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In This Case: Highlighting Women Sculptors
August 27, 2013

Emilie Reed was an intern in the Media and Technology Office this summer. Here, she discusses some of her favorite works by female artists that are currently on view in the Luce Foundation Center.


Louise Nevelson's Night Leaf

The Luce Foundation Center recently welcomed Edmonia Lewis' monumental Death of Cleopatra after it was relocated from the museum's second floor. And this got me thinking about the role of women sculptors in art. The Death of Cleopatra was largely lost and forgotten until American Art received the statue and began restoring it in 1994. The rescue and subsequent display of Lewis' sculpture showed me why it's important to highlight women artists. Nineteenth-century female sculptors often struggled to gain recognition equal to that of their male peers, which caused many of their works to be lost to history. After all, carving rock or wood, casting metal, and working with industrial materials were not the typical "dainty" tasks that were considered appropriate for women at that time. But many works in our collection seem to counter that conventional wisdom. Now that it has been rediscovered and properly cared for, The Death of Cleopatra is one of the most striking sculptures on view in the Luce Center. Here are three more of my favorites:

First is Falcon, by Bessie Stough Callender, which is on view in Case 48B in the Luce Center. I was introduced to Callender's work through the museum's most recent Wikipedia Editathon, in which volunteers came together to add or improve Wikipedia articles about artists in American Art's collection. After a bit of research, I ended up making a very basic entry for Callender, which will hopefully be expanded by others over time. While reading about her life and looking at her work, I couldn't help but become charmed by her animal sculptures, which are minimalistic but still full of each creature's personality. Falcon is my favorite. The bird's expression and posture capture the moment it spots a tasty rodent scurrying by, and it is about to raise its wings to take off. Callender admired Egyptian block sculptures, which feature condensed, simplified forms made from polished black stone. Her adaptation of this style creates a sculpture that zeroes in on the essence of the animal, with no unnecessary details.

A more contemporary favorite is Night Leaf by Louise Nevelson. Even though "leaf" is in the title of this work, it's not made from anything found in nature. The smooth surfaces of the leaf shapes are due to her use of Plexiglas, an industrial material that required Nevelson to develop a working process totally different than one used for traditional sculpture. She also worked in wood, as seen in her massive Sky Cathedral on view in the Lincoln Gallery, but to depict leaves she chose an inorganic medium. It is a bit mysterious to me, but it was a great choice. The small scale, smooth surfaces of the leaves, and subtly different shades of black created by shadows suggest the feeling of a nighttime walk with only the sound of rustling leaves overhead, casting ever-changing shadows on the path.

The last sculpture to capture my attention was Reach Out #3 by Yuriko Yamaguchi, which is on view on the Luce Center's 3rd floor. This sculpture takes a more natural approach than Nevelson's Night Leaf. The stick that bridges the gap between the two abstract wooden pieces is one that the artist found while on a walk through the woods. The sculpture is meant to represent a conversation between two people, the thin twig symbolizing the fleeting nature of their exchange, but it can also be appreciated for its skillful workmanship. The smooth surface of the abstracted stained wood forms made me wonder what the artist was trying to communicate.

Participating in museum events like the Editathon allowed me to look more closely at American Art's collection. If you're interested, there are a number of upcoming events at the Luce Center and throughout the museum that will allow you to see our artworks in a totally different way.

Posted by Jeff on August 27, 2013 in American Art Here, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center


Good work! Bringing women's art creations out of the shadows of history. Who knows what has been lost or ignored.

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