By Jann Haynes Gilmore, PhD, AWA Board Member
Having spent more than a year now writing the thirty-plus year history of the American Women Artists, years 1991 through 2022, my chronological research started with our inaugural seven-year history at the Tucson Museum of Art in Arizona. For seven years, the emerging group of women artists who would become AWA, showed their work annually at this venue. There were tumultuous issues both within and without as the founders of AWA began to find their footing in a turbulent atmosphere. A dozen or so women artists left the museum’s annual show after 1994 because it focused solely on Western Art and they began to seek other national venues. For two years, the Tucson Museum of Art was forced to hold a Call-for-Entries show and finally ended with a return to an invitational show in 1997, the last year of the exhibitions known as Women Artists and the West Show and Sale. When we recall AWA’s origins we think most often of leaders such as Star Liana York, Joni Falk, and Donna Howell-Sickles but other women artists, mostly forgotten today, were critical to our creation and are focused on here.
A fitting way to celebrate our thirtieth anniversary has been the initiative by the Tucson Museum of Art to showcase these early 1990s exhibitions in a contemporary exhibition titled A Look Back: Works from the Women Artists and the West Show and Sale at the Tucson Museum of Art. The exhibition has been hung since August 19, 2021 and will end on August 21, 2022. The museum has described the exhibition and its purpose:
In 1990, the Tucson Museum of Art held an exhibition called Premavera: A
Celebration of Women in the Arts. The following year, the concept transformed
into the first Women Artists and the West Show and Sale. The series continued
until 1997, attracting artists throughout the American West. Every year, TMA
purchased a work for its permanent collection, expanding its holdings of women
artists of the American West. In addition, from this series, the American Women
Artists organization took root and ultimately became a national identity,
continuing to promote and exhibit women’s art throughout the country.
This museum announcement describes the current exhibition:
On view in A Look Back are examples of work from the art shows and are part of the collection. Some were purchased the year of the show or acquired later by private donations. These selections are displayed together in recognition of the impact the exhibitions had on the collections and the women artist community.
This announcement is illustrated by an artwork by Martha Saudek (b. 1932) who exhibited in the 1995 and 1996 exhibitions. Dated 1995, this oil on linen is titled Evening Storm and was purchased for the permanent collection of the Tucson Museum of Art in 1996 through the Clay/Lockett Fund.
I have been in contact with Christine Brindza, Senior Curator and the James and Louise Glassner Curator regarding this project. In a telephone interview, Brindza, the curator of the show, emphasized the purpose of this show to “highlight TMA’s early initiative to showcase women’s art in the early 1990.” At the time of our conversation, it had not been determined if there was a purchase prize fund established at the museum.
In addition to work by Martha Saudek from California, artwork by Suzanne Baker (b.1939), a California painter who exhibited at the Tucson Museum of Art exhibitions in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997 is hung in the current show. New Mexican artist, Louisa McElwain (1953-2013) exhibited at TMA in 1995 and 1996 and is featured in the show. McElwain’s modernist interpretations of the Western landscape are much sought today. Another Californian, Betty Saletta (b. 1941), exhibited at the TMA in 1995 and her work is also included. Oklahoman Barbara Vaupel (1939-2006) was a very active member of the emerging group of women artists who became American Women Artists, exhibiting in 1992 1993, 1994, and 1997, and her work is in the Tucson Museum of Art’s permanent collection. Finally, Linda Tippetts (b. 1943), from Montana, participated in the 1993 and 1996 exhibitions and her work is in the current show.
In the history of American Women Artists, I have applauded the Tucson Museum of Art and its local supporters for their early and rare commitment to support art by women as a singular topic in the early 1990s. AWA is proud that the museum has mounted this current exhibition that not only illustrates our genesis but also demonstrates how far our organization has come in the past thirty years.
- Christine Brindza, forwarded email to Jann Haynes Gilmore, July 30, 2021, Archives of American Women Artists; and telephone interview: Jann Haynes Gilmore to Senior Curator, Christine Brindza, Tucson Museum of Art, August 9, 2021.