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 Miriam Schapiro  (1923 - )

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About: Miriam Schapiro
 

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Lived/Active: New York / Canada      Known for: collage, geometric image, sculpture

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Feminist* artist Miriam Schapiro was born in Toronto, Canada in 1923, growing up in Brooklyn, New York.  While in high school in New York City she studied at the Museum of Modern Art and the Federal Art Project*.  She studied at the State University of Iowa, receiving three degrees there: a B.A. in 1945, M.A. 1946, and M.F.A. in 1949.  She has taught at the State University of Iowa; Parsons School of Design, New York City; University of California, Berkeley; University of San Diego, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia; and the Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia.  Schapiro lives and works in New York City and East Hampton, Long Island, New York.

Schapiro found success early as a hard-edge geometric*-style painter and was categorized as a second-generation Abstract Expressionist*.  In 1962 she began to create "shrine paintings", which differed completely from previous works, these consisted of a mirror, a female symbol, a fragment of a great art work, and a crowning arch.  These feminist productions were followed by paintings relating to her own sexual life.  In her abstract illusionistic work, she often used the computer as a creative tool.

In 1972, she participated in "Womanhouse," a project involving many women artists who presented the arts and crafts of women (Schapiro's contribution was a doll house, each room symbolically built to represent her own female world).  Elise LaRose comments about "Womanhouse:" "A decade of personal and political struggle with feminist issues crystallized in (Schapiro's) pioneering and collaborative involvement. Co-directing, with Judy Chicago, the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, they started off the school year by involving their students in a project which would allow them to project all their dreams and fantasies by creating an exclusively female environment in an old house.  After renovating the house, they transformed it with performance and art works that dealt with specifically feminist issues.  They used this explorative process as a means of restructuring their identities as women artists in a patriarchal (art) world...

"Since then, Miriam Schapiro has been giving the history of women's 'covert' art a brightly lit showcase.  The once-tabooed scraps; sequins, buttons, threads, rick rack, spangles, yarn; silk, taffeta, cotton, burlap, and wool, were excavated from the musty attics and dredged from the dark closets of art history.  Now, they are assembled and coordinated with emotional and creative thought into 'femmages.'  Having taken embroidered upholstery out of the parlor, quilts off beds, clothing off hangers, scrapbooks out of trunks, and tapestries from beneath our feet, Schapiro re-educates us about a history of buried art, women's art."

After this project, she created paintings incorporating handkerchiefs, lace and other fabrics in metaphorical statements of liberation.  As the leading member of the Pattern and Decoration Movement (or P & D) of the mid '70s, Schapiro incorporated dress, costume, and decorative patterns into her art.  This art movement challenged traditional Western European art by featuring decorative patterns and textiles from other cultures such as Chinese, Indian, Islamic, and Mexican.  The use of textiles also served symbolically of feminine labor.  Schapiro's collages, or "femmages," as she sometimes calls them, included the needlework of other, perhaps long forgotten women.  Schapiro has attempted to break the barrier between art and craft by reintroducing pattern and decoration into the modernist art world.

"Femmage," stands for the female laborer's hand-sewn work (such as embroidery, quilting, cross-stitching, etc.) that rivals and precedes the "high-art" collage.  Her work, The Poet #2, combines pattern with painting.  Schapiro comments, "I felt that by making a large canvas magnificent in color, design, and proportion, filling it with fabrics and quilt blocks, I could raise a housewife's lowered consciousness."  Her involvement with consciousness-raising efforts, for which she traveled nationwide encouraging women to form support groups and emerge from isolation, earned her the nickname "Mimi Appleseed."  She continues to advocate the recognition of women in current art and art history.

Schapiro has received six honorary Doctorate degrees, Grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, a grant for artists in residency at Bellagio Study Center in  Bellagio, Italy; the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship;  the Djerassi Foundation Residency in Woodside, CA; Atlantic Center for the  Arts Residency - Master Class; a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship;  Ford Foundation Grant at Tamarind; the Honors Award, The Woman's Caucus for  Art; N.Y. State Teacher's Assn. Certificate of Recognition; N.Y. State NARAL,  25th Anniversary; a Yaddo Fellowship.

Some publications include:
Thalia Gouma Peterson. Shaping the Fragments of Art and Life. Abrams
Rosen, Randy and Brawer, Catherine. Making Their Mark; Women Artist Move Into the Mainstream, 1970-85. Abbeville Press, NY, 1989
Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists; from Early Times to the Present. Avon Books, NY, 1982
Gauma-Peterson, Thalia. "The Theater of Life an Illusion in Miram Schapiro's Recent Work." Arts Magazine, March 1986
Cummings, Paul. Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists, Fifth Edition. St. Martin's Press, NY, 1988
Emanuel, Muriel et al, eds. Contemporary Artists. St. Martin's Press/Macmillan, NY, 1983

Sources:
Les Krantz, American Artists, Illustrated Survey of Leading Contemporary Artists
http://www.artgallery.sbc.edu/highlights/schapiro.html
http://www.albany.edu/museum/wwwmuseum/crossing/artist25.htm
http://acg2.fullcoll.edu/artcollection/htmlPAGES/ArtistIndexHTML/schapiroBIO.htm
http://www.goshen.edu/art/DeptPgs/schapiro.htm

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