Strong Women

By: Lisa Hoffman, curator of education on December 23rd, 2015

Strong women: may we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them. I learned this toast decades ago – from whom I no longer recall – and have shared it on many occasions. It’s rattled around in my head over this past month, bringing to mind influential women in my life.

While in my early twenties, I met a woman in the Art Institute of Chicago who fueled my love of art . . . the mother bathing her child in Mary Cassatt’s painting The Child’s Bath. A mother – whose hands were strengthened through housework and childrearing – gently interacts with her kempt, well-fed, rosy-cheeked child and uses a bowl and pitcher reminiscent of an heirloom on my own mother’s dry sink.
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I am thrilled that a Cassatt etching is included in American Impressionism: The Lure of the Artists’ Colony. Walking in the galleries is like visiting a dear friend amid the company of a broader circle of friends.

My inner “fangirl” reached peak giddiness when Jane Weinke, Woodson Art Museum curator of collections, installed two Cassatt drawings from the Museum’s collection in the interactive family gallery, Art Park.

As Cassatt’s work graces the Museum, the work of another strong woman – Ann Cunningham – fills the lower-level gallery in the site-specific installation Forest Folklore: A Multisensory Experience. Ann arrived at the end of November and worked as an artist in residence through December 18. Her physical and mental stamina was formidable as she maneuvered through the intense, hectic one-week installation of her work to the numerous public programs, and alongside the 700 (yes, 700) preK through first-grade students creating tactile art.

It was my pleasure to spend time and share meals with Ann. To say she has a fascinating life story is an understatement. Her trailblazing dedication to creating tactile art for individuals with low-vision and blindness has garnered the attention of the New York Times. Words and photos don’t do Ann’s work justice. You must experience her touchable fairy-tale forest and the images that arise in your mind’s eye while touching a sculpture with both hands in unison.

3blog12-23-15The strong-woman toast surfaced in my mind in early December as Woodson Art Museum director Kathy Foley shared a story about wearing her mother’s pearls to a recent holiday party. At the end of that week, Ann wore her mother’s jade necklace to the Forest Folklore preview reception to which I wore a Monet-inspired scarf given to me by my mother. The two Cassatt drawings from the collection that are on view in Art Park were given to the Museum by a son in honor of a step-mother.

Toast a strong woman you know. Better still, bring a strong woman to the always-free Woodson Art Museum and make new memories.

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