NO. 10 FEMIN • IS – Philomene Bennett

side profile of a seated woman with an abstract painting of swirling lines in the background

In episode No. 10 of the Femin • Is series, I sat down with painter Philomene Bennett to hear about her fifty plus year career as an artist. Having read Bennett described as the “grand dame” of art in Kansas City, I was eager to learn more.

In episode No. 10 of the Femin • Is series, I sat down with painter Philomene Bennett to hear about her fifty plus year career as an artist. Having read Bennett described as the “grand dame” of art in Kansas City, I was eager to learn more.

Now in her eighties, Bennett’s lasting influence on individual artists through her long-running studio ateliers and the very fabric of the Kansas City arts scene through the co-founding of The Kansas City Artists Coalition is simply undeniable.

In our conversation, we touched on everything from how her identity as an artist started in childhood, her first big break in Kansas City, a fateful night that started an arts organization now 40 years strong, and, of course, her own work as a painter, including a few works close to her heart. Below are images of the work we discussed, as well as some extra treats. Enjoy!

painting of a female figure reclining on a divan clothed in and surrounded by rich draping fabrics

 

abstract painting with swirling, expressive lines hinting at a landscape with sky and a fish pond towards the bottom
Philomene Bennett, My Very Own Fish Pond, oil on canvas

 

image of a woman standing and painting a large portrait on canvas
Bennett painting in her River Quay (River Market) studio in the 1970s

 

image of an art opening with people and a large painting filling the background
Bennett (seen left) at an opening of her work featuring a monumental painting on canvas
image of landscape-like abstract painting
Philomene Bennett, The Shadow Persists, oil on canvas

Lastly, here is Philomene’s portrait. It used metallic gold acrylic, so it was admittedly very difficult to photograph.  Text: Alice Neel, volume published for exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art

It was a lot of writing, but I enjoyed learning more about the challenging life of Alice Neel. I can completely see how Philomene found her inspiring!

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This episode of KC Art Pie is made possible through an Inspiration Grant from

NO. 9 FEMIN • IS – Women in Glasses

cover art for the podcast episode: image of a nude model with glasses looking over the head of a man in a business suit.

In episode No. 9 of the Femin • Is series, I sat down with Cyncha Jeansonne who created the controversial 1976 exhibition Women in Glasses at the Douglas Drake Gallery. We talked about the rebellion required to be an artist and how this two-day installation of 15 nude women came to be.

Featured Image is a detail from photographer Donald White’s series of photographs of the exhibition.
**CAUTION** Images below include nudity. Discretion is advised.

The debate on what qualifies as objectification of women’s bodies versus body positivity and agency certainly isn’t new even if some of the buzzwords are.  While the conversation on the censure of women’s bodies continue today, the 1970s era of radical feminism certainly sparked some debates. Louisiana native and artist Cyncha Jeansonne played a part here in Kansas City with her two-day environmental installation at the Douglas Drake Gallery in 1976. While she tamps down on the idea of a feminist influence at the time, she asserts that the work was an act of rebellion, so it’s almost impossible to see the installation without the historical lens of feminism.

For another view on this installation, read  “Women in Glasses” – A Reminiscence by Doug Drake

I could only get my hands on some lovely black and white prints of the exhibition, but you can see a color detail in the article above.

Detail view of Women in Glasses art exhibition showing a viewer looking past nude pregnant model and another posing model in the background.

View of audience member of Women in Glasses art exhibition looking directly into the eyes of nude model while another models poses in the background.

Detail of Women in Glasses art exhibition: showing woman in glasses overlooking a man dressed in a business suit.

Installation view of 1976 show Women in Glasses showing artist Cyncha Jeansonne (then known as Cyndi Ketchum) with nude models on pedestals with eye glasses.

Installation view of 1976 show Women in Glasses: audience meandering around nude women on pedestals with eye glasses.

Installation view of 1976 show Women in Glasses: audience meandering around nude women on pedestals with eye glasses.

View of 1976 installation: all white walls and floor with white pedestals.

 

Finally, here is Cyncha’s collaborative portrait, appropriately colored in shades of pink.

Femin Is_Cyncha Jeansonne Text: One Thousand White Women: the Journals of May Dodd (fiction)

This episode of KC Art Pie is made possible through an Inspiration Grant from

NO. 8 FEMIN • IS – Arzie Umali

Femin Is_Arzie Umali_Cover Art

In episode No. 8 of the Femin • Is series, I sat down with painter and Assistant Director of UMKC’s Womens Center, Arzie Umali. We talked about her research into representation of women artists in KC institutions, her work at The Women’s Center, and her work as a painter.

Featured Image is of Arzie Umali’s portrait for the Femin • Is project, consisting of text from Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

From her days as a graduate student to now, Arzie Umali has kept feminism and the art world closely entwined. With a precedent set by the famed Guerrilla Girls in making tallies of the number of women artists receiving exhibitions in New York museums, Umali looked at institutions closer to home to look at representation of women artists.

guerrilla girl museum statistics 1985 vs 2015

I wanted to look at this history and talk about how the research was done, as well as put out a call that this work needs to be done again.

Additionally, we talked about Her Art Project, a program initiative Umali started at The Women’s Center at the University of Missouri Kansas City. As we talked about its past, present, and some exciting plans for the future, it’s clear that Her Art Project is close to Umali’s heart.

HerArtProject_logo

Diving into her own work as a painter, we learn of a lasting influence from another female artist on her choice of subject matter. You can view more of her work on her website at www.arzie.com.

No More Evil, Please by Arzie Umali

 

Madonna on the Rocks by Arzie Umali

Lastly, we find that even her personal work has taken on a role of reaching out to others as evidenced by our conversation about a project that started out as a two-woman show but morphed into a community exhibition. Arzie Umali and her advocacy for women and the arts is here to stay.

Lastly, here is Arzie’s full portrait!

Ink on paper │Text: “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?” by Linda Nochlin │ 12 x 9” │ 2017

This episode of KC Art Pie is made possible through an Inspiration Grant from

NO. 6 FEMIN • IS – LINDA LIGHTON

In episode No. 6 of the Femin • Is series, I sat down with local ceramicist and bona fide flowerchild Linda Lighton. Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and ceramics, baby. This is how it’s done.

Featured photo by Tom Styrkowicz

To be the renowned artist that Linda Lighton is today, she had to rebel, and then rebel some more. So for this interview, we took a deep dive into the early years and some early work. We also took a look back at the history of the art scene in Kansas City. Below are a few pieces that we discussed in the interview. Enjoy.

The First Lady

 

Daddy’s Hungry

 

Diva Laura
clay, glaze, China paint, lustres
22″ x 9″ x 11″
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Collection
2002

 

The Czarina Damnwell clay, glaze, China paint, lustre 14.5″ x 8″ x 4″ Belger Arts Center Collection 2000

 

Love & War: The Ammunition clay, glaze, China paint, lustre 12″ x 17″ x 13″ 2012

Still hungry? Then watch this gem of a process film of Linda Lighton by Don Maxwell
and stay tuned for an upcoming bonus clip from my interview with Linda.

Lastly, here is Linda’s portrait, admittedly the metallic gold was difficult to photograph!

This episode of KC Art Pie is made possible through an Inspiration Grant from

N0. 4 FEMIN • IS – ELISABETH KIRSCH

In episode No. 4 of the Femin • Is series, I sat down with writer and curator Elisabeth Kirsch to talk about feminism and the Kansas City art scene of the 1970s.

We talked about the challenges and limitations placed on women artists and how her early encounters with the feminist art movement influenced her career. I also wanted to hear about the Women Artists ‘77 exhibit, one of, if not the first, all-women regional shows at a time when women artists struggled to be included in galleries and museums. Kirsch was the gallery assistant for the exhibition and had a behind-the-scenes perspective on the process with juror and feminist art movement icon Miriam Schapiro.

We also talked about a few of the artists she’s reviewed over the years and she revealed what may be one of my favorite bucket list items: to be a Guerrilla Girl for a day.

Kirsch’s Review of Linda Lighton:
Dangerous Beauty, Review magazine, August 2006 

Spiked Eggplant, 2005, by Linda Lighton

 

She also discussed an artist who showed at the Douglas Drake Gallery.
You can see a wide range of collages by Vivian Torrence here.

As solid evidence that Elisabeth Kirsch is still hard at work, here is the latest review by Kirsch, of artist Hyeyoung Shin and her recent exhibition, “Unapologetic,” at Studios Inc.

Finally, during our interview, I asked Kirsch about the impact of the Women Artists 77 Exhibition in the following years. Looking at the longer term, I think it is a safe bet to say that one of those lasting impacts was to influence a young student who would go on to contribute volumes of thought and energy to the Kansas City arts scene.

Lastly, here is Elisabeth’s portrait!

Femin Is_Elisabeth Kirsch / Ink on panel / 24 x 18″ / Text: Awakening Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön

This episode of KC Art Pie is made possible through an Inspiration Grant from

N0. 2: FEMIN • IS – JANET KUEMMERLEIN

Episode No. 2 of the KC Art Pie podcast features visual artist Janet Kuemmerlein discussing her textile murals, the women of jazz, and how naiveté is not always a bad thing.

For this episode, I sat down with Janet Kuemmerlein in her large home studio to talk about her work and career which has spanned over 50 years. We talked about the bravery or naivete it takes to be an artist and the early days of her career in the 60s. While her textile practice is often a solitary affair, she has also painted portraits of other artists, most significantly a number of Kansas City women jazz vocalists, and she shares her experience of working with and learning from women coming from a different artistic medium.

Kuemmerlein is a pioneer in the contemporary fiber art movement. She was born in Detroit, Michigan. Janet studied painting at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, and sculpture and metalsmithing at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Her work has been placed in institutions such the Smithsonian Museum of Fine Artm  the Chicago Institute of Art, the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Art and Design,  among many others. Her work has been in exhibited around the word in England, France, Germany and Switzerland.

http://www.janetkuemmerlein.com

Janet Kuemmerlein in her art-filled home and studio
Odyssey, textile installation, 5 x 30′, manila rope, wool, nylon,
silk, cotton, & dacron, 1976, Richmond, CA
Arctic Echoes, textile installation, 50′, Anchorage, AK
The Wild Women of Kansas City, The American Jazz Museum

Portrait of Deborah Brown by Janet Kuemmerlein,
The American Jazz Museum
Calla Lily, 10 x 10″, acrylic on canvas
Tempest by Janet Kuemmerlein, textile vessel
Portrait of a Garden
Janet Kuemmerlein in the yarn room of her home studio

 

Lastly, here is Janet’s portrait!

creative abstract portrait of the artist
Ink on canvas │Text: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
│ 36 x 36″” │ 2017

 

This episode of KC Art Pie is made possible through an Inspiration Grant from

Digging The Details – Drawings from Kansas City Women’s Liberation Union Newsletters, Part I

newsletter-header-vol4no1janfeb1974resized
Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

As I tried to capture the flavor of the feminist art scene of Kansas City in the 1970s, my research brought me a batch of newsletters in the Chris Almvig Collection at the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, housed at the LaBudde Department of Special Collections at The University of Misosuri – Kansas City. These publications chronicled the Kansas City chapter of the Women’s Liberation Union, which fired up around 1970 as one of the first local feminists collectives. It took its name from the first such publication, Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement, spearheaded by Jo Freeman in Chicago, IL, sparked into being by the patriarchal condescension and dismissal of the women’s caucus at the 1967 National Conference of New Politics.

voice-of-the-wlm
The first national newsletter from which later grassroots versions took inspiration. From http://www.redstockings.org, Women’s Liberation Movement Think Tank & Archive for Action.

This was a time when a woman could be fired from a job for being pregnant. She couldn’t apply for a credit card on her own. Sexual harassment in the workplace wasn’t considered a thing and if you were single, practicing birth control was illegal. As larger organizations took on these broader legal battles, the smaller, grassroots Liberation Unions spoke to the consciousness-raising efforts of the early-to-mid 1970s, declaring that “the personal is political,” and “Sisterhood is powerful.” However, rather than digging deeper into the history, tempting as that is, the following is a delightful tangent — a showcase of the art of the newsletters themselves.

Browsing through the collection, I was quickly struck by the line drawings peppered in between practical guides, poetry, political calls to action, and personal revelations. They were simple, clean, rendered yellow with age, yes, but striking and always expressive. The first newsletter in the collection is an early one, with later covers taking on a more designed quality.

cover-sepoct1973resized
Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.
drawing-7-septoct1973resized
From  September / October 1973 Issue; Used by permission by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

Many of the drawings were left unattributed, but the primary contributors of these drawings are believed to be by members of the collective, Patt Gateley and Julie King.

drawing1-septoct1973-2resized
From the September / October 1973 Issue: Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

 

drawing-5-septoct1973resized
From the September / October 1973 Issue: Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

 

drawing-6-septoct1973resized
From the September / October 1973 Issue: Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

 

drawing-4-septoct1973resized
From the September / October 1974 Issue: Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

By 1974, full illustrations were incorporated into the covers. As the movement hit its stride in the middle of the decade, the publication benefited from a more organized feel, but hand drawings still graced many of its pages. Each issue became centered around an organizing theme that yet included diverse content. One could browse both personal and political essays, learn about an all woman music production company, read poetry, or clip a coupon to receive $50 off your purchase of a car from the first female salesperson at the Chevrolet dealership in town.

cover-marapr1974resized
Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.
drawing1-marapr1974resized
From the March / April 1974 Ageism Issue: Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

 

drawing2-marapr1974resized
From the March / April 1974 Ageism Issue: Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

 

cover-mayjun1974resized
Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

 

drawing3-mayjun1974resized
From the May / June 1974 Aspirations Issue: Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

 

drawing4-mayjun1974resized
From the May / June 1974 Aspirations Issue: Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

We end on my personal favorite, which is the result of the paper’s transparency, the layered placement drawings on back-to-back pages, and serendipity.  A slightly haunting collaged effect is created by the watermark-like effect of the text on the next page, while the tail end of a butterfly’s wing takes on the appearance of a faint tear on the woman’s face. That this effect was presumably unintentional somehow gives it an added layer of poignancy, as it captures a sense of both beauty and pain, of simplicity and simultaneously complex subtlety.

drawing5-mayjun1974resized
From the May / June 1974 Aspirations Issue: Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections.

More drawings will be featured in future posts. Until then, if you’d like a bit more on the history of feminist movement of the time, here’s a clip of archival footage (which at times, proves that media bias is nothing new).

And if love your history, here’s a full-length BBC documentary:

That’s your slice of art pie for today. Until we nosh again,

 – Rachelle Gardner-Roe