For Dia De Los Muertos, an homage to one who’s gone before: Malvina Hoffman. Her lovely 1913 self-portrait, “Spirit,” is in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh
Born in Brooklyn, Hoffman studied at the Art Students League in New York and is—for better or worse—best known for having sculpted bronze portraits for the Hall of Man in Chicago’s Field Museum. The hall, originally designed to illustrate the “races of man” with life size bronze sculptures of racial “types” was intended in 1929 as an educational display. Hoffman was clear in her intent to honor the dignity and individuality of the models she chose for her most important commission, but the hall’s racist overtones cast a shadow on her career and was dismantled after her death in 1966.
Margaret Cresson French
At Chesterwood, there are few sculptures by Daniel Chester French’s daughter Margaret on display. But the superb modeling and arresting expression of Girl with Curls make it quietly magnetic. The anonymous subject of the life size Girl with Curls must have been a young woman Margaret knew, and was probably carved by the Piccirilli Brothers studio in the Bronx.
In 1921 Margaret married architect William Penn Cresson, and had one child who died in infancy. Whatever her private sorrow, Margaret found her life’s work through sculpture, as her father did.
Were it not for Margaret, we wouldn’t have Chesterwood and its storehouse of sculpture, maquettes, and tools. She worked hard to preserve her father’s legacy in many ways: writing a memoir, serving as tour guide, and ultimately leaving the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. When her father was alive, she was both his model and student, the ultimate muse. In leaving Chesterwood to America, she added immeasurably to our knowledge of neoclassical sculpture.
Margaret French Cresson, August 3 1889 — October 1, 1973
Ethel Cummings, model for Daniel Chester French’s last work, “Andromeda,” was a housemaid in the French household. A humble beauty, Ethel has been immortalized in marble—a story which has some parallels to the original demigoddess. A mortal girl rescued by Perseus and made into a constellation upon her death, Andromeda’s beauty sealed her fate–one fueled by a mother’s vanity, dramatic rescue, and finally, immortality. Though this Andromeda, neoclassically Caucasian, was carved from Georgia white marble by the Piccirilli Brothers workshop in the Bronx, the original Andromeda was an Ethiopian princess. Maquettes for Andromeda (below), French’s last work, are now displayed near the lifesize version at Chesterwood. #GoddessID
Daniel Chester French’s summer home and studio, Chesterwood, in Stockbridge, Mass. is a more inspiring place now than ever. Many of his studies and maquettes, long stored in the studio basement, are now displayed in a climate-controlled sub-gallery in the Barn visitors’ center. I saw much more than I can write about in one post, but I was struck first by these two maquettes symbolizing Manhattan and Brooklyn, studies for the monumental figures that were formerly on the Brooklyn Bridge. Manhattan, at left, definitely has attitude and wears a tiny city on her head. Brooklyn, on the other hand, is more relaxed, gazing into the distance, holding a book and seated amidst flowers. Read their saga here! #GoddessID
Argentinian sculptor Nora Valdez is showing drawing and sculpture at the Maynard, Mass. public library now through the end of May. Valdez creates poignant images about immigration, diaspora, and the experience of dislocation and communication.
Now at MIT’s List Center in Cambridge are powerful installations by women sculptors, Kapwani Kiwanga and Kathleen Ryan. Kiwanga’s installation, “Safe Passage,” creates an experience of the power dynamics inherent in an unfamiliar environment. Sculpted searchlights and walls of slatted two-way mirrors form a disorienting pathway leading to a gallery displaying pages of a Green Book, on which are addresses of safe houses
In “Cultivator,” Kathleen Ryan uses mighty industrial spare parts in combination with delicate natural forms—floral-ish pods of wire and beads hung from giant iron petals, and dense tiles of abalone shell carefully placed in the interior of salvaged ship parts. Draped on the floor are polished bowling balls that form two enormous bracelets—one black, one white—gems for a giantess. Through April 21. (at top, gallery view of “Cultivator.”)
In time for Earth Day…
Plastic Entanglements at the Smith College Museum of Art brings together sixty works by thirty contemporary artists. Plastic has infiltrated global ecosystems, and living beings: birds, reptiles and mammals, and humans. A wide array of work in many media, beautiful and thought-provoking, is in the museum through July 28th. A series of talks and workshops highlight plastic’s ecological ramifications.
Plastic Entanglements unfolds in three sections, charting a timeline—past, present, and future—of our ongoing engagement with this ubiquitous manmade material.
Pictured: Aurora Robson: Ona, 2014, plastic debris, aluminum rivets
At the Hess Gallery at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, artist and ecological activist Nedret Andre shows paintings celebrating the life of eelgrass ecosystems in “Seagrass: Ecological Engineers” up through May 30th. For hours check the Annenberg Library hours; the gallery is on the library’s first floor.
Below: Nedret Andre: In Water, 2017, oil on canvas
Take a look at Nedret Andre’s paintings, which occasionally become three-dimensional, now at the Hess Gallery at Pine Manor College:
Hess Gallery / Nedret Andre
Nedret’s ecological activism and artwork speak volumes about what dedicated individuals can do to heal the planet.
Full disclosure: I’m the Hess Gallery director.
My favorite show of the year so far is now up at the BCA’s Mills Gallery
. Curated by filmmaker Maya Erdelyi, the show features 13 artists who make entirely handmade animated films, using every imaginable media including cutouts, cut paper sculpture, pencil drawings on vellum, and inking directly on film. The show is exuberant, refreshingly handmade, and by turns tender, hilarious, horrifying, and stunning. Panel discussions still to come, check out the full list of activities and register here
. The show is up until April 28th.
Top right: Ma Femme Maison installation and animation by Maya Erdelyi, At left: installation view of the main gallery.
The Umbrella Art Center of Concord, Mass. hosts a stunning fiber exhibit until February 28th. The newly-renovated gallery is a showcase for the work of 17 artists, including Merrill Comeau (“Red, White, Blue,” above). Merill composts, tears, and otherwise alters used fabric, treating it sometimes like paper, sometimes like clay, sometimes like a finely-tailored garment, until she achieves the degree of layering that best expresses her concept. Says Merill, “My performative tasks of seam ripping, laundering, ironing and stitching afford me opportunities for processing individual and collective trauma.” Red, White, and Blue represents a country badly in need of repair.
Janet Kawada‘s humorous miniature houses, yurt-shaped felt constructions with embedded gems, symbols, and stories, form a small village in “Piecing It Together.” Family, identity, and home appear as acts of creation that are never entirely finished.