Women Own Their Artistry

Women Own Their Artistry

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of John Moran.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  Anais Nin

With few exceptions up until the 1960s women artists received almost no recognition.  For centuries women were systematically excluded from the records of art history and considered to be inferior artists simply because they were females. 

The state of female artists is very good. But the very definition of art has been biased in that ‘art’ was what men did in the European tradition and ‘crafts’ were what women and natives did.  But it’s actually all the same.
— Gloria Steinem

In truth women have always been artists so it has not been an easy stereotype to overcome. It has taken courage and perseverance. 

Thankfully, times change.  According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 51 per cent of visual artists today are women.  But when it comes to exhibitions and gallery representation that number drops significantly.

Susan Hertel is a female who defied the odds. Her work has been widely exhibited and collected in the Southwest. 

Susan painted what she knew and opened up her world for us to walk inside and experience too.  Her five kids, dogs, cats, Arabian horses, Nubian goats, and chickens--these are the subjects she brings into our world.

The artist grew up in Highland Park, Ill., in the 1930s and her childhood sketchbooks were full of horses. In 1948 she studied drawing, painting and sculpture at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. 

On a trip to Europe in 1955 she saw her first Bonnards in Paris.

“Here was a painter who organized shapes and patterns in a way that was completely compelling to me,” she said.  “His subjects were from his own personal environment.”

Susan realized that’s what she wanted to do with her art too.  She used photographs of her family and pets as a starting point for her oil paintings. Her intention was to paint the magic inherent in the everyday, ordinary stuff of life, the stuff we often overlook.

“To me, that’s what a painting can do, if it wants to, when it works,” she said.  “It can take that magical complexity and lead it into an inevitable, unquestionable simplicity and array the spirit.  That’s what I’m working towards.”

Through the poems she wrote and the works of art she painted Susan made it possible for us to see the magic in the mundane.  She made us stop and pay attention to the horses grazing in the snow, the dogs eating from their bowls and the cats napping on the bed.  Her attention to the moment was charming. Serene.

“I just don’t want any figure (in her art) to dominate,” she said.  “It’s a feeling of being part of the universe.  Equal weight in every element.”

Her works of art reveal how much pleasure she took in the simple things of life.

Susan died of cancer at her home near Cerrillos, New Mexico in 1993. A few days before her death her favorite horse Santo visited her bedroom for one final reunion.  

“The state of female artists is very good,” activist Gloria Steinem said. “But the very definition of art has been biased in that ‘art’ was what men did in the European tradition and ‘crafts’ were what women and natives did.  But it’s actually all the same.”  

On Oct. 24, 2018, an oil on canvas by Susan Hertel went on the block at John Moran Auctioneers.  The interior scene depicting a woman and her dogs sold for $21,250.

Here are some current values for other works of art by women sold in the auction.

Women in Art

Marion Kavanagh Wachtel; Ojai Valley; watercolor on paper; signed; 11 ½ inches by 15 ¾ inches;  $7,500.

Ethel V, Ashton; Park; oil on canvas; signed; 25 ¼ inches by 30 inches;  $8,125.

Kathryn W. Leighton; The Young Chief; oil on canvas; signed; 44 ¼ inches by 36 inches;  $22,500.

Alice Rahon; Boite a Musique III; oil on canvas; signed; 10 inches by 12 inches;  $23,750. 

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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