Representation of Women in Art: Selections from the Kennedy Museum of Art

We began this project as a new way to work with various pieces in the KMA collection. We combed through thousands of pages of art to find what struck our eye and what would ultimately become this mini curation project. The main theme we realized after choosing works on our own was women and the female form. There could be a variety of reasons we were drawn to these pieces, as we both identify as women ourselves, but that is neither here nor there. 

Our pieces highlight the range of the representation of women and the female form in the KMA’s collection. Of course, there are hundreds if not thousands more that could fit in this category. We chose works created both by women and male artists, with various art forms such as photography, painting, and prints, while exploring the artist’s thought process and background surrounding the piece itself. We are excited to offer this small sampling of diverse representation of women in art in the KMA collection. 

Selecting, researching, and assembling this project has been a massive learning experience for us. We are grateful to Sally Delgado, the curator of education, Marissa Stewart, our graduate assistant, and the rest of the KMA education team for their feedback and assistance with this project.  

We hope you enjoy and are able to reflect on our selections! 

Madeline Kramer, Outreach Programs Assistant

Tristen Luken, Academics Programs Assistant


Herman Leonard (1923 – 2010) 

Billie Holiday-NYC 

1949 

Gelatin Silver Print 

KMA93.004.15 

Herman Leonard is remembered as one of the best jazz photographers of all time. In the beginning of his career post-graduation from Ohio University, Leonard would take promotional photos for the jazz clubs in New York City in exchange for entry. There he photographed jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and more, as they were also starting their careers. This photograph of Billie Holiday encapsulates her as a performer while the smoke in the background alludes to the aesthetic of the jazz clubs at the time. 

Clarence White (1871-1925) 

Nude 

1912 

Platinum print 

KMA78.037.I4 

Clarence White was a pictorialist photographer from Ohio with no formal training. His dedication to the craft made him one of the leaders in the early 20th century Photo-Secession movement, which advocated for photography as a fine art medium. By softening the focus of the image, pictorialists created photos that appeared almost like a painting. In 1914 White opened the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York City, which was reestablished at Ohio University in 1948. The current OHIO program in Photography + Integrated Media builds on this legacy by focusing on “photographic practice in its most inclusive and experimental manifestations.” 

Although White followed socialist ideals, he was not trying to make political art. Instead, his camera was a means for creating ideals of aesthetic beauty and the undressed human form was one of his “muses.” His body of work includes numerous female nudes in both indoor and outdoor settings.  

Murray Stern (1927 – 1985) 

Lady of the Evening with Shawl  

(n.d.) 

Oil painting 

KMA2008.01.23 

Murray Stern moved to Athens from New York City in the early 1970s when his wife, Gladys Bailin Stern, accepted a teaching position in the School of Dance at Ohio University. He commuted between Athens and New York City, continuing his artistic work as a scenery artist with Broadway productions such as “The Sound of Music” and films such as “The Godfather”.  

Stern’s body of work was donated to the Kennedy Museum of Art following his death. His collection contains portraits, still-lifes, as well as more overtly political paintings and drawings. According to a 2008 Athens News article, his style has been described as social realism, showcasing “social and political issues of the 20th century with beautiful insight into his subjects”.  

Byron Browne (1907 – 1961) 

Classical Figure 

1955 

Oil painting 

KMA2002.010.102 

Byron Browne was a prominent figure in the modernist movement and one of the founders of American Abstract Artists in New York City. The group’s concentration was on making art in response to important world events such as the depression or scientific research being done such as Einstein’s theory of relativity. He was a trained realist before he became an abstract painter. After leaving realism behind, he destroyed all his old work and starting viewing abstraction as an “extension of the physical world, rather than generated by spirituality.”  His new work included energetic and gestural brushstrokes.  

Browne married painter Rosalind Bengelsdorf who was involved with the same abstract group he was in. According to a 1962 article in the New York Times, Browne and Rosalind decided that he would be the only painter in the marriage. Rosalind stopped working as an artist until after Browne passed away. Artist couples were not immune to post World War II ideology as the country pushed for a “nuclear family” with wives working from home.  

Philip Pearlstein (b. 1924) 

Girl on Blue Coverlet 

1974 

Lithograph 

KMA75.095.I2 

Philip Pearlstein is a realist painter. He started his art career as a graphic designer, but then became an illustrator, and later a professor at Brooklyn College. His art concentrates on his fascination with the human figure and he is widely recognized for his paintings and prints of nudes. Pearlstein has stated that he is drawn to the movement that body limbs create when posed certain ways and strives to portray the intricacy of these limbs in his works because he enjoys the complexities of the figure. Pearlstein uses models that are themselves artists and other people he knows. By using form, color, and light he creates dynamic compositions that are focused on interactions with the environment and the other objects in this setting. In a recent exhibition (2020) of his work, which included lesser known landscapes juxtaposed with nude figures, he stated “I see the figure as landscape; the landscape as figure – they’re the same!” 

Lester Johnson (1919 – 2010) 

Untitled 

1983 

Serigraph 

KMA90.019.I5 

Lester Johnson was an abstract expressionist painter who used bold colors and forceful brushstrokes to create energetic figures and groups. Johnson’s color palette and subject matter shifted between the 1960s and 1970s from dark and somber male figures to bright and colorful groups that gave more emphasis to female figures. The flat colorful figures are packed together on one canvas to create a sense of company and aliveness. Johnson uses foreshortening to create a unique perspective of the gestural hands and cumbersome arms of each figure. He casually explained during a conversation with an art critic for The Brooklyn Rail that what led to this change in his work stemmed from a particular moment in time when he was leaving his studio in NYC and encountered his wife and young daughter, during which “the sky cleared and they were engulfed in a pool of sunlight.” 

Kathryn Polk (b. 1952) 

Rising from the Ashes 

2013 

Lithograph 

KMA2013.12.01 

Kathryn Polk’s lithography prints are very much based on personal experiences and social narrations. Polk reflects upon her identity as a woman and relationships with her family from the south as key points in her work. She wishes to tell these stories through the eyes of herself and the women in her family. She also includes symbols to help communicate the messages of the narratives that are being told.  

This print was created at Ohio University and gives many examples of these symbols. According to the artist, the title Rising from the Ashes directly comments on her decision to leave her business job and become an artist. The subject of the work is meant to be two, represented by the different eye colors and line down the center. She represents Polk and her sister, who were both going through significant life changes. Fire not only connects to her father being a firefighter, but also to the idea that fire can cleanse. The cactus represents one’s ability to withstand harsh conditions, while the hands with spikes represent fending off any outside restrictions. The purse is a symbol of fortune and money while the snake can represent two different personalities, one good and one bad.  

Sue Coe (b. 1951) 

What’s Your Cut? (from the series Porkopolis) 

1989 

Etching 

KMA91.0115.I1 

Originally born in England, Sue Coe grew up down the street from a slaughterhouse. This spurred her passion for animal rights from a young age. Coe moved to the United States to become an illustrator for The New York Times in 1972 and stunned her supervisor with her first illustration of a duck as the subject. 

Her series “Porkopolis” is a direct commentary on food production and the animal agriculture industry. Coe visited 15 slaughterhouses while working on this project. She is also passionate regarding various human rights violations, in addition to animal rights issues, such as South African apartheid, capitalism and unions in the United Kingdom and United States, racism and police brutality, and sexual violence.  

Lesley Dill (b. 1950) 

A Word Made Flesh… Front  

A Word Made Flesh… Throat

1994 

Photolithograph and intaglio on hand sewn, tea-stained Mulberry paper 

KMA95.006.2 

KMA95.006.1 

Lesley Dill’s art was completely changed when her mother gifted her a book of Emily Dickinson’s poetry for her 40th birthday. These pieces from her four-part series “A Word Made Flesh” show Dill’s signature affinity for words and the human body. Her early work also focuses on vulnerability and sensuality, which is highlighted in this series. Dill was inspired by trips to India and the art of henna to put Dickinson’s poetry on her models’ bodies, saying “I thought maybe we do have words on us, invisible text we all wear.” Dill’s models were all friends, students, or assistants.