Canada Dreams
Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists : from early Indian times to the present. New York: Avon, 1982.
Men only need to be born and play the game according to their own rules while this books speaks of the women who had to be smarter, faster, lucky, or more cunning. The book follows the ebb and flow of women's artistic recognition, which runs counter to mens prosperity, pointing out again that the great equalizer in society is adversity. Women in our world are just there to be used: in time of war, to share the toil in the beginnings, to greave at the endings, and occasionally to take up the standard momentarily dropped by the men. The acknowledgements are few, except for the test of time.
The book is a rich compilation of most of the women artists of America; and although rich in its description, it couldn't help because of size to leave one with a hunger to search out other books of reference. I also wonder about those missed, those not lucky enough, who lacked the savvy, and perhaps succumbed to an unknown physical or spiritual annihilation, but this book is surely a superb beginning place for the search.
Native women were a leading influence on the tribe, and the strength of their designs in baskets, pottery, and bead work are recognized now as examples of that ordered place. The white women while battling disease and starvation found a place of warmth for bits of colour in their quilts. Both these geometric forms were past down from mother to daughter, and skills were shared around the fire. Later on, quilting bees became the incubator for the first feminists and the newly born emancipation movement.
Women were also able to express themselves in affluence too; rich mothers and daughters were kept out of the business world by the relegation of their talents to the seemingly unimportant realm of art. Banished to boarding schools and society lunches these women gradually began a networking system that brought the vote at the turn of the century and is now trying to gain true pay equity and total artistic equality. The voice of richly talented women had its start in the equal poverty of the Mayflower, gained power in wealth, and moved through to the middle classes; we can hear that voice still strongest at the top and center of the social chain, but now when the poor pull the chain it rattles all the way to the top. Thanks to the Depression and the emasculation of the business world; women through the Federal Art Project gained new power and voice. Their murals and statues still adorn government buildings across the country, but with the return of prosperity women were expected to return to their full kitchens, and soft beds. Although the war brought them out again it took the sixties to bring their blossoms to the surface; they have wilted occasionally, but not died since the fifties.
Anni Albers, Lee Krassner, Kay Sage, and Dorothea Tanning laboured under the shadows of their husband's successes and failures, but like the other women in the book persevered and stood the test of time. The pain of exclusion for the price of love is one of the cruelest of fates.
Women like Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Judy Chicago, and Helen Frankenthaler have left an indelible bright stain on the dark parchment of the patriarchal abuse of power. It is a markedly timeless and shining torch which will never again be extinguished or dimmed by sweat, or tears.


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