It’s a question no one has asked me in a long time. During our exhibit at the PTO expo in Pleasanton, CA last week, an attendee asked me why there are so few women artists in the Art Docent Program. I told her that was a good question and that I had a response for her. Perhaps you have wondered the same thing and maybe even been asked that question by an elementary school student.
While the Art Docent Program includes the works of many women artists, their representation remains in the minority because it’s only been the last century that women’s role in society has expanded beyond home and family. Historically speaking, women were not expected to have any other occupation. When women such as Mary Cassatt found success as an Impressionist artist, her subject matter was limited to women and children; it was unheard of for women to employ a male model or be seen painting outdoors, hence, no landscapes.
Since it’s Women’s History month, let’s take a look at three American women artists represented in the Art Docent Program. Maybe you will share these thumbnail sketches with your students.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is featured in several lessons including Grade 1 Flowers and Plants. She is best known for her huge blowups of single flowers and bare desert landscapes, often featuring bleached bones. I found this colorful description of O’Keefe in a book I always recommend to Docents, The Annotated Mona Lisa by Carol Strickland.
“Entranced by bare desert landscapes, O’Keeffe went to New Mexico. She painted outdoors, day and night, sleeping in a tent and wearing gloves to work on frigid days. Sometimes the wind raged so fiercely it blew the coffee out of her cup and swept away her easel. She specialized in broad, simple forms to portray red sunsets, black rocks and rippling cliffs. In her nineties, despite failing eyesight, O’Keeffe tackled a new art form: pottery.”
Grandma Moses (1860-1961, have you noticed that artists live a long time?!) is represented in our Grade 4 Trains lesson. A beloved, self-taught artist, Grandma Moses started her painting career late in life.
“If I hadn’t started painting I would have raised chickens.”
“I paint from the top down. From the sky, then the mountains, then the hills, then the cattle, then the people.”
Faith Ringgold (1930 – ) is featured in our Grade 3 Dancers lesson and is known for her story quilts. This woman is also a writer, speaker, mixed media sculptor and performance artist. Ms Ringgold is professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego where she taught art from 1987 until 2002. Professor Ringgold is the recipient of more than 75 awards including 22 Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degrees.