Christina Weyl's important book, Women of Atelier 17 marked a timely reexamination of the experimental New York print studio Atelier 17, focusing on the women whose work defied gender norms through novel aesthetic forms and techniques. Atelier 17 operated as an uncommonly egalitarian laboratory for revolutionizing print technique, style, and scale. It facilitated women artists' engagement with modernist styles, providing a forum for extraordinary achievements that shaped postwar sculpture, fiber art, neo-Dadaism, and the Pattern and Decoration movement. Atelier 17 fostered solidarity among women pursuing modernist forms of expression, inspiring feminist collective action in the 1960s and 1970s.
Beginning in the 1930s, American women artists gravitated toward making prints, partly because the medium provided forms of access and agency not as readily available within painting and sculpture. Working in a range of styles, they studied at various print studios—including independent outfits and university classrooms—and exhibited their work in the era's countless print annuals. At a time when women struggled against structural sexism to earn solo exhibitions at top-tier galleries, these group print shows offered women artists a rare opportunity to garner critical notice. Women's participation in the midcentury printmaking community also had a significant collective impact. Through these networks, women met others with professional ambitions, compared notes about their struggles, and formed a sense of solidarity as marginalized members of the art community. In this way, women's involvement with printmaking at midcentury fostered a range of proto-feminist attitudes and practices, such as collaboration, network building, and collegial support.
Our exhibition shows a range of styles and approaches: Edith Fletcher, Lil Michaelis, Alicia Bell Legg, and Norma Morgan were keen observers of the natural world. Anita De Caro, Catherine Yarrow, Buffy Johnson, Helen Phillips, Hope Manchester, Francine Felsenthal, Kett, Barbara Neustadt found an affinity with the Surrealist movement in response to the turbulent political and social crisis of the 1930s and 1940s. Minna Citron, Worden Day, Terry Haass, Anne Ryan, Alice Trumbull Mason, Louise Nevelson, Shirley Witebsky, Pennerton West, Jean Morrison, Sheri Martinelli, Perle Fine, Sue Fuller, and Fayga Ostrower demonstrate an awareness of the American Abstract Artist group and Abstract Expressionists in prints and works on paper that exploit the chosen materials and process as part of the content of their works. Atelier 17 in Paris from 1927 and 1940-1955 in New York provided a platform for women to establish themselves in the greater art-making and exhibiting community when very few opportunities existed. Atelier 17 reopened in 1950 as post-war life in Paris resumed. Women artists flocked to both studios from North and South America, Europe, and Asia. The impact of those years is still being revealed, and we delight in sharing this story of discovery.
With thanks to Christina Weyl, author of Women of Atelier 17 Modernist Printmaking in Midcentury New York.