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 that praises someone or something highly).
By the age of 39, she was listed along with her brother Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare among the notable authors of the day. There has been speculation that she wrote Shakespeare's sonnets and even the play All's Well That Ends Well. There is no documentary evidence for the case, but some argue that the detailed knowledge shown in the plays of sailing, archery, falconry, alchemy, astronomy, cooking, medicine and travel correlate with what we know of Mary Sidney's life and interests.
She appears as a character in the tv show A Discovery of Witches, and later this year, the 25th September will mark the 400th anniversary of her death.
Mary Sidney Herbert's skirts are made from digitally-composed handwritten and printed documents from the Elizabethan era, large scale printed and then embellished with gold ribbon and wax seals with an impression of a bird from her coat of arms. Her bodice and shoulder-to-floor cutaway sleeves are made from stenciled and painted pages of her poetry and prose. The ruff is made from quilled strips of cardstock. The cuffs are made from tracing paper and she has a metal fencing armature.
Mary Robinson (1757? – 1800) English actress, poet, dramatist, novelist, and celebrity figure. During her lifetime she was known as "the English Sappho".
Robinson was the daughter of a naval captain who deserted her mother and left them in great financial difficulties leading in turn to her ill-advised marriage to Thomas Robinson, a dandy, womaniser and big spender of cash he simply did not have. Whilst living with her husband in Fleet Debtors Prison, Robinson discovered she could write and publish poetry to earn money. There was also work in the form of copying legal documents (originally offered to Thomas Robinson, but taken on by his wife). It was during this time that Mary Robinson found a patron in Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who sponsored the publication of Robinson's first volume of poems, 'Captivity'.
After her husband's release from prison, Robinson turned to the theatre and launched her acting career by playing Juliet, at Drury Lane Theatre in December 1776. Over time she became best known for her facility with the 'breeches parts', her performances as Viola in William Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' and Rosalind in 'As You Like It' won her extensive praise. She earned her nickname "Perdita" for her role as Perdita (heroine of Shakespeare's 'The Winter's Tale') in 1779. It was during this performance that she attracted the notice of the young Prince of Wales, later King George IV who offered her twenty pounds to become his mistress and in accepting, she became the first public mistress of King George IV while he was still Prince of Wales.
She finally decided to leave her husband in favour of the Prince, however he ended the affair in 1781, refusing to pay the promised sum and left Robinson having to support herself through her writing. Her most popular novel which was a Gothic novel titled, 'Vancenza'; or 'The Dangers of Credulity'. The books were "sold out by lunch time on the first day and five more editions quickly followed, making it one of the top-selling novels in the latter part of the eighteenth century."
Throughout her life she wrote: 7 novels; 15 volumes of poetry; 5 stage scripts; 3 political treatises; 18 essays (13 of which were published in the Morning Post and Gazetteer); 5 biographical sketches; and the 'Memoirs of the Late Mrs. Robinson, Written by Herself with Some Posthumous Pieces. In Four Volumes'.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) Mexican artist, communist, bisexual and cultural icon from the middle of the 20th century. Kahlo suffered from and faced challenges with severe physical and mental anguish throughout her life. Her poor health and struggles with chronic pain, infertility, and depression inevitably became prominent themes in her artwork in which she describes the dehumanising effects of her pain.
Her volatile marriage to Diego Rivera contributed to her mental suffering due to his numerous extramarital affairs with artists, models, actresses, and photographers. Her artwork is used in therapy sessions to help women talk about their experiences of emotional and physical trauma such as infidelity, violence, and infertility.
Through her choice of clothing, Kahlo elevated the Tehuana culture as they were known for their matriarchal society. She was insecure about her body and wore loose fitting huipil tops and floor-length sweeping skirts. She endured polio as a child, a debilitating accident as a young woman and eventually amputation. The flowing garments hid the plaster casts, body braces and prosthetics she had to wear during her numerous recoveries from surgeries. In an era of "Hollywood" beauty and form-fitting outfits, she stood out as the feminist and activist she was.
To make Frida's Tehuana blouse Liza used pages from Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, “embroidered” with slices of her paintings. The shawl is made from maps of Mexico and her Huipil skirt with pages from a Spanish language novel and Mexican engineering maps. The border of black and white photos from 1960 Mexico City, is decorated with flowers from dictionary pages and tissue paper.
ADA LOVELACE and HEDY LAMARR
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815 – 1852) English mathematician and writer. Ada was the daughter of the scandalous Lord Byron, and in an attempt to prevent her from developing her father's perceived insanity, her mother promoted Ada's interest in mathematics and logic. At the age of 17 she was presented at court "and became a popular belle of the season" in part because of her "brilliant mind."
Lovelace is chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She is believed by some to be the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and to have published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is often regarded as the first to recognise the full potential of computers and as one of the first computer programmers.
The computer language Ada, created on behalf of the US Department of Defence, was named after Lovelace. In 1981, the Association of Women in Computing inaugurated its Ada Lovelace Award and since 1998, the British Computer Society (BCS) has been awarding the Lovelace Medal annually. There is also an annual Ada Lovelace Day, celebrated on the second Tuesday of October, which began in 2009. Its goal is to "... raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering, and maths," and to "create new role models for girls and women" in these fields.
Liza constructed Ada's dress from pages of The Empress of Numbers and decorated it with flowers made from computer punch cards.
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler (Hedy Lamarr) (1914-2000) Austrian-born American film star and inventor. Lamarr’s film career began in Czechoslovakia in the early 30s; her most notable film of this period is ‘Ecstasy’ (1933) which became both celebrated and notorious for showing Lamarr’s face in the throes of orgasm.
In 1937 Lamarr fled from her husband, Fritz Mandl, a wealthy Austrian ammunition’s manufacturer (and 15 years her senior), for London. It was here that she met Louis B Mayer, the studio head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who offered her a movie contract in Hollywood, and persuaded her to change her name to Hedy Lamarr.
At the start of WWII, she and composer George Antheil devised (and patented) a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes which used spread system and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers. Hidden away within US military files, the invention wasn’t actually used until the 60s, but Lamarr and Antheil never received recognition until 2014 when they were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The principles of the work they did are arguably incorporated into Bluetooth technology and similar to methods used in Wi-Fi.
Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) English novelist. Known primarily for her 6 major novels (which have rarely been out of print), which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Austen's plots often explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favourable social standing and economic security. Austen had to publish all her books anonymously.
The publisher Thomas Egerton agreed to publish Sense and Sensibility "on commission", that is, at the author's financial risk. She made £140 from this novel which provided her with some financial and psychological independence and due to its success all of her subsequent books were billed as written "By the author of Sense and Sensibility”. Her name never appeared on her books during her lifetime.
Austen died in Winchester on 18th July 1817 at the age of 41 and is buried in the north aisle of the nave of Winchester Cathedral under a rather blandly inscribed gravestone. Austen has been depicted on the GBP £10 note since 2017 and is the only woman (aside from the Queen) to feature on a banknote.
To create Jane Austen's beautiful Regency-era dress Liza used pattern-painted pages from Sense and Sensibility, pink cardstock flowers, vintage ribbon, paper lace, tissue paper and a metal fencing armature.
SUFFRAGETTES, SUFFRAGISTS and CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS
A ‘suffragette’ was a member of an activist women's organisation in the early 20th century who, under the banner ‘Votes for Women’, fought for the right to vote.
Though the term refers in particular to members of the British WSPU (founded by Emmeline Pankhurst), the battle for women’s suffrage was fought by many brave & determined women (and men) from different backgrounds & beliefs around the world.
Obtaining the right to vote was the first most significant step on what has been, and sadly still is, the long road to full equality. But this equality isn’t only a women’s issue. Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential in achieving peaceful societies with stable politics, more vibrant economies, sustainable development & increased productivity. Not to mention happier people.
Since its foundation the UN has been striving “to achieve international co-operation … in promoting & encouraging respect for human rights & for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
“Women & girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. It is of paramount importance to end the multiple forms of gender violence & secure equal access to quality education & health, economic resources & participation in political life for both women & girls, and men & boys. It is also essential to achieve equal opportunities in access to employment & to positions of leadership & decision-making at all levels.” - UN website.
Clockwise from top left:
Sarah Parker Remond (1826 - 1894) African American slavery abolitionist, lecturer and physician.
Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (1862 – 1931) American investigative journalist, educator, & an early leader in the civil rights movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Princess Sophia Alexandrovna Duleep Singh (1876 - 1948) Prominent suffragette, daughter of the exiled Maharaja Duleep Singh (last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire) & goddaughter to Queen Victoria.
Annie Kenney (1879 - 1953) English suffragette and one of the WSPU’s few working class members. She went on to become a leading figure within the organisation.
Clockwise from top left:
Sarojini Naidu (1879 – 1949) Indian political activist and poet.
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 – 1928) British political activist and founder and leader of the British suffragette movement (WSPU)
Sylvia Pankhurst (1882 - 1960) English artist, campaigner for the suffragette movement, prominent left communist and anti-fascist activist.
Millicent Fawcett (1847 - 1929) British feminist and suffragist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer.
Thank you ever so much for joining us for this special creative, transatlantic collaboration in honour of International Women's Day! There are, of course, countless women we would have liked to highlight in this series - I hope we can come together again at a later date to share even more fascinating figures. In the meantime though, please do follow us on Instagram for all our latest news and artworks (@amyhoodillustration / @liza.mackinnon) and visit Liza's website for more information on her beautifully crafted dresses. If you would like to discover more extraordinary women, please take a look at my Portrait Gallery!