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I Am: Prints by Elizabeth Catlett

October 20 - January 6, 2008

 


I Am: Prints by Elizabeth Catlett, a selection of 27 prints by the renowned artist and UI alumna, is on view October 20 through January 6, 2008 at the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA). Included in the exhibition is a portfolio of six prints inspired by the poem "For My People" by Margaret Walker, an alumna of the Iowa Writers' Workshop who was Catlett's roommate at the UI.

"Catlett's work is full of love and tenderness and also, in a way, of sorrow for the past and fear for the future," said Kathleen Edwards, curator of European and American Art at the UIMA.

Catlett, who studied under Grant Wood, was the first student to receive a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from the UI in 1940. Her overtly political works chronicle the stories and experiences of African-Americans and Mexicans, especially women and children.

While visiting Catlett in Cuernavaca, Mexico during the summer of 2006, Edwards selected a group of 27 prints to purchase for the UIMA collection, including several rare impressions. These prints join "Sharecropper" from 1968 at the UIMA, and the bronze sculpture "Stepping Out" from 2000, located in the entry lobby of the renovated Iowa Memorial Union.

The print acquisition was supported by the Edwin B. Green American Art Acquisition Endowment. In turn, Catlett donated the purchase price of the prints to the University of Iowa Foundation to create a scholarship fund at the UI School of Art and Art History. The Elizabeth Catlett Mora Scholarship Fund will benefit undergraduate and graduate printmaking students who are African American or Latino.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1915, Catlett went to Mexico City on a fellowship in 1946, drawing inspiration for her early work from the populist murals of Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. She eventually settled in Mexico, embarking on a career that would cement her as one of the most celebrated living African-American artists. She has received a Lifetime Achievement award in Contemporary Sculpture from the International Sculpture Center in addition to many other accolades.

Walker studied creative writing at the UI and received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the university in 1940. She returned for her doctorate in 1965. Her work has been widely celebrated; she has won the Yale Younger Poets award for "For My People," and her novel "Jubilee" has received great critical acclaim.

 

(above: Margaret Walker, A Second Generation, from "For My People," 1992, Color lithograph portfolio published by Limited Editions Club.)

 

(above: Margaret Walker, Singing Their Songs, from "For My People," 1992, Color lithograph portfolio published by Limited Editions Club.)

 

(above: Elizabeth Catlett, Links Together, 1996, Color lithograph. Art © Elizabeth Catlett/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)

 

(above: Elizabeth Catlett, Malcolm X Speaks for Us, 1969/2000, Color lithograph. Art © Elizabeth Catlett/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)

 

(above: Elizabeth Catlett, Red Leaves, 1978, Color lithograph. Art © Elizabeth Catlett/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)

 

Introductory wall text for the exhibition

Elizabeth Catlett, who was born in 1915, was the first student to receive a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from the University of Iowa. She received the MFA in 1940 -- in an era when being African-American, female, and an artist, were three strikes against her. Yet Elizabeth Catlett went on to become one of the most distinguished and celebrated artists of our time.
 
Racism was part of Catlett's life -- from her experiences growing up with grandparents who had been slaves, to daily incidents of discrimination. Catlett chose to pursue the compassionate depiction of exploited people in her art as a means for fighting the oppression she witnessed.
 
At the UI, Catlett studied with Grant Wood, who encouraged her to depict what she knew best. For Catlett this was African-American women and the concerns of mothers for their children. After she moved to Mexico in the late 1940s, this expanded to include the human rights of the indigenous people of Mexico. Individuals who had brought about political and social change were also honored in her work.
 
The figures in Catlett's prints and sculpture are presented in a realistic manner pared down to essential elements of expressive line and form.

Checklist for the exhibition

Margaret Walker
"For My People," 1992
Color lithograph portfolio published by Limited Editions Club
 
Singing Their Songs
Play Mates
To Marry
Walking Blindly
All the People
A Second Generation
 
Elizabeth Catlett and Margaret Walker were roommates while attending the University of Iowa in 1939-1940.
 
 
For My People by Margaret Walker, published in 1942
 
For my people everywhere singing their slave songs repeatedly: their dirges and their ditties and their blues and jubilees, praying their prayers nightly to an unknown god, bending their knees humbly to an unseen power;
 
For my people lending their strength to the years, to the gone years and the now years and the maybe years, washing ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending hoeing plowing digging planting pruning patching dragging along never gaining never reaping never knowing and never understanding;
 
For my playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama backyards playing baptizing and preaching and doctor and jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking and playhouse and concert and store and hair and Miss Choomby and company;
 
For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn to know the reasons why and the answers to and the people who and the places where and the days when, in memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we were black and poor and small and different and nobody cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood;
 
For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these thing to be man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and play and drink their wine and religion and success, to marry their playmates and bear children and then die of consumption and anemia and lynching;
 
For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago and Lenox Avenue in New York and Rampart Street in New Orleans, lost disinherited dispossessed and happy people filling the cabarets and taverns and other people's pockets needing bread and shoes and milk and land and money and something-something all our own;
 
For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied and shackled and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;
 
For my people blundering and groping and floundering in the dark of churches and schools and clubs and societies, associations and councils and committees and conventions, distressed and disturbed and deceived and devoured by money-hungry glory-craving leeches, preyed on by facile force of state and fad and novelty, by false prophet and holy believer;
 
For my people standing trying to fashion a better way from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding, trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people, all the faces, all the dams and eves and their countless generations;
 
Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace by written in the sky. Let a second generation fill of courage issue forth; let a people loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of healing and strength of final clenching by the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs by written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control.
 
 
Civil Rights Congress, 1950
Linoleum block
 
Survivor (after Dorothea Lange), 1983
Linoleum block
 
Torture of Mothers, 1970/2003
Color lithograph
 
Which Way?, 1958/2003
Lithograph
 
Cocinera, 1958
Lithograph with drawing
 
The Lesson, 1953
Lithograph
 
Learning, 1948
Hand-colored lithograph
 
The School is Closed, 1962/1995
Linoleum block
 
Bread, 1952/1995
Linoleum block
 
Vendedora de Manzanas, 1961
Color lithograph
 
My Sons, 1955/1995
Linoleum block
 
Maternity, 1959
Lithograph
 
Red Leaves, 1978
Color lithograph
 
Thurgood Marshall, 2001
Linoleum block
 
Madonna, 1982
Lithograph
 
Harlem Woman, 1992
Color lithograph with collaged fabric
 
Double Profile, 1978
Lithograph
 
Links Together, 1996
Color lithograph
 
Girl and the City, 1979
Lithograph
 
Homage to the Panthers, 1993
Color lithograph
 
Malcolm X Speaks for Us, 1969/2000
Color lithograph
 
Sharecropper, 1968
Linoleum block
Purchase from the friends of Jean Davidson in loving memory 2002.4


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