John Berry | Solo Show of New Paintings

20170614_155018 (1).jpg

Modern West Fine Art premiers John Berry's most recent paintings...

“Using color, pattern, line and texture my work strives to capture what it is to be human. To live with a dual nature of spirit and body. I use the interplay of line, pattern, shape and color to explore what it means to be human. By adding marks, covering or erasing marks, I hope to convey a sense of a life lived and the complexities of living and making our way in a human world.”   -  John Berry

John Berry_Floating in your purgatory 60x60.jpg
John Berry_Mayor of simpleton 36x36.jpg

We chatted with John Berry about his most recent paintings

Can you describe this body of work and what inspired it?

"… I do not think of it as a "body" of work, there's not a starting or stopping point. It is just one stream of consciousness that has come from inside. As far as inspiration, I am not sure I have inspiration per se, rather, what is in my thoughts or what is currently happening in my life, that is the genesis of all my work..."


Could you talk a little about your process?

"… Routinely I try to change the way I work. Whether that is starting differently or using different materials or ways of application. I try to constantly mix it up, make myself uncomfortable with what I am doing. Even buying arbitrary colors... By doing this though, I hope to let each work become what it needs to be, if I am doing the same routine over and over, I feel it becomes stale. I think you can see this if you look at my work over the last few years."


Do you listen to music while you paint, if so what have you been listening to recently and does it influence the work?

"Yes, I do. It always influences the work in one way or another... Music produces such an emotional response, whether it is the pace, sound, nostalgia etc.  So I usually select music that is in rhythm with my feelings for that day. But sometimes I do put something on that is the opposite of what I'm feeling, that is always interesting... It will range from Indie Rock to Reggae to Classical, to 80's music I grew up with, but more times than not it is what the kids call Alternative. Spoon and Metric are my favs."


What have you been reading?

“The Last River”, a nonfiction story about people trying to kayak a river near Nepal, that has never been run before. I like adventure stories, but if you wanted to get artsy, I did recently finish a biography of Matisse. Biographies of artists are a mainstay of my reading, go figure."

John Berry_Two headed 48x48.jpg
John Berry_Studio_ Painting (1).jpg

Can you talk about how you come up with the titles of your pieces?

"Most of the time my titles come from songs or phrases I read or hear that resonate with the piece. Sometimes they are straightforward, sometimes I try not to reveal directly what I was thinking or feeling, just hint at it... I hope by doing that I let the viewer fill in the gaps, make the piece their own. Kind of like connecting the dots, that is the hope anyway."

John Berry Pastels.jpg

About John Berry:

A working artist for 25 years, Berry started his career as an illustrator before turning to painting. Initially he worked as a wildlife and landscape artist, exhibiting regularly. As he continued his career he turned his full attention to the landscape, painting Plein Air and then developing larger works back in the studio. Over time his work shifted to focus on the shapes and colors of a more abstracted landscape, eventually moving entirely to pure abstraction. Berry works intuitively, channeling feelings and emotions into the painting, the results of which are bold colorful works that exude a pure expression and passion for the act of painting.

Opening reception, Friday, September 21st, 7:00 - 9:00pm

The show will run September 21st through October 13th, 2018.

WEST - The Effect of Land and Space

Eleven Women Artists who Take Inspiration from the American West

The American West imbues distinct feelings. The emptiness, space and possibility for solitude are — if not unique characteristics — distinguishing factors that are impossible to ignore. The West — an expanse of land and sky, saturated with silence and stillness — provides an environment that demands attention and instills the desire to be present. Here are conditions that stir the senses and give space for creation to ignite.



03_Kiki Gaffney_Ridges and Stripes_oil and graphite on wood panels_15x30in

"I was first introduced to the western landscape around 2003, when my future husband brought me out to meet his family. They are all around the Salt Lake/Park City area, but his brother-in-law Kurt also built a place in Castle Valley, near Moab. As someone who grew up on the east coast, traveling only as far as the Jersey shore for family vacations, this new landscape was utterly breathtaking. We have since come back every year to Utah, often hiking the same trails as the year before, and I never ever tire of looking out at the sweeping views, and breathing in the majesty all around" 

04_Kiki Gaffney_Blue Arch_oil and graphite on wood panels_12x24in_(1).jpg
04_Kiki Gaffney_Blue Arch_oil and graphite on wood panels_12x24in.jpg

"The west for me represents expanse - externally for sure, but also internally, giving me 'permission' to let go, move freely, create space and think in new ways. It is a reminder of Mother Nature's artistic brilliance, power and beauty, and offers me an endless source of insight and inspiration for my own artistic endeavors" 
- Kiki Gaffney



01_Liberty Blake_Dalton Wash Road_Collage_24x18 in_2nd image.jpg

"I come from England, where the landscape is organized into fields and the horizon feels close. When I first came to Utah, I felt a deep affinity for the desert, its huge skies, distant skylines and particularly the sense of stillness and waiting that it imparts. I’m drawn to the quiet of wilderness, its gentle movement, wind moving plants and birds flight. It allows me to slow and calm my mind to match the pace of the surroundings.

I only ever work from memory as this enables me to create work that’s both a visual and emotional reaction to a place. A collage might be inspired by a fleeting glimpse that imprints itself in my mind, or from layered feelings and images built up over many visits. I make art to document experience, in the same way a person keeps a written journal. My intention is to draw attention to things unnoticed, overlooked or discarded and to encourage the appreciation and preservation of places that can’t speak for themselves" - Liberty Blake

View From the Rock.jpg
18_LibertyBlake_Crecent_collage on panel_23.5x 17.75in.jpg
15_LibertyBlake_Rough Sleepers_collage on panel_20.75x16in.jpg



01_AlisonDenyer_Stratify I_ acrylic ink on canvas_36x36.jpg

"Definitions of the West for me, are strongly tied to notions of landscape and ecology.  Holding both a dramatic and fragile visual impact, the landscape of the West directly influences the artwork that I create.

The landscape of the West is hard to ignore.  With vast spaces and layers of geological history, this landscape consistently inspires me to create and question.  The confusion of space in the landscapes of the West, where the vast could also be microscopic, directly influences my visual language.  It is this concept of visual space that becomes a starting point for my work" - Al Denyer

04_AlisonDenyer_Strata X_ acrylic ink on canvas_20x20.jpg
05_AlisonDenyer_Strata XI_ acrylic ink on canvas_20x20.jpg
06_AlisonDenyer_Strata XII_ acrylic ink on canvas_20x20.jpg



34_Jody Plant_The Nature of Poetry_mixed media_12 x 6 x 6 in..JPG
32_Jody Plant_Last Year's Song_mixed media sculpture_12 x 6 x 6 in..JPG
33_Jody Plant_Transformation_mixed media_12 x 6 x 6 in..JPG

"Mystery, expanse, the sky when I was a child. An uncommon spaciousness informs my work. The West is an extreme landscape, a hunting ground. I hunt bits of nature and history to combine. The memory of the land resides within these assemblages. Hands touch and work the earth, eyes search the horizon. The land is vast and varied. A slant of light, a cloud, a bird sound, river water, dusk, dust devils, lightning storms. If the West is about anything, it’s about possibility obscured. The land where you are born keeps you, always. You are made of it." - Jody Plant



74_Jann Haworth_Derby Queen_pastel on board_40 x 30 in Update.jpg
75_Jann Haworth_Black Jack Kicker_pastel on board_40x30in.jpg

"As myths go The West is a great one. It does not carry the weight of a raft of moral imperatives — it is more of an action painting type heroic story. What startles me is that it is somehow still living. There still are cowboys, ‘Indians’, and wild horses. My west is a long love-affair that is as fresh today as it was when I was a child — I love the shards of the west, my jeans, tooled leather belt and pearl stud shirt — I love the crassest motel with a wagon wheel and a giant arrow sticking in the ground.  When making art though, I want to avoid – kitsch – nostalgia – lying – cultural appropriation – postcolonial white mindsets. I can’t do ‘pretty’, say the horse, because it is too beautiful. Can’t do a drawing of a Native American, much as I want to, now that I have heard about Caucasians with ‘feathers in their hair’ and cultural appropriation. But what I want to capture is West NOW and for me, that is not looking at old movies, or arches, or modern versions of sexy things like cowboy hats — I am a sucker for them — but I want to catch something of modern cowgirls, and for me these are the roller derby jammers, or the mountain bike as a horse, the ‘hipster’ as a cowboy, or acknowledging that the 'pioneers' were homeless people. The west was settled by immigrants, that ‘occupied’ the land like squatters or ‘Occupy’ protesters.  They carved out a living, largely ignorant about how best to do that. Their story was mythologized almost before they lived it, first in dime store novels, then circuses and then by Hollywood. To catch the illusive fast moving contemporary 'West' I hope to fuse the old legend with new actors and new roles" - Jann Haworth

Jann Haworth _ West_ Paper Moon_Cowboy Boot .jpg




"The West symbolizes freedom, expression, openness and possibility. The balance, past/present, positive/negative and everything in between. The ability to explore and forge new ground, to make a mark, to exist. It personifies endless opportunity and reinforces the potential to be or do anything you want" Shalee Cooper

his copy.jpg







22_Suzanne Hill_ceramic_8.25W x 8.75H in.jpg

"What does the West mean to me? It means a wide open landscape, a sky that has it’s own personality, colors that can be both serene and piercing, lyrical landforms. The western landscape has been a revelation and an inspiration to me. When I visit these landscapes, places like Bryce, Zion, Arches, Grand Staircase Escalante, my mind opens up. I am also inspired by the pottery of the traditional cultures of the West. What I try to do in my work is bring those things together, the traditional pottery forms of the West with the colors I see around me"

19Front_Suzanne Hill_Breakers (SGB87)_ceramic_7.75x5.5in.jpg
20Front_Suzanne Hill_Darkness Falling_ceramic_8x7in.jpeg



03_Petecia La Fawnhawk_Wise Old Medicine Woman (Driftwood)_graphite on paper_ 40 x 30 (1).jpg
05_Petecia La Fawnhawk_Divine Doe Skull_graphite on paper_ 40 x 30.jpg
02_Petecia La Fawnhawk_Sacred Horn of Wildcat Canyon_graphite on paper_ 40 x 30.jpg

"The west is the last remnants of our wilderness.  A place we can truly experience freedom and the force of the unknown." - Petecia Le Fawnhawk




Courtney Leonard_Abundance (Alkali) copy.jpg
Courtney Leonard_Abundance (Kelp).jpg

American Fine Art Magazine Features Modern West Fine Art


“Utah has a thriving market for contemporary art, fueled by a long heritage of established and emerging artists that have left their mark within the art world. This drives an interest within our community, creating new collectors that are passionate about engaging with the art, and existing collectors that are looking to push the boundaries of their own collections.  

We have established an astute group of collectors, and we love our connection to western and contemporary patrons. Our focus continues to evolve as we meet the demand of our market’s interest in collecting contemporary works that push the boundaries of western art. We are thrilled to have featured our first exhibition with Taos Modern artists Beatrice Mandelman and her husband Louis Ribak in partnership with Rosenberg & Co. in New York and University of New Mexico Foundation, who manage their estate. This important exhibition has opened a new chapter for the gallery, broadening the opportunity for our patrons to view and acquire historical collectible works.

We aim to create an environment that supports artists ability to experiment and continue to develop their work. We are always looking to diversify the mediums that we feature, hence expanding our photography presence and works on paper. Newly represented collage artist Liberty Blake has been well received by our local and national markets and is an artist to keep your eye on. Her works create tension and balance carefully considering color relationships, scale, texture and narrative. We are also very excited to be featuring works by Kiki Gaffney whose work juxtaposes animated shapes with design elements and Al Denyer whose work encompasses areas of drawing painting, printmaking and installation.

We are currently making it a priority to address parity and equal representation of men and women. Our upcoming show West – the Effect of Land and Space will feature works by 10 female artists inspired by the distinct feelings the American West imbues, July 20  – Aug 31, 2018. ”  - Diane Stewart 

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 11.50.58 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 11.50.38 AM.png

J. Vehar | Adrift

John Vehar Evanoff_Adrift_oil on canvas_48x48.jpg

Modern West Fine Art is excited to feature “Adrift” by J. Vehar.  This new body of work explores the complexity of contradictory elements that coexist within. Each piece begins with a traditional rendering of recognizable imagery, which is then painted over, partially obscured and abstracted. Emitting both a stillness and energetic movement, Vehar-Evenoff has created a bold new body of work. 

John Vehar Evanoff_Nascent_oil on canvas_60x48.jpg

We recently chatted with John Vehar about his new body of work 'Adrift' — His inspiration, process and what he's been listening to in the studio.

 Can you describe the imagery in this particular body of work and what inspired it?

"I was thinking about cosmic archetypes and symbols, I was thinking about the human animal as an ancient biological and spiritual being in a modern world. Bodies emerging from the sea or floating amongst the clouds. I was thinking about the symbols of fierceness and helplessness existing in the same person. The sea can be powerful, you can harness it, but you can also get lost in it. I was thinking about the male and female archetypes existing within each person. I was physically acting out chaos and order. I was contemplating unintended consequences by creating unintended consequences. I was thinking about birth and death being a circle. These were the mythologies for this show."


Could you talk a little about your process of layering and obliterating the painted surface.

"I started each piece very traditionally. I began by rendering figures, flowers, what have you. Then after some dry time, I began to layer up paint at the same time I would remove it, loosely pushing it into shapes and lines over the surface of the figures. Drips become rain, figures emerge from water, and the surface of the sea is rendered. If I saw something in the abstract, I would go back and emphasize it using traditional brushwork and blend it in."


Do you listen to music while you paint, if so what have you been listening to recently?

"Oh boy. Okay, you asked. When I started this project I was listening to 80s new wave music from my childhood, midway through, I went on another nostalgic trip and put 80s British metal on my playlists. By the end, it was all melodic post metal, and experimental electronic music for me. I’m really open with music in general though. I listen to, and work with many genres, from hip hop and jazz to traditional Bulgarian folk music."

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 3.15.56 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 3.16.23 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 3.15.35 PM.png

I’m interested in the connection between art making and the meditative state described as ‘being in the zone’ or ‘flow state’ how does this relate to your work?

"For me, being “in the zone” is knowing when to “get up and move.” I don’t know what my pieces are going to become in advance, so I don’t plan them without room to breathe. So I spend hours with the work, sometimes months before I touch them again. I think you have to make them sink into your subconscious. Stare at them, think about them aesthetically all day and all night, talk to yourself about them in the shower, do nothing until you get “that feeling” and then burst into action. The most intriguing parts of the work are the parts that were worked the least. Those parts took minutes, not hours. Or in this case, minutes on top of hours. So I guess in the end, my version of being in the zone would be having a constant conversation with yourself and your work, and then acting upon it when you are ready. Then repeat. Over and over again. This brings the work from the unconscious into reality, and back again, when something is finally there, flushed out on the canvas, you can stop. The message came out of you. Now you’ve cleared up a bit of the mystery for yourself, and deepened it for everyone else!"


The tensions that arise between stillness and movement seem to factor in your work, could you speak to that?

"Yes. The movement you are seeing is placed on top of stillness. The movement is acting upon something still and sculptural (Say, a figure rendered with brushes). This is a good thing, because it’s not supposed to be that the two things exist at the same time, in the same space and equally important. Also, tools I use are very sculptural as well, so the marks they make “build up” on the surface. You may notice movement with this technique, but also you may notice built up lines that reinforce the stillness at the same time. These lines add a graphic, illustrative comic book feel here and there. It’s not over-the-top-hit-you-over-the-head, but it’s there."


About J. Vehar:

A self-taught artist, Vehar has been painting for more than 20 years, pushing genres, exploring mediums, and proving that the only constant is change.  The result is an expansive, informed portfolio that ranges from figurative to abstract. Born in the windy town of Rawlings, Wyoming, Vehar is a full-time artist residing in Salt Lake City, UT.  

The show will run June 15 through July 14, 2018.

The opening reception is on Friday, June 15th, 7:00 - 9:00pm, and the show runs through July 14, 2018.

Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak

written by Nancy Stoaks

IMG_3087 (1).jpg

Since opening its doors in 2014, Modern West Fine Art (MWFA) has supported established and emerging contemporary artists who, in compelling and varied ways, reframe our understanding of the West. Through thoughtful exhibitions, the gallery illuminates both new and historical bodies of work that are relevant and meaningful for today’s audiences. It is with this in mind that MWFA presents this momentous exhibition of work by Taos Modernists Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak. Blending Modernism with a unique desert-infused sensibility of color, light, and space, Mandelman and Ribak serve as a bridge between Utah’s honored tradition of landscape painting and the work of today’s contemporary artists.

photo courtesy University New Mexico Foundation

photo courtesy University New Mexico Foundation

MWFA’s exhibition takes as its focus the commanding work of Beatrice Mandelman. Presenting her abstract collages and paintings from the 1960s and 1970s, it explores her distinct voice as an artist in Taos. Her compositions exude vibrancy, playfulness, restraint, and subtlety. Ribak’s work, placed in conversation with Mandelman’s, reveals the broader strength of Modernism’s particular idiom in Taos and illuminates a fascinating story of artistic synergy and aesthetic vision in an unexpected corner of the West.


Beatrice Mandelman’s Red and Blue, a tight patchwork of interconnected shapes and colors, is intentionally dissonant. Typical of her paintings of the 1960s and 1970s, it signaled her adoption—and adaptation—of the early twentieth-century Modernist traditions to which she had been introduced decades prior. Here, Cubism, Constructivism, and Expressionism coalesced and took new form. The colors of Fernand Léger blended with the cut-outs of Henri Matisse. Yet Mandelman’s work was distinctly its own—the product of these diverse influences, combined with the indelible impact of Taos, New Mexico, where she had lived since 1944.

Seeking essence above realism, Mandelman exploited the expressive possibilities of elemental form and color in her work. Her compositions are vibrant and full of energy, often with a densely-packed network of overlapping geometric and organic shapes. While this style of abstraction can sometimes feel haphazard, Mandelman’s work displays thoughtful consideration of the interplay between adjoining forms and colors and between individual parts and the whole. There is playfulness in her approach, but also purpose and restraint. Returning to Red and Blue as an example of her meaningful gestures full of deliberate dissonance, geometric shapes abut the organic, clean edges abut inexact hand-drawn lines, and subtle hints of color activate the edges and interstices of this complex amalgam of forms.


When compared to the work of Louis Ribak, Mandelman’s husband and fellow Taos Modernist, the enduring—and fascinating—creative conversation between the two artists comes into view. The relationship between Dark Noon and Blue Circle, or Sun Series B6 and Jugglers, illustrates their shared approach towards elemental form and color. There are, of course, also noteworthy differences—Mandelman’s use of collage created a textural element that is absent in Ribak’s work, and Ribak’s pared down approach to composition stands in contrast to Mandelman’s more densely-packed style. Still, their Modernist experiments were a shared pursuit, with ideas around form and color reverberating in a back and forth exchange.


Mandelman and Ribak’s distinct palette included a wide use of primary colors frequently joined by pinks, peaches, and browns, all in tones that were particularly attuned to the natural world. (This dialogue with the landscape was furthered on occasion through the titles that each artist assigned to their works.) Even more striking, however, is their use of the color white. Creating an almost jarring sense of light and space, it served to draw attention to the indeterminate ground of some works, shifting between positive and negative space. White plays a dominant role in works like Number 7, but it also acts more subtly in Mandelman’s Yellow No. 2 and Ribak’s Blue and Peach Abstract. As in other works by Ribak, Blue and Peach Abstract demonstrates the particular attention—through form and color—that the artist brought to the edges of his compositions.


Enlivened with visual drama and tension, Mandelman’s and Ribak’s works of the 1960s and 1970s are undeniably alluring. Mandelman particularly celebrated this dissonant, off-center quality: “Off center means to me that a person has to give my work thought, it has to be looked at, it has to be given energy.” Both Mandelman and Ribak, in their highly sophisticated play with form and color, created works that reward energy, offering subtle yet compelling details that emerge with time.


Beatrice Mandelman, known to many as Bea, lived a life dedicated to art. Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1912, the young artist began her studies at Newark’s School of Fine and Industrial Arts, yet it was her connections to Louis Lozowick and Willem de Kooning that were likely even more influential in her early development. In 1924, when Mandelman was only twelve, it was Lozowick’s vast knowledge of Constructivism (gained from a four-year sojourn abroad) that ignited Mandelman’s sustained interest in the European avant-garde. De Kooning was equally significant. After meeting the recent émigré in the late 1920s, Mandelman became a regular in the artist’s studio, listening with rapt attention to his lively discussions with Arshile Gorky and others within the burgeoning New York art scene.

While the influence of their Modernist aesthetics would be felt decades later, Mandelman’s early works embraced the social realism brought on by the Great Depression. In 1935, she became one of the thousands of artists employed by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project, serving in its mural and graphic arts divisions. Mandelman’s impressive serigraphs from this period gained considerable attention and were presented at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.


In 1942, Mandelman married fellow artist Louis Ribak, a highly-regarded social realist painter. Two years later, despite the great success that each was having in New York, they decided to leave the growing metropolis. Ribak’s health counted among the reasons, as did the FBI. Indeed, Mandelman and Ribak had substantial ties to leftist publications and associations, leading to unwanted scrutiny by the federal government. In 1944, during a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the two artists ventured further to Taos and it was in this small town that they embraced a new life.

60 03_LR 1945ca photo Mildred Tolbert.jpg

Taos, while rugged and remote, had distinguished itself as a destination for artists since the late nineteenth century. The Taos Society of Artists was founded in 1915, and included academic figurative artists drawn to the Puebloan culture. The awe-inspiring nature of the landscape (and the pull of wealthy arts patron Mabel Dodge Luhan) had also drawn visitors like Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe. Mandelman and Ribak, meanwhile, emerged as the nexus of a new generation of artists—one who created an unexpected center of Modernism in the deserts of New Mexico.

Bea at swimming pool in Llano with cigarette (1) (1).jpg

Mandelman’s and Ribak’s evolution from social realism to abstraction was not immediate, but was underway by the late 1940s. This transition was spurred by Mandelman’s studies under Fernand Léger in Paris in 1948, as well as an influx of new ideas brought by the students attending Mandelman and Ribak’s Taos Valley Art School, which had opened in 1947. Their students, coming from the east and west coasts, shared the seminal developments of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Josef Albers, and others. By the 1950s, Taos had become home to numerous Modernists, Agnes Martin among them, and the group as a whole became known as the Taos Moderns. Mandelman and Ribak were integral in starting artist cooperatives and galleries that would support this growing community.


By the mid-1960s, many of the Taos Moderns had departed, but Mandelman and Ribak stayed. Their close ties to the landscape in Taos continued to subtly influence their particular inflection of Modernism, which strengthened and evolved over the following decades until Ribak’s death in 1979 and Mandelman’s in 1998. Their enduring legacy is one of dedication—to a place, to a visual language, and to one another.


Select Bibliography

Hobbs, Robert. Beatrice Mandelman: Taos Modernist. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Celebrating Women Left out of the History Books by Pat Mitchell


We all know that history is written by the victors. Nobody is sure which white man first said that, but it really doesn’t matter as the patriarchy has made sure its heroes have been prominently memorialized in the pages of newspapers and history books, and the walls of museums.

In the early 1990s, along with my VU Production partners, I was trying to convince TV network executives to produce a series on women’s contributions to the 20th century. We were turned down by all three — and there were only three networks at that time. Then someone suggested that I take the proposal to an unlikely television executive — Ted Turner. He had launched CNN, transformed the cable business and was married to Jane Fonda, but was not the first man I thought of for the project. But he asked exactly the right question: “Is this history in the history books?"

"Not much of it," I replied — and that, regrettably, is still true.

That’s all it took to convince Ted to green light the six-hour series, A Century of Women — women’s history from 1900-1992. We produced the series which was broadcast on TBS in 1994 and in many countries around the world. It became the first television series to be selected for the Schlesinger Library of Women's History video archive where it is easily accessed for research purposes by Harvard and Radcliffe students. But a lot has happened since 1994, and we are already nearly 20 years into the 21st century!

Throughout my media career, finding ways to engage the power of media to raise awareness of women's stories, accomplishments and challenges has been a central theme of my work, believing, as I do, that "we can’t be what we can’t see" and we can’t remember what was never recorded. 

This truth was revealed earlier this month when The New York Times published its “Overlooked” project. The idea was hatched after Amisha Padnani was hired as a digital editor at the obit desk and quickly realized in the course of her work that the obituary pages had long been dominated by men, especially white ones, since the paper’s inception in 1851.

Even in the 21st century, that dominance hasn’t abated. In the past two years, the ratio of obituaries about men and women was still 5 to 1. So, Padnani and Jessica Bennet, the Times first gender editor, spearheaded a project to write obituaries for women who had "left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked."

Among the 15 remarkable women in the inaugural collection are Ida B. Wells, Charlotte Bronte, Henrietta Lacks, Sylvia Plath and Marsha P. Johnson. Many were shocked that the deaths of the authors of enduring works like Jane Eyre and The Bell Jar passed unremarked by the editors of the Times.

The oversight is multiplied when you consider that there is no museum dedicated to the history of women in this country in our nation's capital. We have museums chronicling the history of everything from stamps to space to spies, but not one focused on the contributions of women to the making of America. 

unnamed (6).jpg

Last year, I was appointed by Leader Nancy Pelosi to a bi-partisan congressional commission to study the feasibility of building a national museum of women’s history and, after 18 months of exploration and research, we presented our findings and recommendations to Congress that an American Women’s History Museum is indeed feasible and necessary. 

Progress, yes, and last week, the Smithsonian announced a new women's initiative that charts a path forward to showcasing women in all the Smithsonian museums with special exhibits and women’s curators, and the goal, hopefully, of building a physical museum in Washington, DC, adding women's stories to the historically important museums documenting the history of Native Americans and African Americans. The women's initiative will officially launch in 2020 with exhibits celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendment.

unnamed (7).jpg

During this year’s Women’s History Month, I also wanted to share a personal story of another historical oversight with current relevance: artist Jann Haworth, who was erased from history herself, and now is devoting her art to ensuring other women in history are not forgotten. Jann was one of the co-creators of the iconic Beatles’ album cover, "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band," which turned 50 last year, and her collaborator and husband at the time, pop artist Peter Blake, is the one more remembered and celebrated for the cover.

“Looking back, I’m horrified that of 71 famous faces, the Beatles chose no women,” Haworth told the London Express last year. “Peter and I added only 12 women and three of those were Shirley Temple. The rest were pin-ups, mannequins or blondes such as Mae West and Diana Dors. If we made the cover today we would never have allowed such inequality."

unnamed (8).jpg

Haworth, 75, now lives in Sundance, Utah, where we first met and I first saw her “Work in Progress” mural — a collaboration with her daughter, artist Liberty Blake, and photographer Lynn Blodgett — that presents in a series of panels, an artistic interpretation of more than 250 women who helped shape the world through contributions in the arts, sciences and social justice activism.

Haworth tells me that she was inspired to create the mural after doing a comic strip in 2009. "It was called 'Mannequin Defectors' and in the last panel the mannequins were marching past a piece of street art that was a mural of notable women. I needed about 25 to 30 heads. I wanted women from all areas, not just the arts, not just American, not just white, etc. etc. and — I had a moment! I realized I didn't know MY history. That's when I thought, 'This should be an interactive art project to engage other women and men in discovering women's stories.'"

Liberty Blake explains her process at TEDWomen 2017

Liberty Blake explains her process at TEDWomen 2017

Jann Haworth talks with a participant in the TEDWomen Workshop

Jann Haworth talks with a participant in the TEDWomen Workshop

The mural is collaborative art in that people are invited to attend workshops where they choose a woman in history and with stencils and art materials, they create portraits which Liberty later incorporates into the larger mural. After seeing the process at the Salt Lake Art Museum, I invited Jann and Liberty to TEDWomen in San Francisco in 2016, and there, TEDWomen attendees selected women from TED’s history and created a new panel for the mural. Again in New Orleans in 2017, TEDWomen attendees eagerly contributed to the mural with more portraits. Over the past two-plus years, the mural has grown to nine panels measuring 56 feet showcasing over 250 portraits made by 200+ community members. Two new panels that will be collaged and added in April.

The mural is always growing. As Haworth says, “Complete? Never! That’s one of the two reasons it’s called ‘Work in Progress.’ The other is that it’s about progress.” As Haworth and Blake take the work to different cities, they hold workshops in which local community members are encouraged to nominate women for inclusion or choose from a list and create their own stencils as part of the project.

When I asked Haworth which were her favorite representations, she reeled off a list. “Bessie Smith, because of the woman who cut her image. Mata Hari, I read everything I could find about her and was deeply saddened by her tragedy. Ruth Bader GinsburgMother JonesVictoria WoodhullAngelica DassEve Ensler... Actually, this list doesn't stop.”

unnamed (13).jpg

Haworth says the workshops have been wonderful engines for discovery, with “young women discovering things and older women realizing how much they didn’t know. The format of the workshops is like a sewing circle. We've learned a lot about how when you are engaged in art making and the creative process — the stories come out.”

unnamed (12).jpg

Since premiering in 2016 at Utah MOCA, the mural has traveled to nearly 20 venues, including Washington, DC (for the first Women’s March and on Capitol Hill for the as part of the Commission's report to Congress proposing an American Women's History Museum), and it's been seen in galleries in Vienna and Paris and, this month, New York City.  Appropriately, Jann’s mural with its selected women from the past, will be exhibited at XXHouse, a project of two young women who, like Jann (and other artists, writers, composers, scientists, engineers and activists), are committed to celebrating women’s history as well as making it.

"A person with no stories has no history nor future," was one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings, and I believe it. That’s why I’m committed to getting women’s stories front and center at every opportunity, to promoting and advocating for women’s stories on television, in film, on the TEDWomen stage, and ultimately for a national women’s museum. We can’t all write a movie or play or create art but we can share our own stories and tell the stories of other women so that no woman’s story gets unreported or her death go unrecorded or her accomplishments assigned to someone else.

I challenge us all to discover a woman’s story we did not know and to celebrate her story by sharing it with others.

— Pat


Photos: "Work in Progress" mural; AWHM Congressional Commission members, from left, Mary Boies, Marilyn Musgrave, Kathy Wills Wright, Maria Socorro Pesqueira, Emily Rafferty, Bridget Bush, Jane Abraham and Pat Mitchell (Photo by Vincent Ricardel); ( l-r) Artist Jann Haworth, Diane Stewart, Pat Mitchell and Susan Cofer at Diane's gallery in Salt Lake City to view an exhibit by Jann about the Women's March; a panel from "Work in Progress"; another panel from "Work in Progress"; a TEDWomen workshop participant starts work on her contribution.