Subscribe to The Horn Book

Women in the visual arts

We’re commemorating Women’s History Month in typical Horn Book fashion — by highlighting great books! Last week we recommended books about groundbreaking women in STEM; here are some recent picture-book biographies (plus one memoir and one tribute anthology) of innovative female visual artists. Today brought some good news regarding women and art: it’s just been announced that Kristen Visbal’s “Fearless Girl” statue in NYC’s Financial District will remain there until next February, “asserting herself and affirming her strength even after her temporary permit expires — a fitting path for a girl who refuses to quit.”

For books and resources celebrating the achievements of women and girls, look for the hashtag #HBWomensHistory17 on Facebook and Twitter and here at For additional book recommendations on artists and art history, see the March/April 2017 edition of From the Guide: “Art Appreciation.” (Speaking of the March/April issue, how ’bout that gorgeous cover portrait of Charlotte Zolotow by Hawa Diallo?)

All of the following titles were recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide at the time of their publication; reviews are reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

blumenthal_fancy party gownsBlumenthal, Deborah  Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer 
Ann Cole Lowe
40 pp.     Little Bee     2017
Trade ISBN 978-1-4998-0239-9

Illustrated by Laura Freeman. Blumenthal and Freeman introduce readers to an African American woman designer whose work is known in the fashion world but may be new to others. As a young child, Ann learned dressmaking from her mother and grandmother. When her mother died suddenly, sixteen-year-old Ann steadfastly finished an order for ball gowns her mother had begun for the Alabama governor’s wife. Lowe proved to be an exceptionally talented dressmaker, eventually designing for some of America’s most powerful families, including the Kennedys — she designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding gown. Blumenthal’s text captures the designer’s resolve. Freeman fills the pages with a plethora of vivacious patterns and saturated colors, fitting for a book about a woman so gifted with fabric. Reading list.

ehlert_scraps bookEhlert, Lois  The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life
72 pp.     Simon/Beach Lane     2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-4424-3571-1
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4424-3572-8

In a generously illustrated picture book memoir, Ehlert speaks directly to her audience, particularly readers who like collecting objects and making things. The book is jam-packed with her art and photos from her life: her parents, the house she grew up in, and the small table where she was encouraged to pursue her art; along the way, we see how autobiographical her books have been.

kugler_in mary's gardenKügler, Tina and Kügler, Carson  In Mary’s Garden
32 pp.      Houghton     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-544-27220-0

As a girl, Mary Nohl “was happiest when her hands were busy making, building, creating things.” Later she returns to the Wisconsin lake house she’d helped her father build and begins a lifelong art project, erecting a menagerie of larger-than-life sculptures inspired by her world travels. Touches of whimsy reflect Mary’s outsized imagination; digital collages of scratchy, affectionate paintings mirror this sense of wonder. Bib.

Viva FridaMorales, Yuyi  Viva Frida
40 pp.      Roaring Brook/Porter     2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-59643-603-9

Photographs by Tim O’Meara. Morales initially shows Kahlo as a puppet: made from steel, polymer clay, and wool, three-dimensional figures are photographed and digitally manipulated inside double-page-spread collages. As we enter Kahlo’s mind, the medium changes to lush acrylics. The illustrations are accompanied by just a few words of text in both Spanish and English that leave readers with a dreamlike impression. An ingenious tour de force.

novesky_cloth lullabyNovesky, Amy  Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois
40 pp.      Abrams      2016
Trade ISBN 978-1-4197-1881-6

Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Bourgeois, who became most famous for her giant sculptures of spiders, also worked with textiles, and it’s at her family’s tapestry-restoration workshop in France, along a river “that wove like a wool thread through everything,” that the book begins. Novesky sews together the many themes of Bourgeois’s art and life into a spare yet lilting narrative. Arsenault’s mixed-media illustrations create stylistically and compositionally varied images.

Georgia in Hawaii by Amy NoveskyNovesky, Amy  Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased
32 pp.     Harcourt     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-15-205420-5

Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. In 1939, O’Keeffe was commissioned by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (later Dole) to tour Hawaii and create promotional paintings of the exotic fruit. But she fell in love with other features of the islands — volcanoes, tropical flora, rare coral — and stubbornly wouldn’t “be told what to paint.” Novesky’s lulling prose is matched by Morales’s elegant, paradisiacal acrylics inspired by O’Keeffe’s art. Reading list.

celebration of beatrix potterA Celebration of Beatrix Potter: Art and Letters by More than 
30 of Today’s Favorite Children’s 
Book Illustrators
112 pp.     Penguin/Warne     2017
Trade ISBN 978-0-241-24943-7

Thirty-two illustrators from Britain and the U.S. reveal their personal connections to Beatrix Potter’s stories, illustrating their reminiscences by portraying Potter’s characters in their own distinctive styles. Jon Agee’s Mr. McGregor, peering into the watering can in the potting shed as he searches for Peter, looks just like Milo in Milo’s Hat Trick (rev. 5/01). David Wiesner writes about Potter’s choice of footwear for the frog character Mr. Jeremy Fisher, then shows Jeremy floating on a lily pad, à la Tuesday. Given the patchwork nature of this compilation, the book’s design does a remarkable job tying it all together. In addition to the spread for each illustrator, there are nine excerpts from Potter’s books, each with introductory text setting the work in the context of Potter’s life at the time.

rosenstock_dorothea's eyesRosenstock, Barb  Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth
32 pp.     Boyds/Calkins     2016
Trade ISBN 978-1-62979-208-8

Illustrated by Gérard DuBois. From childhood struggles in the turn-of-the-twentieth-century NYC area (including contracting polio and being raised by a single mother) to her acclaim documenting Americans’ struggles during the Depression, Lange’s empathy is the emotional core of Rosenstock’s clipped present-tense narrative: “Dorothea sees with her eyes and her heart.” DuBois’s subdued acrylic and digital art aptly captures the era; six Lange photographs are appended. Reading list, timeline. Bib.

whitehead_art from her heartWhitehead, Kathy  Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter
32 pp.     Putnam     2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-399-24219-9

Illustrated by Shane W. Evans. A brief text, more impressionistic than fact-filled, introduces readers to the self-taught artist Clementine Hunter (1886–1988), who “didn’t wait” for perfect conditions in order to paint her memories of plantation life. Illustrator Evans’s canvas resembles the old boards on which Hunter sometimes painted, while the rich colors recall Hunter’s own palette. Author’s note. Bib.









Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind