Artists in Their Studios: Selma Hortense Burke to Mickalene Thomas 


Selma Hortense Burke. Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum

The portrait of the artist in the studio is a meaningful image. In The New Yorker, Lilly Lampe articulates its power. “The studios of famous artists are fascinating for the double insight they provide us: on the one hand, a view of the creative process; on the other, a view of the creative life.” The artist in the studio also provides a view of what is possible.

Lampe’s idea that the artist in studio tells us something about the creative process and the creative life inspired me to find pictures of black women artists ensconced in their creative workplaces. In some of the photographs the artists are in the midst of creation; in others they are posed next to or in front of a completed piece. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment in the photos. Seeing those artists in the realms of their creation is a reminder of the audacious feat of black American women making art and claiming the professional title of ‘artist’.

In an interview with Charles H. Rowell of Callaloo, Lois Mailou Jones spoke about the struggles of being a black woman artist in the mid-20th century. “I owed very much to my white friend Céline who would take my paintings to the juries. They never knew that the artist was black. That was very much in my favor. It’s been a very unusual career. I would also send or ship my work to the Philadelphia Academy or to the National Academy of Design. Invariably, the works would be hung, and they would never know that the artist was black. I remember going to the Philadelphia Academy to see one of my paintings which had been accepted. While I stood there looking at it, the guard saw me looking at the painting and said, “I guess you like art, don’t you?” I said to myself that he doesn’t know that the painting is mine hanging there. [Much laughter.] And so that’s how it was way back in those early days; I was exhibiting at all of the big museums, but they never knew that I was black because I either shipped my works or had a white person deliver them. Now you see how difficult it was.”


Lois Mailou Jones. Source: loismailoujones.com

Lois Mailou Jones was not alone in being erased from her own work. Sister Rosetta, the mother of Rock and Roll is little known beyond music aficionados and students of African-American history. It is important for black women artists to be seen and acknowledged. Once they are seen, their creative output can be recognized as vital, skillful, and beautiful without qualification. The portrait of the black woman artist in her studio is a statement of being in a world comfortable erasing her from the historical record.

Augusta Savage. Source: Florida Department of State


Elizabeth Catlett


Faith Rinngold. Source: Melanie Burford

Betye Saar. Source: Issue Magazine

Kara Walker. Source: MIT

Mickalene Thomas. Source: Vice

Junot Diaz on Toni Morrison 

Junot Diaz and Toni Morrison. Source: NYPL

“Besides the fact that you can out-write any motherfucker on the planet sentence by sentence…. that little fact always puts me to bed comfortable, no matter what the hell is going on in the world. I always lay in bed and I’m like, the best writer in the world is of African descent. Peace.”

-Junot Diaz talking with Toni Morrison: December 2013, New York Public Library

Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz in Conversation: NYPL Live

Carol Abraczinskas. Source: Chicago Tribune 

“Pencil. Always pencil. I really prefer how a scientific specimen looks when drawn with a great range of tone.” 

Scientific illustrator Carol Abraczinskas discusses her favorite medium, the process of creating scientific illustrations for publication, and her definition of the word ‘artist’.
Never met a scientific illustrator? Meet Carol
#CarolAbraczinskas #scientificillustration

#womentalkingabout

Legendary Encounter 


This photograph is fascinating. Does it document Frida and Josephine’s first meeting? What did they talk about? There is speculation of an affair between them, but neither claimed the other as a lover. 

Frida Kahlo and Josephine Baker were uniquely 20th century creations. They were artists and libertines, masters at captivating public interest and subverting cultural norms.

Massive historical events shaped them: the Mexican Revolution for Kahlo and the Great Migration and Paris between the world wars for Baker. 

Frida and Josephine live on as icons for outrageous women compelled to be themselves.  

#FridaKahlo #JosephineBaker