Highlights from the Permanent Collection
January 29 to June 28, 2015

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1915, Elizabeth Catlett became the first student to receive

a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History in

1940. Highly influenced by the ideas of Grant Wood, who prodded his pupils to work

with subjects they knew best, Catlett decided to focus her work on the lives of African

Americans, and particularly women. In addition, she also studied ceramics at the Art

Institute of Chicago, lithography at the Art Students League of New York, and

sculpture with Ossip Zadkine, a cubist artist deeply influenced by African art. In the late

1940s Catlett moved to Mexico, where she worked closely with artists associated with

the Taller de Gráfica Popular, the famed printmaking workshop that used art to effect

social change. There she met fellow artist Francisco Mora, who became her husband in

1947, and over the following decades the couple shared their time between Mexico and

the United States.

 

Elizabeth Catlett is a key figure in continuing the tradition of connecting the public to

artwork that explores and displays acute attention to detail, technique, and formal

qualities while also exposing the social, economic, and racial issues of our time.

Her inclination for multiple forms of expression—sculpture, painting, and

printmaking—is reflected in the broad conceptual scope of her art and its relationship to

art history. Artists that have played a part in Catlett’s personal artistic development

include Spanish painter and engraver Francisco Goya, who explored the calamities of

war and the corruption of the elite; Chicago born Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt,

who powerfully represented the work of women in domestic settings; and German

expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz.