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 Sara Provan  (1917 - 1993)

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Lived/Active: New York/New Jersey/Massachusetts      Known for: still life and landscape painting, textile design

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Sara Provan
An example of work by Sara Provan
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Sara Plishner Provan was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1917.  She began painting as a child, a passion she pursued in her hometown at Julia Richman High School, Textile High School, the National Academy, the Art Students League, and Columbia University.  While at Columbia she studied with Peppino Mangravite, who encouraged her to apply to the Cooper Union School of Art in New York, from which she received a certificate with distinction in painting in 1938.*

Following graduation Sara was admitted to the Black Mountain College in Asheville, NC.  But, because her father's food business collapsed during the Depression, Sara had to turn down this invitation in order to work and contribute to her family's income.

Sara continued painting and designing textiles and was active in the New York art scene, exhibiting in many museums, shows, and galleries where she continued to gain recognition.

She was first recognized as a painter of national stature as a result of being awarded honorable mention in the exhibition of contemporary American painting (later renamed American Painting Today exhibition) held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1950.  She was lauded as a promising young artist  in an interview by Dave Garroway on the "Today Show," as well as in a number of articles in newspapers and in popular magazines.   Following this, she exhibited in many solo and group shows and her work was acquired by many art institutions.  She was a member of a team of artists, that included Joe Bascom and Matt Kahn, who designed textiles for the design-aware commercial company Konwiser, a producer of high-quality, screen-printed textiles in the 50s. She also designed textiles for Jack Lenor Larsen textile company.

After she married and while she brought up her two children, Sara moved to New Jersey, where she continued to create art, as well as joining the Fine Arts faculty at Monmouth College (now Monmouth University) in West Long Branch, NJ (1960-1970), where she taught painting, design, and composition. She also served as a judge in art exhibitions, curated design exhibits and was active in arts organizations.

Sara's art evolved continually throughout her life. While remaining close to her roots in abstract expressionism, she explored other styles and many media.  The orderly, formal compositions that characterized her work during her New York and New Jersey years gave way to a period of freer brush- and palette-work in abstract landscapes,  and even some experimenting in figurative painting.  She created an extensive series of monotypes that evoke landscapes and reveal her affinity for Chinese and Japanese aesthetics.  She incorporated collage, three-dimensional sculptural work, ink painting on scrolls, crayon, and other media into her work.

Sara and her husband David retired to a farm in northern Massachusetts in 1973, where she continued to paint, inspired by the rugged rural landscape.  After David died in 1982, Sara moved to Northampton, MA, where she taught art at a widow's support group and served as an expert docent at the Smith College Museum of Art, while focusing on her own art work. Sara died in February of 1993 at the age of 75.

(*Cooper Union did not grant degrees until the 1970s.  When they did, Sara put together a full justification package showing significant and ongoing work in her field - which CU required to grant degrees retrospectively - and was granted a B.A. in 1975.)

Solo Exhibitions:
Castellane Gallery, NYC
Georgia Court College, Lakewood, NJ (1968)
Hacker Gallery, NYC
Harrison Blum Gallery, NYC (1960)
Monmouth College, West Long Branch, NJ (1960, 1961, 1962)
Old Mill Gallery, Tinton Falls, NJ (1957, 1958)

Group Exhibitions:        
Artists Equity Association, NY
Butler Art Institute, OH
Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, PA
Columbus Museum of Fine Arts, GA
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian, NYC
Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, Detroit, MI
Dickinson College, PA
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Galerie Lutz & Meyer, Stuttgart, Germany
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, NJ
Konwiser Collection, Museum of Modern Art's Good Design Exhibition (1951)
Laurel Gallery, NYC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Montclair Museum, Montclair, NJ
Mt. Holyoke, Mt. Holyoke, NY
Museum of Modern Art, NYC
National Academy Annual Exhibition, NYC
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ (New Jersey 1964 Tercentenary Gold Medal)
Pennsylvania Academy, Philadelphia, PA
Texas State College, Denton, TX                      
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL (1953)
University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, England
Wells College, Aurora, NY      
Whitney Museum, NYC

Special Awards
American Artists Professional League Grand National Exhibition, NYC (2nd prize, 1959)
Artists Equity Association, NYC (2nd prize, 1952)
Cooper Union School of Art, NYC (painter's award for two consecutive years)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC (Honorable Mention American Painting, "Bird, Fish, Fruit," 1950)
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ (Honorable Mention American Painting, 1959)
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ (New Jersey 1964 Tercentenary Gold Medal)
Red Bank Art Festival, Red Bank, NJ (1st prize, 1960; 2nd prize, 1959)

Print Design:
American Institute of Decorators Home Furnishings (Honorable mention, fabric design for "Capriccio")
Akron Art Institute, Akron, OH
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Cooper Union Museum, NYC
Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC (Good design award, wallpaper design for "Largo")
Museum of Modern Art, NYC
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, England

American Artist, February, 1951, p. 32
Art Digest:
December 1, 1950, Paul Bird
March 15, 1951, B.K.
June, 1952
Art News:
March, 1951, B.H.
June, 1952, L.C.
January, 1954
January, 1960
Art Review, June 19, 1952, Voice of America Italia, M. Maestro
Asbury Park Press (New Jersey)
June 8, 1959
September 22, 1960
Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 1952, Dorothy Grafly
La Revue Modérne, February 18, 1958, Des Artistes et de la Vie
Long Branch Daily Record (NJ), November 11, 1963, José Peña
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 9, No. 6 (Feb., 1951), A Report on American Painting Today: 1950, Robert Beverly Hale, pp. 162-172
New Jersey Music and Arts
September, 1959
December, 1959
New York Herald Tribune
March 23, 1951, Carlyle Burrows
December 6, 1956, Carlyle Burrows
New York Sunday Mirror, March 9, 1952
New York Times:
December 6, 1950, Samha Knox
March 17, 1951
May 2, 1952
May 25, 1952
August 31, 1952
November 29, 1959
January 10, 1960, p.82
January 17, 1960
January 24, 1960
April 8, 1962
October 19, 1962, Howard Devree
June 30, 1963
Newark Sunday News, April 22, 1962, Michael Lenson, p. W12
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 16, 1952, Jeanette Jena, p. 12
Red Bank Daily Register (NJ)
January 8, 1962
November 4, 1963
November 26, 1965
November 14, 1968, Eleanor Marko
Town and Village
January 18, 1951
June 5, 1953, Dave Dorio, p. 10

Information provided by the artist's daughter-in-law, Jill Provan.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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