As you may have gathered, I like drawing portraits of women. I rarely draw a male portrait, not because I have anything against men, but because portraits elevate the sitter and tell their story and there just so many women out there whose stories have either been side-lined, down-played or down right forgotten. Each year during Women's History Month I like to revisit these women and share their image, struggles and achievements in the hope of bringing them to a wider audience and inspiring others with their tales of bravery, talent and - often hard-won - accomplishments.
This year I had the great pleasure of collaborating with the extremely talented Kansas-based paper artist Liza MacKinnon to bring a number of inspiring women to life through specially themed pairings of our respective works. Liza is a Lawrence, KS, US based artist working primarily in paper and mixed media. She creates 3D historic paper costumes from maps, photos, letters and books. Each woman is honoured by the ephemera and details used to build her dress. When Liza and I met on Instagram earlier this year we instantly bonded over our shared interest in illuminating notable women in history. The series of Instagram posts (see below), culminating on International Women's Day, highlights just a few of the remarkable scientists, artists, authors and activists in our rich female history. I hope you enjoy our offering!
(born January 19, 1946)
American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, author, businesswoman, and humanitarian, known primarily for her work in country music.
After achieving success as a songwriter for others, Parton made her album debut in 1967 with Hello, I'm Dolly, which led to lasting success and recognition. She has sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
Since the mid-1980s, Parton has supported many charitable efforts, primarily through her Dollywood Foundation. Her literacy program, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, mails one book per month to each enrolled child from the time of their birth until they enter kindergarten. Currently, over 1600 local communities provide the Imagination Library to almost 850,000 children each month across the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, and the Republic of Ireland.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parton donated $1 million towards research at Vanderbilt University. In November 2020 it was announced that Parton's donation had helped fund the research that produced Moderna's vaccine.
She said that she was "a very proud girl today to know I had anything at all to do with something that's going to help us through this crazy pandemic.”
The inspiration for Liza's beautiful creation was a dress Dolly wore in a 1977 concert with Jimmy Carter in the audience. It's constructed from sheet music from her songs and features mini sparkle books representing her work with early childhood literacy. See it come to life on Instagram.
MARY BEALE and SHAKESPEARE'S ARIEL
Ariel is a spirit who appears in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. The role is widely viewed as a male character and originally, the role would have been assumed by a boy-player. However, from the Restoration period (1660 - c.1685) in England onwards, the part was performed almost exclusively by women actors right up until the early 20th century.
The role has seen greater gender diversity since the 1930s, however the habit begun in the Restoration period still persists. Margaret Leighton starred in the role at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1952; Nancy Rodriguez in the Oregon Shakespeare's Festival performance in 2007, and Gab Pangilinan was one of three alternating actors to take on the role in the Philippine Educational Theatre Association's 2016 production, The Tempest Reimagined.
Image: Ariel as performed by (clockwise): Margaret Leighton, Nancy Rodriguez, and Gab Pangilinan
What is interesting about this penchant for female actors in the role is that though the relationship between Ariel and ‘his’ master Prospero closely reflects the Renaissance idea of a neutral spirit under the control of a magician, Shakespeare refuses to make Ariel a will-less character, instead infusing ‘him’ with desires and near-human feelings uncharacteristic of most sprites of this type.
Liza's androgynous mixed media costume was made with pages from The Tempest, security envelopes die cut into scales, embroidery thread, and a metal fencing armature. It is approximately 3 feet tall.
Mary Beale (active c.1670-1690s) was an acclaimed portraitist, working in male-dominated industry during the Restoration period in England. Her work was praised by her male contemporaries, including court painter Peter Lely who said she "worked with a wonderful body of colour, and was exceedingly industrious."
The key for a female to become a successful professional painter was to earn a good reputation so Mary carefully picked whom she would paint, and used the praise of her circle of friends to build a good reputation as a painter. Some of these people included Queen Henrietta Maria and John Tillotson, a clergyman who eventually became the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Mary Beale typically charged five pounds for a painting of a head and ten pounds for half of a body for oil paintings. She made about two hundred pounds a year and gave ten per cent of her earnings to charity.
In 1663 Mary wrote Observations, one of the first instructional books ever written by a woman. She also wrote a manuscript called Discourse on Friendship in 1666 and four poems in 1667.
In 1670 she became the main breadwinner of her family. Her husband Charles, not only acted as her assistant, but looked after the business side of her artistic venture and her son trained as an artist in her studio. Though religious, social and medical teaching stressed the secondary role to be played by women, there was great equality in the relationship between husband and wife and it is clear from Charles’ notebooks that although he essentially “worked” for his wife, he had no qualms about his position of apparent subservience and always refers to Mary as his “Dearest and most Indefatigable Heart”. Regarding the relationship in marriage between husband and wife, Mary wrote: “…In marriage, God had created Eve as ‘a wife and Friend but not a slave…”
Marie Skłodowska Curie (1867 – 1934) [born Maria Salomea Skłodowska] was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity.
She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and with physicist Henri Becquerel. She won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.
Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world's first studies into the treatment of neoplasms were conducted using radioactive isotopes.
She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research today. During World War I, she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals. After the war, she summarised her wartime experiences in a book, Radiology in War (1919).
Marie Curie died in 1934, aged 66, at a sanatorium in France, of aplastic anemia from exposure to radiation in the course of her scientific research and in the course of her radiological work at field hospitals during World War I.
Liza constructed Marie Curie's dress from X-ray film, supported by a metal fencing armature. Her cuffs, belt and ruffles are made from rice paper with chemistry equations printed in white. The true magic of the piece is best illuminated when it is lit from within.
MARY SIDNEY HERBERT and MARY ROBINSON
Two Marys, two acclaimed poets, two centuries apart. Two very different lives.
Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1561 – 1621) was among the first Englishwomen to gain major repute for her poetry and literary patronage, and was praised as “…the greatest patroness of wit and learning of any lady in her time."
She composed a sizable body of work, evading criticism against women's writing by focusing on religious themes and by confining her work to the genres thought appropriate to women: translation, dedication, elegy, and encomium (a speech or piece of writing