NMWA Committee Invites League to Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today

The JLW National Museum of Women in the Arts Committee is excited to share the museum’s current special exhibition, “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today.” The pieces exhibited are created with textiles, ceramics and metals. Women artists fifty years ago and today use those materials to elevate what were once categorized as women’s crafts to fine art pieces.

The 1950s were an important time in the history of women artists. Female artists achieved great success at a time when men were dominating the traditional artistic fields of painting, sculpture and architecture. In 1949, Anni Albers, a German-American artist who trained at the Bauhaus school with her husband, had the first one-person show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. The exhibition toured the U.S. for three years, establishing Albers as one of the most famous female artists of the day. Her textiles are on display in Pathmakers.

Left: Anni Albers; Right: Tikal Rug, 1958 by Anni Albers on view at Pathmakers

In addition to the groundbreaking Albers show in 1949, MoMA continued to support the growth of female artists. From 1946-56, MoMa collected more women artist created pieces than ever before or since.

The legacy of Albers, and other midcentury artists featured in Pathmakers, is conveyed through the second act of the exhibition that presents works from contemporary female artists and designers. Female artists reflect and expand upon the work of the earlier generation. An entire gallery in the Pathmakers exhibition at NMWA is dedicated to Polly Apfelbaum’s “Handweaver’s Pattern Book.”

Apfelbaum has hung nearly 50 synthetic silk velvet panels covered in tiny dot patterns created with a simple tool—the basic magic marker. The piece’s title comes from a 1944 how-to book for weavers by Marguerite P. Davison. Mechanized weaving was made possible by punch card patterns fed into the machine and threatened the time-honored tradition of craft weavers. Apfelbaum’s work ties together the central theme of Pathmakers in a colorful array—women elevating traditional craft into fine art in the face of modernization.

Handweaver’s Pattern Book, 2014, by Polly Apfelbaum on view at Pathmakers

NMWA was incorporated as a private, nonprofit museum in 1981, opening its doors to the public in its current location on New York Avenue in 1987; NMWA is the only museum in the world whose sole focus is on celebrating the accomplishments of female artists. The Junior League of Washington has been associated with NMWA since 1983; today, 24 women from the League serve as visitor experience volunteers, staffing the information desk, leading conversation-piece discussions and tours, and supporting the museum at a variety of events.

Please contact NMWA Committee Chair, Lori Vitelozzi, at lori@rcn.com with any questions about the committee.