Sample 8-Week Syllabus


Class meets in "live chat" twice weekly for one hour.

week 1:
Course Introduction and Orientation

Reading 1:

"Women Artists of the American West: Introduction"
(Susan Ressler, artist - Purdue University, W. Lafayette, Indiana)

Why study women artists, and why study them in the context of the American West? This introductory essay provides a historical framework from which to approach the course content. It includes an overview of the scholarly literature on women's art and proposes alternatives to canonically "male" constructions of the American West.

week 2:
Introduction to Community from a Historical Perspective

Reading 2:

"Surviving the Winter: the evolution of quiltmaking among two cultures in New Mexico"
(Dorothy Zopf, artist - Taos, New Mexico)

This essay links the history of quiltmaking in New Mexico to the lived experience of women quilters from the Hispanic and "Anglo" traditions. It is both historical and biographical, telling multi-layered stories through the voices of the women, collected by Dorothy Zopf and accompanied by her own art and experiences.

week 3:
Introduction to Identity from a Historical Perspective

Reading 3:

"Women on the Pacific Rim"
(Joan Jensen, historian - New Mexico State University, Las Cruces)

"A sense of place or a response to the art of a place may give a group of seemingly diverse people a common experience that allows them to form a type of community." According to Joan Jensen, the women artists, collectors, and consumers of art of the Pacific Rim comprise such a community - "a place where women have been able to explore their own identity and the cultural heritage of Asia . . . whose artistic traditions have so influenced those of the American West."

See Also:

"Asian American Artists"
(Compiled by Susan Ressler and Flo Oy Wong, with brief contextual essays by Flo Oy Wong and Karin Higa.)

"Asian American Artists," is an archive of women artists who self-identify as Asian American and have organized to promote more visibility for their communities in the art world. The Asian American collections in WAAW focus on a dozen women whose diverse artworks and philosophies coalesce around differing interpretations of Asian American community, identity, spirituality, and locality.

week 4:
(no class Wednesday, Independence Day, July 4)

Introduction to Spirituality from a Historical Perspective

Reading 4:

"Agnes Pelton and Florence Miller Pierce, The Two Women Artists in the Transcendental Painting Group (1938-1945)"
(Tiska Blankenship, Curator - Jonson Gallery, University of New Mexico Art Museums, Albuquerque)

First published in American Art Review, December 1997, this essay was revised for WAAW in order to highlight the two women members of the Transcendental Painting Group. Blankenship situates "spirituality" within an historical and philosophical context ("...terms such as spiritual, transcendental, quality, or ideal were part of the transcendental dialogue...") and defines the movement from the women members' points of view.

week 5:
Introduction and guidelines for research paper: how to select and explore a WAAW topic of interest to you.

Introduction to Locality from a Historical Perspective

Reading 5:

"Laura Gilpin and the Tradition of American Landscape Photography"
(Martha A. Sandweiss, historian - Amherst College, Amherst, Massachussetts)

First published in The Desert is No Lady (ed. by Vera Norwood and Janice Monk, 1987), this study considers what the term "landscape" might mean from a woman's point of view. According to Sandweiss, Laura Gilpin's commitment to chronicling the Southwestern landscape probably exceeded any other woman's in the history of American photography. Since landscape photography emerged from a male tradition, Gilpin's oeuvre can therefore suggest new ways of looking at this genre.

See Also:

"The Women in Photography International Archive"
(Peter Palmquist, Curator - Arcata, California)

The Women in Photography International Archive (WIP) contains a vast collection of resources on women photographers. In WAAW, these collections are represented by a broad overview, gallery and bibliographic references, as well as two essays: one on California women photographers and the other on women who photographed the American Indian. A total of nineteen photographers (including Laura Gilpin) are discussed, and the materials compiled on them are extensive. Students may focus on selected photographers and their essays, such as "Women's Work: Women in the Arts in Humboldt County, 1900-1920," which raises issues concerning women's social and artistic status that are still relevant today.

week 6:
One-on-one "Chats" with instructors regarding research paper (conference times to be arranged - class meets for regular chat as per syllabus schedule).

Community and Identity from Contemporary Perspectives

Reading 6:

"Lesbian Photography on the U.S. West Coast 1972-1997"
(Tee Corinne, artist and historian - Oregon)

"The lack of a publicly accessible history is a devastating form of oppression," begins Tee Corinne's essay on lesbian west coast photography. This essay, documenting thirty lesbian photographers who have lived and worked on the U.S. west coast during the past twenty - five years, is an important step towards establishing that much needed history. Corinne's essay is accompanied by a unique collection of artists' materials, including statements, biographies, and bibliographic references. A list of critics and commentators is appended, along with several selected additional essays, thus providing a rich resource for further research.

week 7:
Spirituality and Locality from Contemporary Perspectives

Reading 7:

"It's All About The Apple, Or Is It?"
(Susan Ressler, artist - Purdue University, W. Lafayette, Indiana)

This essay accompanies images and texts from 23 artists who represent diverse interpretations of spiritual traditions and practices. From New Mexican Santeras (women saintmakers) to "Becoming a Bee Priestess" (Nancy Macko's exploration of women, nature and technology), this collection looks at the rich cultural diversity that characterizes women's spiritual art in the American West.

See Also:

"Nature, Culture, Public Space"
(Terri Cohn, writer and curator - San Francisco, California)

Terri Cohn presents twelve San Francisco Bay area artists whose work brings "Nature" and "Culture" into the public eye through a broad range of public arts projects. Regionally based within this "diverse" locale, Cohn finds it "logical" that "women have worked within the public sector with environmental issues and with at-risk they [women artists] tend to be concerned with a holistic integration of the roles art can play in the world at large." Thus, this essay situates activist art within a spiritual context, where artists can serve as "social commentators, historians, architects, teachers and shamans."

week 8:

Revisiting Course Themes, Evaluation and Closure

Reading 8:

"unfolding: a memoir"
(Corinne Whitaker, digital artist - Carmel, California)

Corinne Whitaker is a digital artist for whom " an act of love." In this autobiographical meditation on her art and life, Whitaker invites readers to join her in the journey into one's "deepest self." She says that the "process" is more important "than the tool or product," and that an artist needs "three essential pieces of software: hand, head, and heart." Whitaker reveals her personal connection with the four course themes in this profusely illustrated and poetic essay.

Reading 9:

"An Artist's Journey from Oregon to Timbuktu"
(Betty LaDuke, artist - Ashland, Oregon)

Betty LaDuke is a painter who has traveled extensively and made her home in many cultures around the world. In this autobiographical essay, LaDuke takes us on a multi-cultural tour where life and art intersect on many levels, including that of food, which like art, sustains life. She says," I have included food as an eclectic cultural guide in the retelling of the intersection of my life and art around the following themes: Identity . . . Community . . . Spirituality . . . Locality." In this fitting conclusion to Women Artists of the American West, Betty LaDuke shares her vision of "what it is to be human in this world today."

The following essays are also available for independent research:

M. Jacobs

Shaping a New Way: White Women and the Movement To Promote Pueblo Indian Arts and Crafts, 1900-1935
(Margaret D. Jacobs, historian - New Mexico State University, Las Cruces)

Part of a forthcoming book, this essay looks at the historical phenomenon of white women's promotion of Native arts and crafts from an ideological perspective, questioning notions of authenticity as well as what constituted "a new vision of womanhood" in the early modern American West.

J. Jensen

"Helen Hyde, American Printmaker"
(Joan Jensen, historian - New Mexico State University, Las Cruces)

In this biographical essay, Jensen explores the art and life of Helen Hyde, "one of the best known and most successful American printmakers of the early twentieth century." Emphasis is on a more "careful" and "critical" re-evaluation of Hyde's work in the contexts of today's "renewed interest in the history of American printmaking, turn-of-the-century female art worlds, and the transfer of Asian artistic traditions to the Americas."

J. Jensen

"Native American Women Photographers as Storytellers"
(Joan Jensen, historian - New Mexico State University, Las Cruces)

Jensen's essay is about the cultural "messages" that have always been an integral part of native women's art. She says that as Native women have "added cameras" to the more traditional arts of fiber and clay, their work has "formed a critique" and told a "different story." Rather than "vanishing," these women's stories are of "a lively, assertive group of people confident about the importance of their cultures in the past, their importance to the present, and their influence on the future."

K. O'Neill

"Barbara Zaring and Alyce Frank: Two Women Who Paint The Southwest Landscape In Collaboration."
(Kate O'Neill, Ed.D., LPC - Taos, New Mexico)

Barbara Zaring and Alyce Frank have been painting the Southwestern landscape together for more than twenty years. Kate O'Neill's study looks at their artistic partnership and queries whether women's collaborations are often acknowledged or culturally validated. She suggests that the stereotype of the "lone artist-genius" is a male model based on hierarchy and competition, and that women's creative partnerships can provide a more egalitarian and collaborative model.

S. Peterson

"Pottery by American Indian Women" (The Legacy of Generations: The Avant-Garde)
(Susan Peterson, artist and writer - Carefree, Arizona)

First published in the catalog to the traveling exhibition of the same name (mounted at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Heard Museum in 1997-8), this collection focuses on ten Native American women potters whom Peterson calls the "Avant-Garde." This modernist term, based on innovation and the overthrow of past traditions, here refers to a contemporary generation of artists who "have one foot in their relatively closed Indian environment and one foot in an open Anglo society." In this context, the American Indian "avant-garde" faces unprecedented challenges to their artistic and cultural identities.


Main Index

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All text Susan Ressler.