelt insight and humor in this joyous tribute to her immigrant family.

The intricacies of family life and cultural tensions are major themes throughout DMV Color, and Gharib addresses them with nuance and authenticity. In playful red, white, and blue illustrations, Gharib depicts navigating clashing familial relationships, cultural values, religion, and food. Even within her high school’s diverse cultural pool, Gharib’s own ethnic ambiguity and fascination with white people in popular culture earned her a label of “white-washed” and treatment as a misfit. To be “normal” was to be white, according to teenage Gharib. Eventually, she found her stride as part of a motley, punk-loving, creative crew. She also learned to blend her family’s distinct cultures together, creating an identity all her own. Reading like a conversation with a close friend, this is the story all children of immigrants might have wished they had growing up.

Interior detail from "I Was Their American Dream" which depicts, in cartoon format, the author's Microaggressions Bingo interactive spread.

Interior detail from I Was Their American Dream; Copyright © 2019 by Malaka Gharib; Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

Gharib’s memoir is delightfully designed, featuring interactive elements including a family recipe for the Filipino soup monggo, a cheeky-yet-pointed bingo chart of microaggressions, and a paper doll of the author with various outfits that highlight her code-switching in college. Her simple and unique character designs reject racial caricaturing, reimagining race with a refreshing lens. In one section, Gharib’s renderings of her high school classmates’ yearbook pictures represent the diversity of her school without relying on stereotypical depictions. The artist flatly rejects monolithic narratives and depictions of immigrants and their families.

In an interview with the Asian Journal, Gharib explained how the negative, one-dimensional, anti-immigrant rhetoric of 2016 catalyzed her to write the memoir. “I thought about my dad who liked gardening and loved the movie Forrest Gump. He’s totally harmless. I wanted to correct the narrative that I was seeing.” In I Was Their American Dream, Gharib invites readers on a journey into her colorful world and leaves us with renewed empathy and understanding.

Elizabeth Chung is the fall 2019 Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The Judy Chicago Research Portal: Preserving an Artistic Legacy

Feminist artist Judy Chicago has spent her groundbreaking career teaching and making art that centers her experiences as a woman. As part of Chicago’s efforts to overcome the erasure that has eclipsed the achievements of too many women throughout history, the artist has placed her archives with three institutions: NMWA, the Schlesinger Library for the History of Women in America at Harvard University, and Penn State University Libraries.

In a rare collaboration, these institutions have launched The Judy Chicago Research Portal: Learning, Making, Culture, linking the collections and presenting Chicago’s body of work, and the record of its creation, to a global audience.

Judy Chicago, Acknowledgement Panel (from The Dinner Party), 1979; Collection of Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Photo by Donald Woodman, courtesy of Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago

Bringing together a museum, a private institutional library, and a public university library allows for the potential of each repository to consider and embrace new audiences and their collective interest in Chicago’s oeuvre and legacy. Chicago’s visual archives are housed at NMWA, her paper archives at the Schlesinger Library, and her art education archives at Penn State. The portal allows users to search selected items from the three collections or search the full repository at each institution.

Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study hosted an event to celebrate the portal’s official launch and introduction. It featured a conversation between Chicago and artist/activist Christina Schlesinger about the importance of archiving women artists’ history and making these resources publicly available in order to ensure their legacies are not erased—or forgotten.

In her research for her landmark installation The Dinner Party (1974–79), Chicago came face to face with the stories of women who had been erased from history. She then struggled to find a permanent home for the work—it was then that Chicago realized that her archive is her legacy. “As important as the work itself is Chicago’s refusal to let it and any understanding of its creation disappear,” wrote Thessaly La Force in the New York Times. “[Archives] are the authority on what or who will remain within the historical narrative.”


Judy Chicago, 11 year old drawing, 1950; Mixed media on colored paper, 18 x 24 in.; Photo courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago

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Judy Chicago, Orange Atmosphere, Brookside Park, Pasadena, California, 1968; Fireworks; Photo courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago


Judy Chicago, Rejection Breakthrough Drawing (from The Rejection Quintet), 1974; Prismacolor and graphite on paper, 40 x 30 in.; Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Photo courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago

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Judy Chicago, Double Clear Handout/Handsoff, 2006; Etching and glass paint on clear glass, two glass panels: 18 x 24 x 0.5 in.; Photo courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, NMWA; © Judy Chicago

At NMWA, the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center’s Archives of Women Artists is dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of women artists. In addition to Chicago’s body of work, the collection includes correspondence from Frida Kahlo, drawings and correspondence by Doris Lee, the palette and brush of Eulabee Dix, printmaking tools used by Grace Albee, the Dulah Evans Krehbiel Card Collection, papers documenting the life and career of feminist artist Anita Steckel, and more.

The Library and Research Center’s digitization of Chicago’s visual archives is ongoing. More than 3,600 items have been processed and uploaded to the portal to date. Items include photographic negatives, contact sheets, and copy prints related to The Dinner Party; slides of Chicago’s early artwork; documentation of her major bodies of work; and copies of her lectures. The collection will grow over time as more materials are received from the artist’s studio. Browse the portal and NMWA’s visual archives.

Now Open: DMV Color

Elizabeth Catlett, Walking Blindly, 1992; Lithograph on paper, 22 3/4 x 18 3/4 in.; NMWA, purchased with funds donated in memory of Florence Davis by her family, friends, and the Women’s Committee of the NMWA

Washington, D.C., and its surroundings have long been home to a rich community of artists of color, including those born and raised here and others who built connections to the region—some while attending area art schools and universities, or while living here temporarily with military families. DMV Color, now on view in NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC), features an eclectic assortment of contemporary works by women of African American, Asian American, and Latina heritage with ties to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia—known locally as the DMV. The artists’ books, graphic novels, photobooks, and zines on view depict intimacies of family life, legacies of enslavement, dislocation tied to immigration, changes resulting from rampant development, and other topics that illustrate facets of life in the DMV.

In a recent interview with Sasha-Ann Simons of the Kojo Nnamdi Show, LRC Director Lynora Williams noted the rich artistic exchange occurring in the region. “This is a hardworking region, and no one works harder than women of color,” she said. “It affects their ability to promote their art. For NMWA to have the honor of sharing the art of these women is very exciting.”

Global Heritages

Washington, D.C., and its extended surroundings have long welcomed artists of African, Asian, Native, and Latinx heritage. This history stretches from the 1700s and earlier, to the influx of formerly enslaved African Americans who flocked here during the Civil War and Reconstruction. More recently, immigrants from East, West, Central, and Southern Africa; Central and South America; Central Asia; the Middle East; Southeast Asia; and other regions have settled in the DMV—many fleeing armed conflicts, repressive governments, or economic crises. Women of diverse heritages and DMV experiences, often united by a desire to be freed of restrictive social norms, have learned from and inspired one another in their creative endeavors.

Featured Artists

The 19 artists in DMV Color convey their identities in a wide variety of formats. Signifiers such as food, the admonitions of grandmothers, textiles, and childhood memories can be found across the boundaries of culture and medium. Featured artists and works include:

Robin Ha’s Cook Korean! (2016), graphic novel and cookbook

Robin Ha, Cook Korean!, 2016—Ha moved to the U.S. from Korea at 14. Her graphic novel and cookbook contains recipes, colorful illustrations, and information about the basic ingredients found in a Korean kitchen.

Elizabeth Catlett, Walking Blindly, 1992—Raised in Washington, D.C., Catlett studied at Howard University under artist Loïs Mailou Jones, whose children’s book illustrations are also included in this exhibition. Catlett split her time between New York City and Mexico City, primarily creating prints and sculptures. Her images explore themes of maternity and childhood as well as race, politics, violence, and voice.

Sabrina Barekzai, Afghan Superstitions, Vol. 2, 2016—Incorporating stories that the author heard as a child from friends and family, Barekzai’s zine intersperses Afghan superstitions with photos of Barekzai’s family from the 1980s. Northern Virginia’s Afghan community is believed to be the second largest in the United States.

Visit DMV Color in person to see these works through March 4, 2020.

Power in My Hand: Five Women Artists in Conversation with Emily Dickinson

Since the discovery of almost 1,800 poems after her death in 1886, readers and artists alike have studied, adopted, and celebrated the work of Emily Dickinson. As noted by poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, Dickinson’s work remains relevant in its focus on the feminine and the interior—in the literal sense of the domestic realm and, metaphorically, in the expression of the inner self. Five works in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center’s exhibition Power in My Hand: Women Poets, Women Artists, and Social Change testify to the enduring legacy of Dickinson’s work.

Sue Huggins Leopard, Past Surmise: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson, 2008; Multimedia, 2 x 19 1/2 in. (prints); box: 14 x 22 x 2 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Sue Huggins Leopard

In Emily Dickinson, a preparatory drawing for a place setting in her renowned installation The Dinner Party (1977), Judy Chicago (b. 1939) emphasized the link between sexuality, empowerment, and liberation using materials and techniques that would have been familiar to Dickinson and her Victorian milieu. Ribbon work references Victorian sewing techniques, while lace simultaneously embodies reticent femininity and oppression, a seemingly delicate fabric hardened and immobile in porcelain.

A tactile exploration of Dickinson’s work continues in the photography of Annie Leibovitz (b. 1949). The artist photographed a white dress of Dickinson’s against a sharp, dark background. This “portrait” of Dickinson opened Leibovitz’s book Pilgrimage, an exploration of the spaces and belongings of individuals she admires. The photograph evokes the same traditional femininity depicted by Chicago, but here the viewer must consider the absent body of the poet.

The delicate collages of multidisciplinary artist Lesley Dill (b. 1950) respond to Dickinson’s work by incorporating the poet’s text within them. In The Poetic Body—Gloves, Ears, Eyes (1992), Dill depicts the visceral experience of language, giving it an interpreted shape made from Japanese silk tissue paper, accented by letterpress, and structured into collage. Dill’s collage is exhibited alongside a group of works that reflect on spirituality, faith, and the nature of the psyche.


Judy Chicago, Emily Dickinson (preparatory drawing for The Dinner Party), 1977; Mixed media on paper, 23 1/8 x 35 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition fund; © 1977 Judy Chicago; Image by Google

Dickinson Dress

Annie Leibovitz, photograph of Emily Dickinson’s only surviving dress, from Pilgrimage; Photo by Emily Moore, courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center

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Lesley Dill, The Poetic Body—Gloves, Ears, Eyes, 1992; Lithograph with letterpress and collage on paper, 13 1/8 x 18 1/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition Fund; © Lesley Dill

Herxheimer-Your Candle

Sophie Herxheimer, poems by Emily Dickinson, Your Candle Accompanies the Sun: My Homage to Emily Dickinson, 2017; Artist's book by Henningham Family Press; Photo by Jennifer Page


Sue Huggins Leopard, Past Surmise: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson, 2008; Multimedia, 2 x 19 1/2 in. (prints); box: 14 x 22 x 2 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Sue Huggins Leopard

Reframing Dickinson’s cloistered life, artist Sophie Herxheimer explored the idea that one can be fixed in space physically, but mobile through imagination and intellect. Her work Your Candle Accompanies the Sun: My Homage to Emily Dickinson (2017) was created during a time in her own life when she was “stuck indoors, quite anxious, unable to do much.” Through collages that include Dickinson’s work, Herxheimer’s own poetry, and images cut from a 1930’s book of Swiss tourist photos, the piece demonstrates the creative potency of inspiration and relative isolation.

Printmaker and book artist Sue Huggins Leopard developed an interest in writers and their work, and she began to integrate poetry into her own print projects. She uses the technical process of bookmaking as a way to picture the invisible and embody emotions. Her work Past Surmise: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson (2008) explores and communes with Dickinson’s delight in the “small miracles of nature and being.”

In describing her creative process, Dickinson once wrote, “I work to drive the awe away, yet awe impels the work.” In their visual homages to Dickinson, these five artists keep the spirit of Dickinson—and her awe—alive.

—Emily Moore is the archival assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Portraits with Voices: Susan Katz’s “The Woman I Am” Project

During the 1970s Feminist Art Movement, Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party and art historian Linda Nochlin’s groundbreaking essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” celebrated great women in history and brought to light the institutional challenges that prevent women artists from succeeding professionally. In the midst of this, photographer Susan Katz (b. 1947) began work on a photobook project titled The Woman I Am, documenting 18 women’s experiences as professional artists.

Susan Katz, Untitled (Portrait of Alice Walker) from “The Woman I Am,” 1974–1976; National Museum of Women in the Arts

Katz is an American photographer from Brooklyn, who in the early 1970s became involved with the Women’s Liberation Movement, anti-racist activism, and the New York art scene. The Woman I Am reflects her passion for activism and art. Unfortunately, Katz’s book was never published. Katz gifted the full model of her project, as well as her negatives, slides, contact sheets, photographic prints, and notes, to NMWA’s Archives of Women Artists at the Betty Boyd Dettre Library & Research Center.

Susan Katz, Untitled (Portrait of Barbara Kruger) from “The Woman I Am,” 1974–1976; National Museum of Women in the Arts

The project sprang from Katz’s quest to discover how to fully center art in her own life as a personal and professional commitment. From 1974 to 1976, she photographed and interviewed well-established women artists, dancers, musicians, and writers in their New York City studios. Each artist is represented by several photographs and a short personal essay facilitated by Katz and writer Leslie J. Freeman, based on interviews with the artists.

Katz sought to portray each artist’s “self-doubts, conflicts, excitement, frustration, and the decisions she made to commit herself further.” Katz captured the determination of her subjects in her photographs, as seen in artist Barbara Kruger’s unwavering gaze or in the total concentration of writer Alice Walker while working.

Katz wished to explore how each artist felt their gender impacted their art. Writer Alice Walker, for example, spoke with Katz about the new opportunities open to women of her generation. “What we’ve decided is we want everything,” she said, including the chance to work as an artist professionally and have children.

Susan Katz, Untitled (Portrait of Gillian Bradshaw-Smith) from “The Woman I Am,” 1974–1976; National Museum of Women in the Arts

Artist Gillian Bradshaw-Smith spoke with Katz about how her chosen medium was sometimes perceived by critics from gendered perspectives. Bradshaw-Smith creates sculpture out of fabric and stuffing, and she expressed her frustration with those who looked at her sculpture as simply a woman’s craft instead of engaging with it as art. She said, “Sewing can be thought of as a put-down. It makes me angry when I hear, “That’s what women do, they can sew.”

What Katz experienced during the course of her work on The Woman I Am project may be best summarized in the personal essay of photographer Eva Rubenstein. When photographing someone, she said, “You can’t help but get involved with that person, at an emotional level.”

—Shannon Neal is the summer 2018 intern in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Writing and Righting History: 2018 Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

For the fifth year, Art+Feminism led the global initiative to improve the Wikipedia representation of women artists and to train women editors. NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center participates by hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the museum every year. In honor of Women’s History Month, 28 volunteer editors gathered at the museum on March 17. After four hours (and three boxes of coffee), edit-a-thon participants created eight new Wikipedia articles and improved 72 existing entries.

2018 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at NMWA; Photo: Traci Christensen, NMWA

Why does this effort matter?

Wikipedia is the largest and most popular general reference on the internet. A 2010 Wikimedia survey found that fewer than 13% of the platform’s contributors are women. The lack of female participation has contributed to the absence of notable women on the platform.

What was lacking?

This year, NMWA focused on entries concerning women art museum directors and gallerists—a theme closely related to the month’s Fresh Talk, a public program discussing gender parity in museums. Many leaders, scholars, and tastemakers of the modern art world, including Fresh Talk speakers Frances Morris, director of the Tate Modern, and Laurence des Cars, director of the Musée d’Orsay, work to raise the visibility of women artists in their institutions.

Wikipedia has a category page titled Museum Directors, where men—unsurprisingly—drastically outnumber women. The page links to a substantially longer list of women on the page for Female Art Museum Directors. Most of the listed directors did not have links for their names, indicating that they did not have their own Wikipedia pages—even though many did. The list also sorely lacked citations to demonstrate notability, and the article had been flagged as a result. Many of these women leaders of arts institutions had sparse pages on Wikipedia or no article at all.

What did volunteers do at NMWA?

Volunteers created pages, added images, and corrected or expanded on existing content. Former Smithsonian African Art Museum Director Johnetta Cole’s article now reflects her retirement last year. Editors added details to the page of influential gallerist Marian Goodman and expanded content on Thelma Golden’s success as director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Whitechapel Art Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick’s info box now contains a permissible photograph.

2018 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at NMWA; Photo: Traci Christensen, NMWA

Over laptops at shared tables, attendees discussed their contributions, offered each other help, and worked through their new skills together. Experienced Wikipedians were generous with their knowledge, and one attendee gave an impromptu lesson on making pages accessible to the visually impaired. A team from the BBC even stopped by to film volunteers.

Museum staff members enjoy the immediate gratification of seeing editors at work, contributions go live, and new volunteers energized to continue this work on their own. Hopefully, edit-a-thons like this will spur an ongoing effort to legitimize women’s work with reliable sources.

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) and Emily Sawyer is the spring 2018 LRC intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry

The next time you visit NMWA, come to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) to see new books on women in the arts, as well as reference books, artists’ books, and more.

Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry
Yale University Press, 2017

Cover of the exhibition catalogue Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry

Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry was published in conjunction with a retrospective exhibition on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (October 21, 2017–January 28, 2018), following its summer appearance at the Jewish Museum in New York. The exhibition presents paintings, drawings, and poems by Stettheimer (1871–1944), an independently wealthy and famously free-spirited New Yorker, as well as photographs and ephemera documenting her life. The book prominently features her poetry alongside her “idiosyncratic and irreverent” paintings—often naïve renderings of urbane subjects in acidic yellows, florid reds, and muted grays—which were rarely shown publicly during her lifetime.

In addition to her work as an artist, designer, and poet, Stettheimer hosted a salon that attracted artist friends including Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, and Carl Van Vechten. Essays by Jewish Museum curator Stephen Brown and Art Gallery of Ontario curator Georgiana Uhlyarik shed light on Stettheimer’s circle and bohemian life. An unusual feature of the book is a roundtable interview featuring seven contemporary artists—Cecily Brown, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Jutta Koether, Ella Kruglyanskaya, Valentina Liernur, Silke Otto-Knapp, and Katharina Wulff—who discuss Stettheimer’s influence and talent, relaying stories of their first or most significant encounters with her art. As Cecily Brown describes, Stettheimer’s work affects audiences through depictions of “interior spaces that read like psychological portraits.”

All are welcome to view this book, which will be available soon in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you’re touring the museum’s exhibitions, the library is open to the public and makes a great starting point on the fourth floor. In addition to beautiful books and comfortable chairs, library visitors enjoy interesting exhibitions that feature archival manuscripts, personal papers by women artists, rare books, and artists’ books. Reference Desk staff members are always happy to answer questions and offer assistance. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Wonder Women: Flappers Meet Underground Comics

NMWA could not host an exhibition called Wonder Women! without featuring several exceptional comics! The first group of objects on view in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) are an unlikely trio of comics by women, ranging from a 1920s newspaper, to an underground 1970s feminist comic, to a contemporary collection of dystopian comics with a cult following. Each features powerful women and truly represents their respective eras.

Nell Brinkley, “Kathleen and the Great Secret,” New York Evening Journal, November 21, 1920

Nell Brinkley, writer and artist of the earliest comic on view, brought style, romance, and strong women to the pages of William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers for three decades. Brinkley drew serialized comics in American Sunday magazine, later named American Weekly. “Kathleen and the Great Secret” ran on the cover of American Weekly in 1920 and ’21, featuring a woman who saves her fiancé from villains. Kathleen’s rescue of Jim involved a thrilling journey around the globe. Brinkley’s immense popularity as an illustrator and tastemaker influenced styles of the time. The Ziegfeld Follies featured “Brinkley Girls” dressed in her fashion, and women used hair-curling products named after her.

Left: Trina Robbins, “Girl Fight, issue 2,” 1972; Right: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, “Bitch Planet, Volume 1: Extraordinary Machine,” Image Comics, 2015

Fittingly, alongside Brinkley are two comic books by Trina Robbins, who also wrote two books about Brinkley’s place in comics history. While Kathleen has a wispy, Art Nouveau style, Girl Fight is angular and boldly colored. The plotlines are extreme and the dialogue is crude, but it is clear that Robbins was making a point: women in comics books can be powerful and sexual beings, not just minor characters or fantasy superheroes. Robbins also co-founded Wimmen’s Comix, the longest-running all-women comic book, which was published from 1972 until 1992.

The futuristic comic Bitch Planet, by veteran comics author Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Valentine De Landro, like Girl Fight, uses extreme stereotypes to make a point about the kind of stories that have traditionally been told about women in comics and B-movies. On Bitch Planet, women are deemed “non-compliant” and imprisoned for refusing to conform to gender expectations back on Earth. This graphic novel collection of the first issues of Bitch Planet include the backstory of hero Penny Rolle, jailed for “wanton obesity,” who defies the patriarchy that tries to punish her self-acceptance. In an interview with NPR in 2015, DeConnick discussed her awe at the comic’s cult following with some fans posting photos of “NC” (non-compliant) tattoos.

Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center through November 17, 2017 to see Wonder Women!. Located on the museum’s fourth floor, the LRC is open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Wonder Women in the NMWA Library

This summer the blockbuster film Wonder Woman has already earned more than $724 million. The NMWA Library and Research Center staff could not resist swinging their own golden lasso by presenting Wonder Women!, a celebration of women who are fearless, adventurous, and larger than life. Drawn from the wide-ranging holdings of the library’s special collections, this exhibition features women of both fact and fiction demonstrating great bravery and taking action against the wrongs of the world.

The Wonder Women! exhibition was inspired by the NMWA Library’s recent acquisition of the first regular monthly issue of the feminist Ms. magazine, founded by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pittman Hughes, which hit newsstands in July 1972. In an effort to visually differentiate Ms. from other women’s magazines, the staff selected an image of Wonder Woman for the cover, fighting for “peace and justice in ’72.”

Cover of the first regular monthly issue of Ms. magazine

The illustration was by Murphy Anderson, a longtime artist for DC Comics. The banner “Wonder Woman for President” likely references Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president that year. Anderson also reflects the country’s anxiety about the war in Vietnam as a giant Wonder Woman strides with urgency down a main street in America, rescuing part of the town with her golden lasso, while shielding the street from a raging jungle battlefield placed uncomfortably close behind the shop fronts.

The cover was also timely as a reboot of the Wonder Woman comic book was due to be published in 1973—this time with its first woman editor, Dorothy Woolfolk. Ms. magazine featured Wonder Woman on the cover again for its 40th anniversary issue in 2012. The 2012 issue featured Wonder Woman bounding down Pennsylvania Avenue, the site of famous women’s rights marches for more than a century.

The article inside, “Wonder Woman Revisited” by Joanne Edgar, quotes the character’s originator, Charles Moulton: “Wonder Woman has force bound by love and, with her strength, represents what every woman should be and really is. She corrects evil and brings happiness. Wonder Woman proves that women are superior to men because they have love in addition to force.” The combination of strength and love is apparent in the materials featured in Wonder Woman!, from Judy Chicago shedding the patriarchy of her given name, to lighthouse keeper Grace Darling who risked her life on a night in 1838 to save victims of a shipwreck.

Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to celebrate the legacy of wonder women!

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.