0 comment

Marian Anderson | Central Park North / 110th St station on the 2 train

Born February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Marian was one of the most celebrated singers of the 20th century. You have likely seen the black and white image of her singing  in front of the Lincoln Monument, a gaggle of microphones huddled in front of her and Lincoln looming large behind her own regal figure. That 1939 performance, attended by 75,000 people with millions more listening on the radio, awakened the consciousness of an entire county.

It was not meant to happen that way.

Marian had been scheduled to sing at DC’s Constitution Hall but the Daughters of the American Revolution said no thanks, we don’t want black people here. She had performed to packed houses across Europe, to kings and queens, yet was denied the right to sing in her own country’s capital because she wasn’t white.

Eleanor Roosevelt, a DAR member and long-time supporter [FDR and ER invited Marian to perform at the White House back in 1936, the first African-American to do so], resigned in protest and wrote about it in her wildly popular newspaper column. The DAR did not relent.

The idea to sing outdoors came from Walter White, then executive secretary of the NAACP. Since the Lincoln Memorial is a national monument, permission fell to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. It was Ickes who led Marian onto the stage and told the crowd: “In this great auditorium under the sky, all of us are free. Genius, like justice, is blind. Genius draws no color lines.” It’s a sentiment Marian herself espoused: “When I sing, I don’t want them to see that my face is black. I don’t want them to see that my face is white. I want them to see my soul. And that is colorless.”

When she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1955, Marian became the first black singer to perform there. She gave her last recital at Carnegie Hall on April 18, 1965 and in 1984 was the first recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award of the City of New York.

0 comment

Yoko Ono | 72nd St station on the C train

There are a handful of women of the map who pose a terrific challenge to an amateur biographer like me. Yoko Ono is one of them. Her personal life utterly fascinating, her body of work immense, her impact and activism ongoing. John Lennon once described his wife as “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” Let’s just say she did a lot of art. A lot of feminist art at that.

Like many of her map compatriots, firsts [woman to enter the philosophy department at Gakushuin University] and onlys [woman to sing lead vocals in a Beatles song] pepper her life. Born in Tokyo in 1933, she moved to New York in 1953 and still lives here today. Before she became synonymous with the evil girlfriend trope [utterly unfounded and unfair], Yoko was a well respected, working conceptual artist.

In a 1964 performance piece Yoko sat alone on a stage, dressed in her best suit, with a pair of scissors in front of her. The audience took turns and cut off small pieces of her clothing. Another piece, Arising, invited women of all ages, across the world, to send Yoko Ono a photograph of their eyes and a written testament of harm they experienced solely for being a woman.

Her most recent work is a MTA-commissioned mosaic at the 72nd St station. Seems oh so appropriate, no?

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 22: A tile mosaic, titled ‘Sky,’ by Yoko Ono adorns the walls of the newly re-opened and renovated 72nd Street subway station on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, October 22, 2018 in New York City. Ono lives in an apartment co-op building, The Dakota, above the underground subway station. She has lived there since the 1970s, when she moved in with her husband John Lennon, who was later shot and killed outside the building in 1980. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
0 comment

Audre Lorde | 68th Street – Hunter College station on the 6 train

This self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” was born Audrey Geraldine Lorde in 1934 in Harlem to immigrant parents. Near-sighted and defined as legally blind, Lorde nonetheless taught herself to read at the age of four and memorized poetry from a very young age. Poetry was not a luxury, it was expression, a survival tool, “the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.”

A graduate of Hunter College and Columbia University, Audre worked for many years as a librarian and was a visiting professor in Berlin. I love how she describes NYC living: “Having made homes in most parts of this city, I hang now from the west edge of Manhattan, and at any moment I can cease being a New Yorker.”

Rebelled against: racism and sexism, white supremacy and patriarchy

“Expecting a marginalized group to educate the oppressors is the continuation of racist, patriarchal thought.”

Extolled: blackness, femininity, homosexuality, intersectionality, difference

Prolific: 17 volumes of poetry, essays and autobiography

Impact: formed coalitions between Afro-German and Afro-Dutch women; founded a sisterhood in South Africa; was a co-founder of Kitchen Table Women of Color Press; and established the St. Croix Women’s Coalition

“You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other.”

Legacy: New York’s first woman and first black poet laureate, serving from 1991 until her death the following year; inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument; Staten Island residence granted landmark designation

“I will never be gone. I am a scar, a report from the frontlines, a talisman, a resurrection. A rough place on the chin of complacency.”

0 comment

Joan Mitchell | 6th Ave station on the L train

Apologies in advance to any Joan Mitchell devotees out on these streets [raises hand]. This post is going to be woefully inadequate. And it’s particularly annoying to me because when I think about this map, I think about the first two women I studied intently: Edna St. Vincent Millay and Joan Mitchell. I knew exactly nothing about Vincent. I read Joan as Joni. I’ve come a long way since.

For now, I will simply leave you with Regina’s sketch, my photos from the 2018 Cheim & Read exhibition, “Joan Mitchell: Paintings from the Middle of the Last Century, 1953–1962” and her fine, confident, painter self in the studio.

I dare you not to feel something.

“When I am working, I am only aware of the canvas and what it tells me to do. I am certainly not aware of myself. Painting is a way of forgetting oneself.”

Joan would have been 95 today. She has not been forgotten.

“Joan Mitchell looks to be the only artist of her generation, man or woman, who produced a big, abstract, painterly painting that can stand up to the best of de Kooning and Pollock. The legions of arrogant young men who swaggered into the Cedar Tavern have been eclipsed by this woman who probably had more self-confidence and certainly had a more abundant gift than any guy her age in the room.”

0 comment

Carole King | Flatbush Ave – Brooklyn College station on the 2 train

A day late to mark the 78th (!) birthday of the most successful US female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century: 500 songs recorded by more than 1,000 artists, 118 pop hits on the Billboard 100, four Grammys, the first women to receive the Gershwin Prize.

Born in Manhattan, raised in Brooklyn, in high school she adopted King as her stage name and Neil Simon and Paul Sedaka hung out with her. At Queens College she ended up pregnant and with a quickie marriage at 17. They dropped out and flourished as a songwriting duo (hello Natural Woman + Aretha) but she was not so much in line with the NJ suburban housewives.

Divorce, Los Angeles, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, playing keyboard for BB King and then Tapestry followed in 1971: 15 weeks at number one, remaining on the charts for six years. It was released 49 years ago today! Then there’s the Broadway show and decades of environmental activism.

My favorite collaboration will always be hers and James Taylor. You’ve Got A Friend, Fire and Rain, Sweet Baby James, Up on the Roof? Impeccable. All of it.

0 comment

Harmony Hammond | Canal St station on the N train

What makes a woman born in Illinois on this day in 1944, educated in Minnesota and resident of New Mexico since 1984 eligible for a City of Women subway stop designation? I couldn’t wait to get up this morning to tell you!

Hammond was a trailblazer of the 1970s feminist art movement in New York, an experience which served as launching pad for a fifty year career as artist, feminist, activist, curator, academic and scholar.

1970s New York also proved personally liberating. “I was an artist before I was a lesbian. I came out through my art and the feminist movement.”

She was co-founder of A.I.R., the first women’s cooperative art gallery in New York. “The group” got together to present their work [always called “work” rather than art], understand what it meant [consciousness raising] and critique one another. At the time, it was hugely radical because it was a kind of stepping outside the masculine painting sites where women as makers or subjects were not really welcome. And they said we don’t care. “We did as much damage as we could.” Air Gallery is still going strong.

The Group began looking back to gendered creative traditions that had been erased or ignored or devalued. Hammond started working with old rags, cast-offs, remnants, worn out bedding. She describes the process: I’d dip strips of fabric into acrylic paint and throw them down on the floor. Then began to tie them, knot them, stitch them together, maybe paint on them some more and began to build forms out of these fragments of fabric that came from the women in my life.”

She literally put the women in her life in the work.

It was an additive process. There was power, a presence in the accumulation of things. “It’s intentional that the seams show, that we see things are pieced together. I don’t like digital seamlessness. Piecing, patching, fraying, layering, suturing are loaded with meaning.”

Hammond has had more than 30 solo exhibitions but her first retrospective wasn’t held until last year at The Aldrich.

0 comment

Mabel Carney | Houston St station on the 1 train

Mabel Carney | Houston Street station on the 1 train

First off let me just say that there’s not a ton of readily available information on Mabel Carney. Not even a crappy Wikipedia entry. So I found myself digging through the New York Times and Columbia University digital archives and reading scholarly journal articles in barn burners like “The International Journal of African Historical Studies” and “Historical Studies in Education.”

Here’s what I do know: Most women were not educated before the 1920s but Mabel got a BA in 1917, an MS in 1919 and was offered a full-time faculty appointment as Associate Professor of Rural Education at Teachers College, Columbia University that same year.

At the time, Columbia had a problem with its student population [they wanted to limit Jews] and saw its close proximity to the vibrant intellectual, political, and cultural life of Harlem as both problematic [oh, the poverty!] and promising [oh, the research opportunities!]. There was also an ongoing debate about how to “suitably” educate African Americans: Booker T. Washington wanted to focus on basic literacy and respectable blue color jobs [subservience] and W.E.B. DuBois wanted a liberal arts focus and equal participation in American society broadly [advancement].

Mabel landed on Team DuBois.

She became a pioneer in utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to examining educational and social problems. She was a data driven academic, but her work was guided by personal beliefs and relationships. She grew to become an outspoken critic of systemic inequality, perhaps aided by the “loose cannon” label given by her male colleagues, but was always advocate for the individuals within the system. For her African-Columbia students, she was piggy bank [reparations!], job placement officer and mentor.

Jane Ellen McAllister was the world’s first female African American doctoral candidate in Education. And when she completed the program in 1929, she became the nation’s first black woman to earn an Education Ph.D. Her advisor? None other than Mabel Carney, who died on this day in 1969.

0 comment

Marianne Moore | Jay St station on the A train

Today’s women of the map is what I love about this project: someone utterly unknown to me made visible. One complex and complicated, wholly self-invented and self-sufficient. Marianne Moore was a rockstar of modernist poetry at the time of TS Elliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, a well regarded editor and her “Collected Poems” won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Bollingen Prize. Elliot proclaimed her “part of the small body of durable poetry written in our time” and John Ashbury was “tempted simply to call her our greatest modern poet.”

So why does nearly no one now consider her such? Maybe because her most famous poem, called simply “Poetry,” begins “I, too, dislike it.” It also includes the oft-quoted line “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” She rather loved writing “data-dense animal poems.”

Her poems are often challenging to read. The language is abstract, precise, erudite. But she had another side, a sports loving, jeans wearing, advertising writing, All-American sensibility. She kept journals [swipe for her handwriting]. She wore a cape with accompanying black tricorn cap [swipe for that image!], had a trapeze in her apartment to help manage her scoliosis and threw out the opening pitch at Yankee Stadium in 1968.

When asked how she became a poet she replied “endless curiosity, observation, research and a great amount of joy in the thing.” She was – gasp! – an enthusiast. I imagine this played a bit lowbrow for the intellectual set and helped erase her from the literary cannon. To wit, here’s how she was remembered on the front page of the New York Times after her death on this day in 1972: “She was cheerful and optimistic and sometimes answered the telephone herself.”

0 comment

Elaine de Kooning | 23rd St station on the F train

Elaine was one of the most power figures in America’s first great artistic revolution, Abstract Expressionism. Vibrant, intelligent, talented. Not only a painter and figurist, she could also write. “The right word was as vital to her as breathing,” her sister said. As a bridge between those two worlds, she used the force of her personality and the power of her pen to bring the movement out of the studio and into the mainstream. 

To be an artist, she said, you had to be reckless. I’d like to think of her as audacious. I love this from Ninth Street Women: Elaine liked to think of herself as a modern-day version of the hetaerae of Ancient Greece, a comrade to and companion of intellectual men, a woman who was equal to them and treated as such. 

She may have considered herself equal to the men, but it was their art, not her own, that garnered the spotlight. She became “wife of” Bill de Kooning, even if she never stopped painting. 

Her art matched her personality: vibrant, bold, playful but serious. Not surprisingly, she painted a lot of men and there is an intimacy to those portraits that I just love. 

After her separation from Bill, Elaine lived in near poverty. She taught at dozens of colleges, was politically active and continued to writawst e and paint, including a commissioned portrait of JFK. I saw it last year at the National Gallery [swipe for the photo]. She’d been in the last stages of the painting when JFK was assassinated. Devastated, she didn’t touch her brush again for a year. The last decade of her life found her reunited with Bill after a 20 year hiatus. The ended as they began: she as advocate and protector, painting in his light [never his shadow]. She died 31 years ago today, just 70 years old, with a studio full of recent canvases.