Saving Women Artists from Oblivion
In Identity Unknown, published just last week by Bloomsbury Press, Donna Seaman examines the lives of seven American women who enjoyed a modicum of fame and fortune in their lifetimes and then fell off the map entirely. The author talks about her background as a once-aspiring artist and what led her to spend a good ten years researching and writing about Louise Nevelson, Lenore Tawney, Ree Morton, Loïs Mailou Jones,Christina Ramberg, Joan Brown, and Gertrude Abercrombie.
Seaman discusses the life and career of the flamboyant Nevelson, who did a fine job of constructing a personal mythology—along with her memorable monumental sculptures—but nonetheless had to fight her way to recognition in the 1950s and 60s. Why did Louise Bourgeois survive into the present and not Nevelson? And we talk about the financial and family struggles that made other women’s paths as artists so difficult, and the remarkable career of the almost completely unknown black artist Lois Maillou Jones.
As for today’s women artists, Seaman concedes many advances have been made but it’s still not easy. “Art has to be the burning center of your life,” she counsels.
Photo credits: Louise Nevelson, photo by Pedro Guerrero © Pedro E. Guerrero Archives; Lois Maillou Jones: museum purchase made possible by N.H. Green, R. Harlan and F. Musgrave, Smithsonian American Art Museum/Art Resource, NY; Ree Morton: © Estate of Ree Morton. Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, NY, and Annemarie Verna, Zurich, Becky Cohen, photographer; Joan Brown, unidentified photographer; image courtesy of George Adams Gallery, NY; Lenore Tawney: David Attie, photographer; courtesy Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.