Category Archives: women

American Cocktail


Women’s Review of Books 


Here’s a link to the first review, which is mine.

 An African American Prima Donna


 Reynolds at 16 on the cover of the NAACP magazine, The Crisis

American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World

By Anita Reynolds, with Howard Miller. Edited by George Hutchinson

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, 333 pp. $29.95, hardcover

Reviewed by Marilyn Richardson

AnitaReynoldsAnita Reynolds, born in 1901 in Chicago, came of age in Los Angeles, California, during the heyday of silent films. She was a smart, clever, and vivacious teenager, who, as she says, early on “relished the role of prima donna.” She and her brother, Sumner, were encouraged in their interest in the arts by their exuberant family, both the bevy of kinfolk in California and the numerous far-flung peripatetic relatives who circled back to visit from time to time. School dropouts and Harvard graduates, their professions ranged from mail sorter at a post office to well-placed member of the foreign service…


Reynolds models a Chanel gown, 1938 


Wellesley Centers for Women Women’s Review of Books | Women’s Review of Books | Publications


Late Summer Rant

angryWe just do not have the margin to lose so much capability to bigotry. If you have a debilitating ailment, you want all capable hands on deck working to figure it out, to stop it in its devastating tracks.  If you have engineering problems to solve, you want all the interested trained minds drawn to excellent solutions. We need the arts to connect us to our selves and our world, ink for every writer, paints for every painter, an instrument for every musician, teachers to get them launched in the directions they are feeling for in the first light.

What is it in us that acts so persistently against our own best interests? All those centuries when women were labeled intellectually inferior to men — and that’s all it was, a pernicious label. All the fathers, all the brothers of the world knew their mothers, sisters and wives to be as intelligent, as capable, as creative, imaginative, visionary, rigorous, curious, dedicated, as they themselves were at any task to which they set their hands. But women were systematically barred from realms of opportunity. Medical school, law school, the doors were closed. Teaching, perhaps, but only until marriage. Consider the cruelty of that choice.

And consider the bizarre rationales that carried the day. The female brain was smaller than the male. The female physical constitution was was too fragile, the world was a series of hierarchical categories, and functioned best when everyone knew and occupied their ordained places therein. One half of all human brain-power was denied access to the tools and forums turned to the alleviation of human suffering.

Over the centuries, women, worldwide, have made their way forward against opposition even unto death. There are women in politics, far too few, women in science, far too few, women in the arts, far too few, and on and on. And because  millions of young girls, worldwide, are not actively encouraged, educated, incorporated into the great enterprise of improving the human condition, how far behind are we in all of the areas in which their brainpower would have made a difference? The idea of male superiority has inevitably slowed human progress.

In the United States, and elsewhere, the brutally imposed fantasy of white superiority truncates the physical, mental, and spiritual lives of us all. The massive potential in black and brown babies born every day is denied at their birth, their intellect pronounced nonexistent. How did we develop societies that work so hard, so deliberately, to smother human capacity? What is the perverse gratification beyond the exercise of brute force, capricious discrimination, and the establishment of misinformation, that chooses dehumanization over survival?

We have chosen fear over cooperation and progress. And yes, it is a choice. A choice  imposed by political, religious, and other forms of manipulation, pitting groups against each other; for profit, out of ill-informed belief, for control. And it is always the case that the more fearful those who feel themselves marginally holding the upper hand become, the more brutal and suppressive they become. Fear, indeed terror, active and passive, is an enemy of  reason. Fight or flight translates into stop and frisk, lock them up, stand your ground, and keep “them” penned in over there. While “we” are penned in over here; in much nicer pens, of course.

Because it is obvious, although not spoken, among the powerful, that superiority based upon force, and upon fantasies of inferiority is illegitimate and cannot last, those in power live for the moment, for their lifetime, not for the future, not even, these days, for the future of their own children and grandchildren. Perhaps this is a recurring historic pattern, possible because of the annihilation of genuine education at almost all levels. Perhaps we are moving toward a neo-feudalism in the West and even beyond.

Perhaps, even here, violent revolution, in a form we cannot yet perceive, is inevitable, leading to a great correction, a new formulation of democracy. The absence of primary and secondary education except for the privileged few, the vast expense of higher education, the systematic dismantling of human and civic rights, the rise of mindless and deadly “solutions” such as a heavily armed citizenry, all lead to enraged, armed camps. Camps impervious to rational thought, and dependent upon narrower and narrower definitions of humanity.

When powerful white men  reject basic scientific method and allow their own physical environment to deteriorate, when worldwide, religious fundamentalists share the belief that this  life can, and even should, be sacrificed for a greater one to come, when our supremacists in power not only incarcerate millions of harmless people of color, and work to disenfranchise as many others as they can, but also work to compromise the reproductive health of their own mothers, wives and daughters, what is this but the shadow cast by the threshold of a new Dark Age?


Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King

He did not die for Mitt Romney to become president, dammit!

International Women’s History Month

Auction of Edmonia Lewis’s MINNEHAHA

COWAN’S AUCTION: 2009, Winter Fine and Decorative Art, February 7

Sale Price Including Buyer’s Premium: $52,875.00


Marble bust atop marble base, standing 11 5/8″ tall. With Minnehaha inscribed between figure and base, and Edmonia Lewis/ Fecit A Roma/ 1868 on reverse side. 

Born near Albany, New York, (Mary) Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1842 – after 1909) was the daughter of an Ojibway mother and a black, West Indian, father. Following studies at New York Central College in McGrawville, and at Oberlin College, she arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, in early 1863. There, under the patronage of abolitionists Lydia Maria Child, William Cooper Nell, and William Lloyd Garrison among others, she studied with the sculptor Edward Brackett.

Lewis rented space in the Studio Building in downtown Boston and quickly established herself as an artist on the rise, specializing in plaster and marble portrait busts and medallions. Her reputation was enhanced by the success of her bust of the fallen Brahmin Civil War hero, Robert Gould Shaw. With funds from the sale of copies of that work and of other pieces she sailed for Europe in the summer of 1865. Following a stay in Florence, Lewis settled in Rome where she lived for the rest of her professional life, making frequent trips to the United States to exhibit and sell her work and to garner new commissions.

Lewis’s Roman studio was listed along with those of other major artists of the day in all of the best guidebooks. Her career was followed closely by the American and European press, and she quickly became the first non-white American to gain an international reputation as a sculptor. Along with portrait busts of friends and public figures, her more ambitious early work referenced her dual heritage with themes of black emancipation and of Native American life and lore. In the latter instance she produced a body of work based upon Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha (1855), the single best-selling poem in the English language of the entire 19th-century. Savvy collectors and curious tourists alike flocked to Lewis’s studio to purchase this work with its added cachet of coming from the hand of an artist who was herself part Indian.

It was not uncommon for sculptors of successful larger works to excerpt a detail of such pieces in the form of a bust sold independently; most notably, Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave was offered in both versions. Given her friendship with Powers, Lewis would have recognized the wisdom of that practice. Her elaborate group, The Old Arrowmaker and His Daughter (also known as The Wooing of Hiawatha), and the standing couple in her Marriage of Hiawatha, provided the models for her busts of Minnehaha and Hiawatha with the subject’s name inscribed on the lower front atop the base. To date there are five known signed and dated copies of Lewis’s Minnehaha bust housed in public and private collections. This previously unknown example adds another to that number.

The mythic love story of Hiawatha and Minnehaha was well known. Still, in depicting the Indian maiden, Lewis walked a cautious line between creating a chaste child of the forest and perpetuating stereotypes of morally naïve savages. While Minnehaha wears an animal pelt, unlike the conventional depictions of such clothing at that period – – often draped over one shoulder with an exposed breast emphasizing a partially clothed life in the wild, hers is fashioned into a modest garment accented with graduated beads at her neck.

Lewis’s characteristic interest in the play of pattern and texture is evident in the pelt bodice framed on one side by the smooth flesh of a bare shoulder, and on the other by the weight and folds of the fabric of the blanket draped across the opposite shoulder. The beads suggest worked stone or bone; the headband is likely a strip of leather. They pose a contrast to the softness of the billowing flow of wavy hair and to the lightness of the elegant sweep and fall of the crowning feather. This is a small work with a considerable aesthetic and narrative burden. Within her persona, Lewis’sMinnehaha is designed to evoke the ambience of an untamed wilderness, the innocence of first love, and the nobility of a tragic figure caught in the inevitability of a sealed fate.

For most of the latter part of the 19th century these small marbles by Edmonia Lewis were highly prized; one example of her bust of Minnehaha was displayed at the National Academy of Design as early as 1868. Beginning in the 1990s they have begun to return to an increasingly avid market.

mr-feb09wr  We would like to thank Edmonia Lewis scholar Marilyn    Richardson for the catalogue essay. She is the Principal of  Art  + History Consultants, a  research and design group in  Watertown, MA. The technical description  and condition  report were provided by Cowan’s Auctions. 

Condition: The bust was once painted white, and this residue can still be seen in areas. It has mostly worn to again expose the marble as it would have been after execution. The paint was applied several decades ago. Two natural veins in the marble extend both across the face and the neck/chest, each visible on the reverse side. A small loss is apparent above the Fecit A Romainscription on verso.

(EST $20000-$30000)

and in the same sale: