Now Open: Women Shape Design in “Pathmakers”

NMWA’s latest exhibition, Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, is now open! Museum staff have been busy transforming the 2nd-floor galleries to display more than 80 objects including furniture, ceramics, textiles and jewelry. The exhibition explores the lasting impact of women artists and designers on midcentury Modernism through making groundbreaking commercial and industrial designs, maintaining craft traditions, and incorporating new aesthetics into fine art.

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Guest curator Jennifer Scanlan talks to members during Member Preview Day

In the 1950s and ’60s, an era when painting, sculpture, and architecture were dominated by men, women had considerable impact in alternative materials such as textiles, ceramics, and metals. Pioneers in these fields—including Ruth Asawa, Edith Heath, Sheila Hicks, Karen Karnes, Dorothy Liebes, Alice Kagawa Parrott, Lenore Tawney, and Eva Zeisel—had tremendous influence as designers, artists, and teachers.

Visitors explore prints by Anni Albers and a textile work by Marianne Strengell

Visitors explore prints by Anni Albers and a textile work by Marianne Strengell

Their artistic practices varied widely—some exhibited in New York City galleries, others took part in the regional handicraft scene in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and still others collaborated with corporations such as General Motors. Pathmakers also illustrates parallels between women creating work in the United States and Scandinavia, where craft often served as a pathway to Modernist innovation.

Guest curators Jennifer Scanlan and Ezra Shales also consider contemporary female artists and designers whose work builds upon that of their midcentury counterparts. Polly Apfelbaum and Michelle Grabner are represented by installations centered on woven and knitted patterns, while Anne Wilson’s work focuses on the processes of textile manufacture. Magdalene Odundo and Christine Nofchissey McHorse adapt traditional techniques and absorb influences from global sources. Furniture and fixture designers Vivian Beer, Front Design, and Hella Jongerius have also expanded the repertoire of making, while Gabriel A. Maher looks at the ways gender is constructed by the clothes we wear.

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A visitor studies Front’s Axor WaterDream/Axor Shower System

Pathmakers stresses the connections between midcentury and contemporary design and aesthetics,” said NMWA Associate Curator Virginia Treanor. “The installation will encourage the comparison of the modern and contemporary periods in a way that enables close inspection.”

Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today is on view through February 28, 2016. Visit this Sunday for a Free Community Day with a pop-up makerspace and enjoy noon gallery talks every Wednesday!

ABC’s of Art: The 2015 Teacher Institutes

NMWA offered the week-long Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) Teacher Institute for the sixth year, and for the second time also held the Advanced ABC course for returning teachers. Participants spent the dog days of summer, July 13–17, 2015, learning arts-integration techniques. The ABC curriculum is ideal for third- through eighth-grade educators. During the program, teachers explored new avenues of creativity.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

One teacher’s book art project; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, ABC encourages growth in visual literacy and critical thinking, while also highlighting women artists’ achievements. In particular, the work of Maria Sibylla Merian inspired “bug books,” which encourage students to focus on insect life cycles and habitats.

As NMWA’s education intern, I learned as much as the enrolled teachers. I was largely unaware of the many challenges educators face—particularly in issues of literacy in D.C. schools. The Advanced ABC participants discussed ways in which artists’ books could provide visual literacy as a pathway to reading.

Unfamiliar with artists’ books, I was not aware of their practical applications. Teachers found new ways to incorporate concepts into their own curriculum plans. One educator based his flag book on famous women of the American Revolution. Another teacher said these techniques would allow her to “feed the artist in my classroom.” Ranging from investigations of traditional Native American cultures to literacy interventions, many advanced lesson plans were ready to be shared with colleagues by the end of the week.

Teachers wear their hats; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Teachers with their hat creations; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Participants also constructed sculptural hats and “star books”—books with complex folds and covers that demonstrate knowledge of shapes and primary colors.

The Advanced Institute teachers delved deeper and experimented with circuits to add lights and motorized elements to their books.

Toward the end of the program, the two groups converged during a crafty happy hour at the museum. Program participants enjoyed wine and refreshments and then experimented with paste, marbling, and watercolor techniques during a paper-making activity.

While creating personal portfolios of artists’ books, teachers learned the basics of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)—a method for facilitating discussions about art.

VTS encourages close looking and deep thinking, where each student feels his or her opinion validated. This method provides an equal playing field for art appreciation and creative engagement. As an art history student, I often ask about a work’s title, artist, or time period. However, I was exposed to new points of view through hearing participants’ personal connections. VTS creates a culture of thinking where students work together as storytellers.

To access the free curriculum, visit the ABC website. To learn more about the ABC Teacher Institute, check out the museum’s website.

—Brittany Fiocca was the summer 2015 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.