January 2009 Independent Woman of the Month – Miriam Schapiro

January 4, 2009

In the Western canon, what has been traditionally defined as art has excluded centuries of traditional women’s arts, such as weaving, quilting, embroidery and appliqué.

It is astonishing to me that, even when women did not have access to art education or patronage and had the responsibility of managing their households and raising their children, there were those who took the time to create complex patterns to weave into cloth and made natural dyes from roots, nuts and flowers to color them. I can only imagine that the desire to use skill and knowledge and create beauty was their motivation.

Inspired by the second wave feminist movement of the 70’s, Miriam Schapiro, a professional artist since 1955, worked to bring recognition to these women artisans. In 1972 Schapiro, then a teacher at the California Institute of the Arts, along with artist Judy Chicago and 21 of their students created an exhibition called Womanhouse to show the history of women’s work and art and how it related to women’s common experience. This was considered controversial by the art establishment but it was a watershed event for Schapiro, bringing her not only new direction and inspiration for her art but insight into herself and a sense of fellowship with all women.

“I felt that by making a large canvas magnificent in color, design, and proportion, filling it with fabrics and quilt blocks, I could raise a housewife’s lowered consciousness.”
Miriam Schapiro

Schapiro created an original genre she called “femage” — collages of fabric scraps, buttons and other trimmings — and helped give rise to the Pattern and Decoration movement. She continued in both her art and consciousness-raising, gaining recognition and awards along the way. Her art career has lasted over 40 years and her pioneering vision both blazed a trail and left a legacy for the artists to follow her.

Additional reading:

Miriam Schapiro : shaping the fragments of art and life
Gouma-Peterson, Thalia

Biographies

Wikipedia – Miriam Schapiro
Clara: Database of Women Artists
Mariam Shapiro: Works on Paper, A Thirty Year Retrospective

1989 interview with Schapiro
Oral history interview with Miriam Schapiro

Images of some of Schapiro’s works
Catalog of links keyed to Whitney Chadwick’s Women, Art, and Society
Miriam Schapiro: A Retrospective

Info about video of WOMANHOUSE
Women Make Movies

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