March is National Women’s History Month

It’s a great opportunity to celebrate women—not only as portrayed in art but, more importantly, for their role in art.

In 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin published an essay in ArtNews magazine entitled, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Her question opened a new area of art history. Does anyone today look at a work of art and deem it great, or poor, because the artist was male or female? Let’s hope not. But such was not always the case.

Orazio Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter (1563-1639) but it is the work and life of his daughter Artemesia (1593-1656) that is more intriguing. The St. Louis Art Museum presented an exhibition a few years ago, showing father and daughter’s work side by side. Seventeenth-century Europe wasn’t ready for women to actually create art. Women might be models, but not artists. So, Artemesia worked quietly in her father’s studio, developing an incredible artistic talent, far surpassing the abilities of her brothers. They were expected to follow in their father’s footsteps, but it was Artemesia who showed the true potential. Her life was darkened with suffering but she found release through her art. Although a number of Artemesia’s works were originally attributed to her father, her style emerged.  As author Mary Garrard noted in her book, Artemesia Gentileschi, “Far from ‘a good woman painter,’ (Artemesia) was one of the major visual thinkers of her time.” Pretty impressive for a female painter in the 1600’s!

For the past six years, SWIC (Southwest Illinois College) in Belleville, Illinois (just 20 minutes from St. Louis) has organized HERstory, a celebration of women in the arts. Supported by 88.1-KDHX-FM, this year’s event includes dance performances, art and craft exhibits, clever conversations, delectable libations, and haircuts (ponytails of 8+ inches will be donated to Beautiful Lengths, to make wigs for cancer survivors). Bring a bag of eccentric, eclectic accoutrement and fanciful accessories to trade and receive $2 off the $7 donation-admission. It’s all at The Ground Floor Club, 215 E. Main in downtown Belleville, March 12-13, from 7 p.m. until 1 a.m. Check out for details.

Articles of Dress is an intriguing exhibition at Craft Alliance, 6640 Delmar. John Petrey, Susan Freda and Brenda Jones explore the female garment as sculptural art form. They push the concept using material from wire to steel, from plastic utensils to coffee filters (coffee filters?).  “What is considered fashion and body covering becomes redefined as a canvas for social commentary, whimsical ideas and engaging surfaces,”explained Saskya Byron of Craft Alliance.    featuring clothing from  the Exquisite Corps collection by Michael Drummond.

Celebrate Again! 2010 is a charity sale of original art on March 12 in the Gallery of Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. 125 works of art, all donated by area women artists, are part of the All Hands on Deck exhibition, presented by the Artists of Thirteen Squared. Preview starts at 6 p.m., with the sale commencing at 7:30 p.m. All works are priced at just $50 and sell fast, so don’t be late! The event is open to the public. Visit www.stlrac.org for info.