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 Fannie Hillsmith  (1911 - 2007)

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Lived/Active: New York/New Hampshire/Massachusetts      Known for: cubist painting, collage, printmaking

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Ad Code: 3
Fannie Hillsmith
from Auction House Records.
The Tureen
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Cubist painter, printmaker, assemblagist and collagist Fannie Hillsmith was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1911 of an old New England family.  Her extensive and varied art educational experiences include the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts (her grandfather, Frank Hill Smith, was one of its founders) from 1930 to 1934. S he studied in New York City at the Art Students League on scholarslhip in 1934 and 1935 with John Sloan, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Alexander Brook and William Zorach.

But it was through avant-garde work exhibited at the Gallery of Living Art, and artist Vaclav Vytlacil, also teaching at the League, that she first encountered modernist ideas, and was influenced by Paul Klee.  Ten years later, she worked at printmaker Stanley William Hayter's New York City Atelier 17 from 1946 to 1950 alongside modernists Yves Tanguy, Joan Miro and Jacques Lipchitz.

The artist herself taught for many years at the University of Illinois in Champaign, as well as in 1945 at a Black Mountain College summer session at the invitation of abstractionist Josef Albers.  She lived in New York City, summering in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

Hillsmith continued her association with artistic heavyweights in New York City in the 1940s.  Her first one-person exhibition was held at Jimmy Ernst's Norlyst Gallery in 1943 (Ernst, an artist himself and the son of Surrealist painter Max Ernst).  She exhibited with the major Abstract Expressionists-to-be, including Jackson Pollock, in 1944 at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery, receiving positive reviews from critic Clement Greenberg.  In the same year, art dealer Sidney Janis, influential in building the reputations of the Abstract-Expressionist painters, included Hillsmith in his book, Abstract and Surrealist Art in America, which, needless to say, was of great importance in the furthering of her career.

Her work evolved to influences by Cubist Juan Gris in the 50s, and Surrealist dreams and nostalgia by the 60s.  In the latter decade, into the 1970s and thereafter, Hillsmith began making boxes, assemblages and constructions, an idea evolving from World War II toys and jewelry she made to earn money.  The boxes, with mirrors and transparent walls, contain tiny ceramic furniture like dollhouses.

Hillsmith worked a year in Europe after receiving the Boston Museum School's Alumni Traveling Scholarship in 1958.  Among other of Hillsmith's prizes are those garnered at the Boston Arts Festival in 1957 and 1963; the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art in 1958; and the 29th Illinois Invitational Exhibition n 1976.

Other exhibitions include, in Boston, the Swetzoff Gallery in 1949, 1950, 1954, 1957 and 1963; the Charles Egan Gallery in 1949 and 1954; and the Boston Arts Festival from 1950 to 1954, and 1956 to 1963. In 1950, she also exhibited at the Santa Barbara (California) Museum of Art, and Colby College in Waterville, Maine. In 1971, Hillsmith had a retrospective exhibition at the Brockton (Massachusetts) Museum, and in 1972, showed at Rhode Island's Bristol Museum.

Hillsmith died in Jaffrey, New Hampshire at age 96 on July 27, 2007.

Fannie Hillsmith's work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan; DeWaters Art Institute, Flint, Michigan; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana; Illinois Art Museum, Springfield; and Decatur Art Museum, Illinois.

Jules and Nancy Heller, North American Women Artists of the 20th Century
Robert Smith, "Fannie Hillsmith, 96, Distinctly American Cubist", The New York Times, August 4, 2007, B10-Obituaries

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