“In portraiture, you have room to have a point of view and to be conceptual with a picture. The image may not be literally what’s going on, but it’s representative.”
– Photographer Annie Leibovitz (b. 1949)
In creating portrait, artists bear the solemn responsibility of conveying a likeness and even capturing the essence of a person. But, as Leibovitz implies, portraiture is not always straightforward. It can also be symbolic, aspirational, or imaginative. A portrait can often tell us as much about the artist as it does about the sitter. This section contains images of individuals but also of families, cities, nations, and cultures. Jann Haworth memorializes her associations with France with her fabric charm bracelet; Käthe Kollwitz and Cassandra Barney illustrate glimpses of deep grief after loss; and Minerva Teichert portrays Native American women moving their tribe to a new location. As you examine these works, take a moment to ponder—which type of portrait resonates the most with you?
Jann Haworth (b.1942), French Charm Bracelet, 2007, mixed fabric. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Curtis Atkisson, 2019.
Widely recognized as a pioneer of soft sculpture, Haworth is a celebrated American artist, associated with the development of the 1960s Pop movement in England. Her soft sculptural works showcase her skills in fabric and sewing, as well as selects objects that represent specific moments of popular culture. Her series of charm bracelets explores their function as self-portraits for the person wearing them and their ability to memorialize specific moments of time. French Charm Bracelet includes nine charms that chronicle Haworth’s associations and experiences in France.
Often remembered for co-designing the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, Haworth has actively created art for the past five decades and continues to exhibit nationally and internationally. A dedicated activist, she has spent her career promoting equality and advocating for the representation of women in the art world.
Dorothy Weir Young (1890-1947), Twin Girls, c.1930, oil on canvas, 38 x 29 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Estate, 1959.
Although dressed alike and physically similar, the identical twins are not exactly the same. Subtle signs of their different personalities are evident in this double portrait. The girl on the right sits casually, slouching, as she leans forward with her arms resting on the table. Turned slightly away from the viewer, she stares off to the side. Her sister sits up straighter and directly engages with the audience as she looks forward. Her back is straight and her hands are folded neatly in her lap. The contrast between the two sisters with such similar features draws the focus of the portrait onto the small individualities between the two young subjects.
Susan Bjarnson, Nuns, 1995, black and white photograph hand-colored, 14 x 11 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift in honor of Wallace M. Barrus, 1995.
These three nuns, wearing sunglasses and walking on the beach, defy expectations. Typically, nuns conjure up expectations of soberness, black habits, and uniformity. On the contrary, Bjarnson’s photograph humanizes and individualizes these women. The subtle yellow and pink added to their white habits makes each woman distinct and individual.
Looking closely, other distinctions emerge; each has a unique body type and posture, wears different shoes, and has slight differences in their clothing. Though their faces are turned away from the camera, each woman’s identity is hinted at through these small variations that distinguish them. The photograph reminds us to look for the small but critical particularities that reflect our personalities and make us unique.
Diane Thiessens (b.1972), Untitled, 1995, Chromogenic print, 9 1/4 x 9 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift in honor of Wallace M. Barrus, 1995.
Staring out from behind two black-and-white photographs, a woman in the center of the image stands out with her dark hair, hazel eyes, and red lips in full color. The juxtaposition between the overexposed photos and the woman is striking. The edges of the two photographs are torn unevenly, splitting at an angle suggesting that she had been previously obscured by the two images. In describing the work, Thiessens explained that she wanted to show women breaking through societal expectations and making their mark. Here, the confident and self-possessed woman, one of Thiessens’ college roommates at the time, emerges from behind traditional imagery from the art historical canon. Half of her face is still covered, adding a sense of mystery and intrigue.
Mary Helen Bragg Liebschutz (1936-2016), Self-Portrait, no date, gelatin silver print, 13 7/16 x 10 9/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift in honor of Wallace M. Barrus, 1995.
This clever collage is a non-traditional self-portrait, one that doesn’t show the likeness of the artist but rather suggests hobbies, skills, and background. Images fade and dissolve into one another the way our interests seamlessly become the fabric of our lives. The camera lens and piano keys point to recognizable accomplishments while the photograph of the young toddler and the fading imagery of the house and tree in the background give clues to her family, home life, and rural setting.
Mary Helen Bragg Liebschutz was an avid traveler and photographer, taking frequent road-trips across the United States with her two daughters in tow. She studied photography at Brigham Young University and continued honing her craft throughout her life.
Edith Hamlin (1902-1992), Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1931, oil on board, 24 x 21 1/2 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the family of Rita Palmieri Elkins, 2006.
In her sensitive portrait of her mother Mary, Edith Hamlin uses muted tones for a serene scene of quiet contemplation. Hamlin smoothed the creases of her mother’s face so that there are no strong lines to disrupt her tranquility. The framing foliage in the background and subtle illumination around her head puts focus on her face. Hamlin also painted a matching portrait of her father. The pendant pair pay homage to her parents who fostered her lifelong love of the arts.
Hamlin is best known for the social realist murals that she painted for the Public Works Art Project during the Great Depression. Along with her husband, Maynard Dixon, Hamlin painted the American desert while spending time at their summer home in Mt. Carmel, Utah.
Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-1885), Portrait of Patience Cole Cortland, c.1840, oil on canvas, 45 3/16 x 37 7/8 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Millard Duxbury.
In this painting, Patience Cortland’s material goods demonstrate her husband’s monetary success. Her fringed embroidered silk shawl, lace collar, and fan were likely imported, and her silk and velvet dress has dropped sleeves in the latest fashion. This portrait, and its companion portrait of her husband James Cortland, was painted by one of the earliest and most successful female artists in America. Sarah Miriam Peale, a member of the famous Peale family of painters, was renowned as one of the first women elected to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
The direct gaze of Mrs. Cortland and her slightly upturned mouth, giving the hint of a smile, are typical of Peale’s portraits. In this depiction of Patience Cortland, Peale demonstrated her skill at painting finely detailed fabrics; the lace collar and sheen of the subject’s velvet dress along with her embroidered fringed shawl are superbly rendered.
Dorothy Weir Young (1890-1947), Theresa and Tommy, c.1932, oil on canvas, 27 1/8 x 34 1/8 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
The subject of this painting is Theresa Knoche, the daughter of a neighbor and family friend, with the Young’s cat, Tommy. Dorothy Weir Young completed another portrait of Knoche this the same year. This particular portrait provides an intimate look of an informal moment in the Young’s living room. Theresa’s relaxed demeanor and contemplative expression invite the viewer into her private scene. Through the window, the red barnyard indicates a rural location and the yellow leaves suggest an autumn season.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Untitled (Southwest Native American Woman and Child), c.1920 (posthumous print 2000), gelatin silver print, 7 15/16 x 6 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased from Oakland Museum of Art. Copyright Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor, 2001.
Known for her candid and sympathetic depictions of marginalized people, Dorothea Lange is one of the most revered photographers of the twentieth century. In this photograph, a Native American woman sits forward, resting on her knees as she closes her eyes. Though she is resting for a moment, she is never truly free from the demands of the young child next to her that clings to her arm for support. Her downcast expression and posture suggests the desperate plight of Native Americans, stripped of rights and lands; her young son looks toward the camera, reminding the viewer that his ability to bridge the gap between native traditions and the modern world will be even harder than his mother’s.
In 1919, Lange moved to San Francisco and opened a portrait studio which she ran for over a decade. Lange produced her first photographs of Native Americans while traveling in the Southwest shortly after her marriage to the artist Maynard Dixon.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Young Woman, St. George, c.1953, gelatin silver print, 7 5/16 x 7 7/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley. Copyright Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor, 2007.
Utah attracted Dorothea Lange’s interest when she and her first husband, Maynard Dixon, spent the summer of 1933 camping and working in Zion National Park. Two decades later Lange returned to southern Utah with famed landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Together they spent weeks taking hundreds of photographs of rural communities.
Lange’s images of St. George show a town transformed by highways running through it, bringing with it a jarring modernization for the small town. Old historic farms and mills next to neon signs, modern storefronts, and newspaper headlines showed the blending of old and new in this growing city. Lange’s Young Woman seems an apt combination of those characteristics; her sweet and open expression is reminiscent of a simpler time while her hoop earrings, medallion, and modern clothing place her squarely in a new era.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Young Mother, Gunlock, Utah, 1953, gelatin silver print, 12 1/4 x 9 1/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley. Copyright Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor, 2007.
In 1953, Dorothea Lange photographed the three southern Utah towns of Toquerville, Gunlock, and St. George, capturing the feel and energy of these rural communities. The photographic project attempted to present the transformation of the West in post-war America and the heritage of those who continue to live on its land.
Lange presented Gunlock as a young and energetic community; pictured in high summer light, it appeared as a farming community in which the pioneer vision was largely intact. This young mother stands in a tidy, clean kitchen, half-smiling at the camera. Over her stylish checkered dress she wears an apron, suggestive of the tasks of cooking and cleaning she regularly undertakes; but even the apron, with its frills and polka dots, shows a modern woman interested in fashionable attire during her productive day.
Christy E. Standage, Jennifer, 1995, gelatin silver print, 14 x 9 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift in honor of Wallace M. Barrus, 1995.
In an empty room furnished only with an old-fashioned trunk and a vase of white flowers, young Jennifer sits on top of a trunk, her head on her knees. Light sharply highlights the front of her dress, while also creating dark and dramatic shadows. A non-traditional type of portrait, the photograph frustrates our desire to see her face or know her story. Beautifully rendered and mysteriously evocative, it lends itself to more poetic or allegorical interpretation, perhaps evoking loss, youth, or slumber.
Faith Ringgold (b.1930), Subway Graffiti #3, 1987, acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 60 x 84 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Curtis and Mary Ann Atkisson Family, Diane and Sam Stewart, Jack R. and Mary Lois Wheatley, Stephen and Martha West, Marilyn and Craig Faulkner, David and Bianca Lisonbee, 2008.
“Black women have always insisted on being artists . . .
they’ve insisted upon it since the first slaves incorporated
black designs into the making of quilts.”
—Michelle Wallace (Ringgold’s daughter), 1999
As a mature artist, Faith Ringgold embraced her family’s quilting tradition. Ringgold grew up in Harlem during the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance in a home that encouraged her creativity. Her father entertained Faith and her siblings with stories he created and her mother was a fashion designer. In 1980, her mother assembled the first of Ringgold’s “story quilts”— narrative paintings surrounded by lush, pieced fabric borders. Subway Graffiti #3, a story quilt, was inspired by Ringgold’s trip to Japan in 1986, where she encountered crowded subways and unfamiliar graffiti-like writing. It depicts popular black luminaries like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, as well as includes the names and faces of many of her friends and family. It particularly pays tribute to the artist’s sister, Barbara, who always called herself “the princess.”
Minerva Teichert (1888-1976), Moving South, 1949, oil on canvas, 60 x 101 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of The Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas.
This painting was created in memory of Teichert’s art agent and close friend Alice Merrill Horne, who had died the previous year. Over the years, the two had developed a close personal and professional relationship as Horne, a prestigious art dealer in Salt Lake City, encouraged private buyers and public institutions to collect and display Teichert’s work. Teichert created this piece to honor Horne, who had often expressed her desire for Teichert to paint Native American subjects.
Teichert was inspired by the Gobelin tapestries of France as well as the decorative style of Beaux-Arts murals. These elements are seen in the shallow depth of the composition which places the processional of native women in front of a flattened background of bright yellow aspen trees. The elaborate border surrounding the painting contributes to the decorative effect.
Women are the central focus of the work: the two women in the center are rendered in careful detail and on the left, a mother reaches back to comfort her child in the cradleboard she carries on her back.
Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), The Widow I, 1923, woodcut, 18 1/8 x 12 13/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Donald Goodwall.
In 1914, German artist Käthe Kollwitz’s son died in action two months after joining the military, a loss that Kollwitz carried for the rest of her life. In response to this personal tragedy as well the sorrows felt all around her, Kollwitz began her War (Krieg) series which documents the “unspeakably difficult years” of World War I and its aftermath. Rather than scenes of war and action, the series focuses on the emotional reactions of mothers, widows, and children. Here, the widow weeps, pantomiming an embrace of a husband who will never return.
Kollwitz was a committed pacifist and hoped that her work would promote peace and cause others to question the necessity of war. A central theme in her work is empathy and compassion; she did not shy away from confronting and depicting pain, a characteristic which makes her work deeply relevant to the human experience.
Cassandra Barney (b.1967), Casket, no date, lithograph, 14 x 11 1/4 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Wayne Kimball, 2010.
Standing alone at night, a woman holds a single flower with closed eyes. Trees, flowers, and stars fold around the figure, framing her. Hovering in the sky behind, perhaps a visual illustration of her thoughts, a female face and an image of a baby float against the nocturnal sky. Ambiguous in meaning, the title suggests loss that is profound and transformative. This lithograph explores the best qualities of the medium: simple line drawing combined with subtle color washes of green, blue, white, and yellow. Look closely to see the pink details on her sleeve, fingertips, and dripping from the flower.
Though she comes from a family of artists, Cassandra Barney never felt any pressure to become an artist. Her own need to create prompted her to get her MFA from Brigham Young University, where she took classes from her father, well-known fantasy artist James Christensen. Barney paints visual narratives that often feature women. Barney said, “I paint women because that is what I recognize and what I know.”
Eugenie De Land (1872-1961), Before Sunset…, 1917, poster, 22 1/4 x 18 1/4 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Phillip M. Flammer, 2010.
One of few women artists designing posters during World War I, Eugenie De Land received national honors for the Liberty Bond posters she created during World Wars I and II. Employing two American symbols, the flag and the Statue of Liberty, was an effective way of garnering financial support for the war bond drive. Coupled with the phrase, “Before Sunset Buy a U.S. Government Bond,” this poster communicates an urgency to take action before the waning of the colorful streaks of the setting sun. It powerfully suggests that inaction could have serious consequences leading to America’s twilight.
De Land trained under American illustrator Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute of Art and later taught at the Corcoran School of Art and McKinley Technical High School.
Ethel Franklin Betts Bains (1877-1959), Lest We Perish, c.1918, poster, 27 15/16 x 20 1/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Phillip M. Flammer, 2010.
A young woman’s empty hands extend out toward the viewer, seemingly outside the picture plane and into our space, while the grim urging “lest we perish” emphasizes her dire condition. This poster was created for the American Committee for Relief in the Near East, formed in 1915 as a humanitarian response to the Armenian Genocide. As World War I continued, the group also began offering food and shelter to displaced refugees from Syria, Persia, and Greece. Posters were circulated to raise money for these relief efforts. Women or children were frequent subjects in these posters, with the intent to garner more sympathy from viewers. In the 15 years that the organization operated, Americans donated $117 million for the relief efforts.
Ethel Franklin Betts Bains was best known as an illustrator of children’s books during the golden age of illustration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She began her career illustrating magazines but soon after received commissions to work on children’s books including Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved classic, A Little Princess.
Jenny Holzer (b.1950), Purple Truism Survival, from Mini-Truisms, 2006, LED screen, 22 1/4 x 18 1/4 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 2019
Jenny Holzer’s Truisms are a collection of nearly three hundred short, pithy lines that utilize modern clichés and sayings presented to provoke thought and dialogue. Despite the name “truisms,” Holzer’s statements are not meant to be taken as fact or as a reflection of Holzer’s beliefs. Instead, the reader is meant to reevaluate what Holzer calls “the usual baloney” they are fed by society and decide for themselves what they believe.
Holzer began the project in 1977, typesetting the sentences in alphabetical order and posting them around the city. Later, she combined them with modern technology, such as LED screens with moving messages, mimicking a television news ticker. A sample of sayings from the beginning of the alphabet includes the following:
Abuse of power comes as no surprise
Action causes more trouble than thought
Alienation produces eccentrics or revolutionaries
All things are delicately interconnected
Any surplus is immoral
This selection of Truisms includes facts that seem self-evident along with absurdities and partial truths, reiterating the mix of messages that surround us. In today’s world, with its 24-hour news cycle and a flood of on-demand media, Holzer’s work reinforces the importance of vigilance in investigating the messages we consume and assessing our own beliefs.
WARNING: This artwork contains flashing, strobing, and moving lights.
People who have photosensitive epilepsy or other light sensitivities should take caution.