Sheila L de Bretteville
Sheila Levrant de Bretteville created the first Women’s Design program at Cal Arts in 1971 and became the first tenured professor and director of studies in graphic design at Yale University School of Art in 1991. During the two decades between she pioneered a new form of graphic designer-historian on both coasts of the United States and most recently in Russia. Through her deep research into the neighborhoods where her works are sited, her respect for the everyday life and memories of a community, de Bretteville has produced more than a dozen projects that are significant and sustain their local populations. For having authored and designed innovative and feminist print graphics, as well as creating more than a dozen aesthetically rich, metaphoric projects embedding typography and images in the material fabric of public sites—sidewalks, stairways, railings, light fixtures, stairs—her work was featured in the Cooper Hewitt’s 2000 Triennial and she was awarded the golden medal for leadership by The American Institute of Graphic Arts in 2005.
Feminist Artist Statement
I am a feminist who believes there are many more ways to be a woman and to make feminist art than have been acknowledged. I believe that we should still be questioning the category named woman much like the way I questioned the meaning of the color pink. Neither pink nor ‘woman’ belong only to those designated female at birth. Nor do women have yet equal respect and opportunity without acting in the narrow format that is required still of most men. Additionally I suggest that women do and are part of as much evil as good acts that have occurred and keep happening.
And at the same time, I look back with the warmest admiration for sisterhood before and blossoming in the late 60’s early 70’s and 80’s in LA—perhaps with somewhat pinky, rosy glasses. I continue to feel a nourishing pleasure when among those gutsy women who came to make artwork at the Los Angeles Woman’s Building, publish in the early issues of our feminist journal Chrysalis and continue to marvel at our idealistic notions of how women entering places from which we have been excluded could make the world a more egalitarian and caring place. Those conversations in consciousness- raising groups and so often when we got together to talk with one another were permeated with riveting attentiveness, mutual respect, equality despite differences. And if that equal balancing of contributions I found in those conversations were the model for relationships in the world we live in, perhaps our world would not be so lacking in acceptance of one another as it appears to be right now.
Biddy Mason lived at this downtown Los Angeles site where a new parking garage was to be built. Betye Saar and I both did projects at this site, sponsored by CRA/LA and power of Place. I chose the external wall mid block as that part of the wall would be visible from Spring Street so that all could see we were honoring Biddy Mason here. With images and texts I interwove her history and that of the city in which she gained her freedom and contributed her skills with a generous open hand. Betye Saar honored that generosity of and open hand in her public piece at this site.
Los Angeles, CA.
The oldest street in downtown Los Angeles was designated an historic site yet its history was hidden. Attracting passersby, the entire length of new sidewalk has a time line along the doorways of the buildings. Brass and steel texts deliver some of the uses of the buildings and historic events that shaped this community’s experience. Below the time line, nine images of wrapped objects metaphors suggested by research and conversations with those who lived and worked here. Gaps evoke presence and absence, color reflects the narrow building plots, the five golden decades, and the egregious events and changes at this site during the decade around WWII.
CRA/LA. Los Angeles, CA.
Along the hallway that leads to the legislature in the 18th century Massachusetts State House, six women are the first to be honored by an artwork. It seemed most appropriate to me when I was asked to make a proposal that I ask another woman to work together with me. Susan Sellers and I decided that since all the men were represented by marble or bronze likenesses and in a dignified manner, we would represent these women using the same materials, presenting their likeness at eye level. From the domestic sphere we introduced wallpaper, the pattern made of the laws they worked to change. Their activism is expressed in their own words. Six women, six characters in the title of our piece of work:
H E A R U S
After being shown two sites, I chose to create a new, stable and evocative concrete threshold to the old tower and worked with the help of an expert interpreter and a dozen students to complete this project in only 4 days. Due to time limitations I decided to make only the first letter and the punctuation of the texts we had written, and then happily realized that this formed an invitation to all to enter the process of signification at the threshold. The lost letters - effaced by history like the tower - are nevertheless clear to the initiated who chalked in the words at the opening ceremonies.
Kendal Henry Arts consultant, CEC ArtsLink with Art-in-Pro. Ekaterinburg, Russia.
A large, new public library building replaced a storefront library in a neighborhood of diverse and new immigrant groups who had little experience of public libraries. I chose a metaphor shared by immigration and library use—looking for something you do not have at home and titles of essays, classic epics, poems and folk tales found through talking with many members of the diverse communities familiar to each of those communities. Over 30 titles etched into the 7 front tentrance steps with ample space between indicate there is always room for more. NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs. Completed April 1998. Flushing, Queens.
To add warmth to a stark white and blue striped entry, saffron colored paint, replacement of two lines of white tiles with a continuous mosaic and ceramic frieze, constructing a ceramic faced box around a pole for support.Text tiles in a kente cloth-like frieze contain writing and quotes from the first to most recent graduating class in this New Haven’s oldest high school.
Text, images, audio, and/or video in the Feminist Art Base are copyrighted by the contributing artists unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.