OUR ARTISTS OF INSPIRATION
Each quarter, the Delaplaine designates a different Artist of Inspiration to inspire artists and the art-curious in the community, and to provide a focus for our educational outreach programs.
Christo & Jeanne-Claude
Christo Vladimirov Javacheff (1935–2020) and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (1935–2009)—often known simply as Christo and Jeanne-Claude—were artists whose immense site-specific environmental installations captured the public’s attention. From installing 3,100 self-standing umbrellas for an installation that encompassed parts of both Japan and California to wrapping the Reichstag building in Berlin with 100,000 meters of silver fabric and blue rope, Christo and Jeanne-Claude attracted millions of visitors to their elaborate installations.
Trained as a painter in his homeland of Bulgaria, Christo eventually abandoned painting after encountering modern and avant-garde methods of artmaking. In 1958, he made the first of his wrapped objects, a fabric-wrapped paint can. This began a project that he called his Inventory: everyday objects obscured by concealment.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude met around this time, and soon after they began their partnership, both as a married couple and an art-making duo. Jeanne-Claude was an extrovert with gifted organizational skills. She oversaw project logistics and fundraising, balancing Christo’s spontaneity and whimsy, and making them an incomparable pair and a persistent force in the art world.
Their creative drive was fueled by a desire to liberate the bound-up recognition of beauty and joy in the world. Often, their work was energized by the wonder of concealment in wrapping objects, architecture, and monuments, such as L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (1961–2021). Sometimes they utilized ways of drawing-out recognition by augmenting landscape, topography, or bodies of water with massive amounts of vibrant fabric, as in The Gates in New York City (1979–2005). These works were huge undertakings, encompassing years of planning and design, but each was temporary. Only the initial drawings and sketches survived, sold as the primary means of fundraising for their future projects.
Winners of numerous awards for their work and praise from art critics and the public, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work continues to inspire, challenge, and intrigue those who experienced it first-hand and will, no doubt, continue as a revelation to future generations.
Augusta Savage (1892–1962) was a sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance who blended activism and art and served others as an educator and community organizer. She was born in Green Cove Springs, FL, a brick-making town with natural red clay that she used to create figures as a child, despite the disapproval of her father. “He nearly whipped all the art out of me,” she later recalled.
Fortunately, a teacher encouraged her to continue, and in 1921, with only $4.60, she moved to Harlem, NY, where she worked as an apartment caretaker and studied at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. In the mid-1920s, during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Savage earned a reputation as a portrait sculptor. Her best-known work during this time was Gamin, a bust of her nephew, which was remarkable in part for presenting a Black child realistically and humanely. The bust helped earn Savage fellowships and a grant to study and travel in Europe.
Upon her return to Harlem, she established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts and became an influential teacher. In 1935 she said, “If I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.” She became the first African American elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors in 1934 and the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center in 1937.
Savage was commissioned by the 1939 New York World’s Fair to create a sculpture symbolizing the musical contributions of African Americans. The Harp, her largest work and last major commission, was inspired by the lyrics of James Weldon Johnson’s poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The piece was cast in plaster finished to resemble black basalt and received much acclaim. However, no funds were available to cast or store it, so The Harp was destroyed after the fair closed. Unfortunately, most of the rest of Savage’s work has also been lost or destroyed, but her known work and her story continue to resonate.
Other Recent Artists of Inspiration
Lloyd “Kiva” New
Lloyd Henri “Kiva” New (1916–2002) is best known as an innovator of Native Modernism through his fashion and textile design, and as an arts educator who developed culturally-based arts education for Native students. New grew up in Oklahoma, the son of Cherokee and Scots-Irish parents. In 1938, he earned a degree in art education from the Art Institute of Chicago and then taught painting at the Phoenix Indian School, AZ. In 1941, he enlisted in the Navy and served on the USS Sanborn in the Pacific theater during World War II.
After the war, New returned to Arizona and became a charter member of the Arizona Craftsmen cooperative, a group of artists who helped develop Scottsdale, AZ, into a western center of handcrafted arts. In 1946, he took the trade name Kiva and established the Lloyd Kiva Studio, where he collaborated with other Native artists to create handbags, clothing, and printed textiles. At a time when Native cultures were still being restricted and relocated, New earned national acclaim for incorporating design concepts and materials from various Native American tribes to create items that would appeal to Native as well as non-Native consumers. In 1951, he became the first Native American to show at an international fashion show.
In 1961, New became the first art director at the newly formed Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM. The school is one of 37 tribal colleges in the U.S. and was initially a high school formed under the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. New and the other predominantly Native American faculty encouraged students to rediscover their own heritage and share it with others, while not being bound by tradition. New became director of IAIA in 1967 and was at the helm in 1975, when the school became a two-year college.
After his retirement in 1978, New remained involved in the Native arts community, including serving as an adviser on the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. In 2000, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Art Institute of Chicago.
María Martínez-Cañas’s Cuban-American identity influences much of her experimental photography and assemblage artwork. Born in Havana, Cuba, Martínez-Cañas moved with her family to Miami when she was just a few months old, then to Puerto Rico. When she was eight, her parents gave her a Polaroid Swingerlater and built a darkroom in their home, as her interest in the art and science of photography grew.
Martínez-Cañas began her career in 1977 with her first photography exhibition, Reflejos, in San Juan. The following year, she entered the Philadelphia College of Art, where she began to experiment with photography. Shortly after receiving her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1984, she received a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to photograph and conduct research in Spain relating to Columbus’s exploration and colonization of Cuba. In 1986, she returned to the U.S. and settled in Miami.
Martínez-Cañas’s career has been driven by experimentation with different photographic techniques, moving beyond the documentary use of photography to a visual poetry using drawing, collage, and photo montage. Similarly, she has explored the technology of photography, from analog to digital, color to black-and-white, and cameras to photograms, as well as experimented with the printing process, utilizing stains, saliva, and onion skin, and printing photographs onto tapestry, newsprint, and vellum.
Much of her work also centers on her Cuban, Puerto Rican, and mainland American identities. She has often used maps, family photographs, and historical art images to consider the history of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Her more recent work, including series such as Lies (2005), Adaptation (2006), Tracing (2007), and Duplicity as Identity (2008–2009), continued to push the limits of photography and interrogate the camera’s ability to reveal, hide, and confuse.
Martínez-Cañas has been the recipient of many awards and grants, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Civitella Ranieri Foundation fellowship in Umbertide, Italy. Her photographs are in private and public collections, including the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866—1944) was a Russian painter, teacher, and art theorist, and is generally credited as the pioneer of abstract art. He grew up in what is now the Ukraine and learned to play piano and cello as a young child. After graduating from the Grekov Odessa Art school, he studied law and economics at the University of Moscow. At 30, he declined a professorship in Roman law to begin studying painting in Munich.
His efforts to create work that would immediately connect with the soul, as he believed music has the power to do, led him to compose paintings with increasingly abstract colors and forms. The connections he perceived between the visual arts and music have led some scholars to believe he had synesthesia, a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense will trigger another sense.
In 1911, he joined other like-minded artists to form the Blue Rider Group and began to write about his theories. His treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911) argued that colors and forms have spiritual effects on the soul of the viewer, and famously likened painting to music: “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Kandinsky left Munich for Moscow. He held various cultural posts within the new Russian government, including helping to organize the Institute of Artistic Culture and serving as its first director. However, his spiritual and expressive view of art was rejected as too individualistic by the radical members of the Institute, and in 1921 he took advantage of an invitation to teach at the Bauhaus in Germany.
At the Bauhaus, Kandinsky made color theory an important part of the curriculum. His focus on basic geometric shapes and primary colors influenced a generation of artists, and led to more precise, geometrical forms in his paintings and to his second book, Point and Line to Plane, published in 1926. He went with the Bauhaus as the school attempted to escape right-wing hostility by moving to Dessau in 1925 and to Berlin in 1932. When the Nazis forced its closure in 1933, Kandinsky made his final move, this time to Paris. He spent the rest of his life in France, creating some of his most prominent art.
Andy Goldsworthy is a land artist, sculptor, and photographer, who gained an interest in nature and working outdoors as a youth while working on farms in northern England. Goldsworthy is best known for his temporary, site-specific works created outdoors from natural materials found on-site, which he then photographs before they succumb to the elements.
Goldsworthy views his process as a collaboration with nature, which often requires patience, flexibility, and spontaneity. For his ongoing Rain Shadow series (1984– ), he lies on the ground just before a rainfall and remains there until the rain stops, creating a “shadow,” which he then photographs. He has said of this work that it “is an intuitive response to the day, the light, the season…and without that, I will shrivel up as an artist. The permanent works, the projects, come from that. In a way, this work is breathing in, and the permanent works are breathing out.”
In addition to the work made at his Scottish home and studio, he has created ephemeral and permanent works around the world, including Three Cairns (2001–2003), in Iowa, New York, and California. The National Gallery of Art commissioned Roof (2004–2005), nine stacked slate, low-profile hollow domes, each with centered oculi. The earthbound domes are a counterpoint to the many rooftop domes of Washington, reminding the viewer that we are surrounded by materials from nature, even in a city.
Goldsworthy has been the subject of two documentary films by director Thomas Riedelsheimer: Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001) and Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy (2017). From 2000 to 2008, he served as the A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University, and in 2000, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Anni (Fleischmann) Albers (1899–1994) was an influential textile designer, weaver, writer, and printmaker who blurred the lines between art and craft. Born to an affluent family in Berlin, Germany, she rebelled against societal expectations by becoming an artist. In 1922, she began studying at the Bauhaus, a new art school that embraced modernism and connected art, architecture, and craft.
As a woman, only the Bauhaus’s weaving workshop was open to her, and initially she thought textiles were “too sissy, like needlepoint and the other things . . . ladies do.” However, she came to appreciate what she could create with the medium, and eventually became the head of the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Her use of flat color and geometric shapes, and blend of art and craft were influenced by the Bauhaus style and ethos.
She met her future husband, Josef Albers, when they were both students at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Over his lifetime, Josef became an influential teacher, writer, painter, and color theorist, and, although they did not collaborate professionally, they each fostered the other’s creativity and shared the belief that art is central to the human experience.
When the Bauhaus closed in 1933 under pressure from the Nazis, the Alberses accepted positions at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, a new experimental art school similar to the Bauhaus that shared their belief that the arts are essential. There, Anni Albers established the weaving workshop, where she encouraged her students to experiment with materials, textures, and methods.
Albers continued to explore textiles as an artistic medium at Black Mountain and later in her home studio in Connecticut, where she and Josef moved in 1950. Her artworks were intended to be hung on the wall and utilized pictorial weaving, where abstract shapes tell a story (unlike pattern weavings, which repeat contrasting shapes and colors). She completed large-scale interior and architectural commissions, including for the Harvard Graduate Center, Philip Johnson’s Rockefeller Guest House, and the Jewish Museum, New York. Recognition of her artwork led to her solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the first textile artist to do so.
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