Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Miriam Schapiro 1923-2015

New Harmony by Miriam Schapiro, 1980,
Fabric and paint on canvas
Collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Artist Miriam Schapiro died at the venerable age of 91 a few months ago. She was an innovative artist who had great influence on my generation of artists in the 1970s.

Miriam Schapiro (1923-2015)

When I was in art school and teaching art in the 1960s and hanging out in Chicago galleries in the  '70s, any woman who wanted to be taken seriously as an artist had to out-macho the guys.

Grandma Bolero, by Miriam Schapiro, 1980 

What a shock it was to see Schapiro using girly things---feminist imagery and traditional women's materials. I remember thinking she was nuts to try that.

Golden Pinwheel by Miriam Schapiro, 1979

There was ART, and there was craft.
There was ART and there were female artists.

Not only did she choose subject matter the rest of us shied away from but she got away with it. Women's imagery, she informed us, was as valid as men's.

Mimi's Baby Bonnet by Miriam Schapiro, a print

Detail of Bed by Robert Rauschenberg, 1950
Robert Rauschenberg could use a found quilt
in a collage of sorts but his aggressive piece
had nothing to do with the woman who sewed it...

Unlike Schapiro's use of patchwork in her "Femmages."
Female + Collage = Femmage

Wonderland by Miriam Schapiro, 1983
acrylic paint, fabric and beads on canvas
90" x 144-1/2"
Collection of the Smithsonian
It's 12 feet wide.

By 1980 we were all thinking like Schapiro. Even if we weren't using her ideas we had come to accept them as valid.

Miriam Schapiro, Foliate Fan, 1979

Another rebellion was her use of pattern. These assemblages were "decorative," to use an insult in the days of abstract expressionism.

Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro in front of a
1972 installation Womanhouse.

It was a long time ago in philosophical years.

Read some obituaries at these links:



Mayan Garden, 
Collection Crystal Bridges Museum
I was delighted to come across this piece last year in the Arkansas museum.
Snips of floral fabric and paint.

Spend a little time doing a web search for her work and recall Miriam Schapiro's contributions and vision. I searched for: Images: Miriam Schapiro Fan

And buy this book before the price goes up.


  1. A very talented woman with her own convictions.

  2. A woman daring to be a woman, how brave, how inspiring, what a wonderful example for all of us.

  3. The women who opened the doors for helping to see quilts as a serious art form are definitely to be admired. They gave meaning to the creative work that women did to have some sort of voice in a country and a time where women were not given the same recognition and importance as men. I have studied the cottage industries that were started by women even back as far as the Baltimore Album quilts and possibly before that. And the cottage industries started by the women during the 20s and 30s were nothing short of genius. Not only did they have employees working for them directly, but they provided a way for people out in the community to earn money as well. The kit quilt industry was a brilliant cottage industry that has never been given enough serious recognition, as many of the achievements that were made by women in those times have not. I think of the Wilkinson sisters, who did not create kit quilts, but they created what they called Wilkinson Art Quilts, and they focused on commemorative quilts made of silks and satins. When the Depression got too bad in the cities to support even a little of the industry, they took it to the seaside resorts where people could still purchase their beautiful hand-quilted quilts. Men were involved with these industries too. My poor old 74-year-old mind can't think of the man's name at the moment, but in the heart of the Depression when people could ill afford the cost of a kit quilt, he began to sell the quilt kit blocks in parts so that people could do a "pay-as-you-go" plan.

    Overall, all of these quilters, and Miriam Shapiro was certainly one of the most notable, are not only heroes for us to remember - they were giants in society, because they made so many changes that affected others in such a positive way. Thank you to all those heroes, and I hope someday you will do a session on the kit quilts and other similar things of the times. Very interesting period. Incidentally, those kit quilts go for pretty pennies in this time because of their beauty and overall workmanship. People don't seem to mind that they are kits. They are still recognized for their beauty. Thank you, Barbara, for all you do in your different programs to educate us. I just love them. I took a class from you back in the day on quilt history, and could never get enough of your good information or how you tied the history of quilts into the history of the world at any given time. WOW! You are definitely one of my Big-time heroes. Your book, Clues in the Calico, was pivotal in my become a certified appraiser of quilts and a quilt historian. Thank you forever! Anne Copeland always

  4. Barbara, can you help with the fabric requirements for Union Blues. Kerry and I are both purchasing fabrics from the Moda directions for the fabulous quilt. The directions only say kit 8290. There are several 8290 kits, is one of each of the 8290 kits required. We picked have both picked up kit 8290F8. I don't think this will get us too far... Any help with understanding what specific kits and how many to purchase along with additional yardage would be most appreciative. I've been searching for this information on the web for several days and asking at local quilt shops. kwiltnkats@ymail.com. Thank you so much, you do lovely work! Sandi