My daughter is going to art school and so today I dedicate this post to her and her future classmates celebrating strong, independent female artists!
p.s. She won The Newton Art Association Scholarship and didn’t tell us she entered.
Picture Books About Strong, Independent Female Artists
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
The Year with Grandma Moses by W. Nikola-Lisa
Raising children while running a farm leaves very little time for art, but Anna Mary Robertson, aka Grandma Moses, developed her artistic talents through embroidery and decorative sewing. It was not until she was in her late seventies did her artistic career take off. This book is a lovely compilation of Grandma Moses’ paintings, excerpts from her memoir, and free verse story. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses (1860-1961) Oil on pressed board. Copyright © 2016, Grandma Moses Properties Co., New York at Bennington Museum
In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage by Sylvia Olsen, illustrated by Joan Larson
In the forward of the book:
As both an artist and a teacher, Augusta Savage was a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance; and though only a fraction of her work survive, she deserves to be better known.
Her story is poignant, reflecting the duality of her mother’s support of her talent and her father’s disapproval. Largely self-taught as a child, Augusta moved to New York City in pursuit of her art, landing a spot at Cooper Union. They offered her financial assistance so she could continue her studies there, a first for them. Augusta would go on to prominence as a sculptor and teacher, but sadly, very little of her work has survived. Still, her legacy remains as part of the Harlem Renaissance and the students that she influenced. [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]
Augusta Savage, Gamin, ca. 1929, painted plaster, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Yetsa’s Sweater by Sylvia Olsen, illustrated by Joan Larson
Coast Salish produce beautiful Cowichan sweaters starting with wool from sheep. They wash the wool, card it, spin it into yarn to make sweaters that are resistant to wind and rain due to the lanolin in the yarn. Coast Salish were skilled woolworkers prior to the settlement of Scots in the late 19th century who introduced them to knitting. In this picture book, a young girl, Yetsa, learns the art of making sweaters from her grandmother. The designs in the sweater tell a story. Yetsa, in this story, is the sixth generation of Coast Salish knitters. [picture book, age 5 and up]
For genuine Cowichan sweaters, check to make sure it is made by a Coast Salish person.
The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter
It was a great loss to lose Zaha Hadid on March 31, 2016, at age 65. She was a groundbreaking architect, all the more impressive because she was Iraqi-born and a woman. She saw the world differently from other architects; not in boxes, but in bold, daring, and usual forms. Her buildings dance like grass. They are inspired by shells and pebbles. They nestle into the desert and mountain peaks. They represent the impossible. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Zaha Hadid, Extension of Ordrupgaard Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark (2001–2005)
In Mary’s Garden by Tina and Carson Kügler
As a little girl, Mary was happiest building things. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She collected treasures from the shore — driftwood, sea glass, stones and broken household objects — and used them to create marvelous sculptures for her garden. [picture book about staying true to yourself, ages 4 and up]
Mary Nohl’s house and garden (photo by Tina Prigge, captured by Salon Vagabond)
Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Georgia O’Keefe was commissioned by Dole Food Company (then called Hawaiian Pineapple Company) to paint a pineapple. She traveled to Hawaii in February 1939. The company would not let her live near the fields, but she explored the Hawaiian Islands her own way and she painted the flowers and landscapes of Hawaii. She eventually painted the pineapple they requested too. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
My Name Is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter
In this picture book biography told in the first person, Georgia O’Keefe was independent as a child, different from her four sisters who wore sashes and braids. She studied art at a young age, copying pictures and statues, and went on to art school. In was in New York City that Georgia found the inspiration that would make her famous. She painted nature on a very large scale so viewers would not miss the details she saw. She painted bones she found in the New Mexico desert too. This book centers around Georgia’s story — there is no mention of her husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, in this book or his influence on her rise in the art world — and conveys her strength and independence. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Georgia O’Keefe, Blue and Green Music, 1921
Through Georgia’s Eyes by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez, illustrations by Julie Paschkis
This picture book biography covers her entire life, from childhood to her time in Santa Fe. [picture book biography, ages 5 and up]
Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager
I was delighted to learn about Mary Blair, a Disney animator, who brought exuberant color to the Disneyland ride, It’s A Small World. Growing up in Southern California fifteen minutes from Disneyland, I never knew the history behind that ride. My elementary school took field trips to Disneyland (not as great as it sounds because we only went on “educational” rides) and It’s A Small World was always a favorite of mine.
In this picture book biography, Mary’s life as a Disney artist following her own muse is remarkable for the time she lived in, Pre-Great Depression. It’s nice that her legacy is finally getting recognition. In 2008, she was named a Disney Legend.
In addition to her Disney experience, Mary Blair illustrated picture books, designed advertisements, and created sets for TV and plays. She demonstrates the power of creativity and following your own vision. [picture book biography, ages 5 and up]
Here are more books to learn more about Mary Blair:
Here are some books that she illustrated:
Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity by Sarah Suzuki
Yayoi Kasama didn’t want to be proper Japanese lady like her mother wanted her to. She wanted to be an artist and live without rules so she moved to New York City. Her inspiration was dots, in many different forms. They inspired her with their resemblance to stars to represent infinity. Her work was met with great enthusiasm and soon it appeared all over the world. Finally, Japan was ready for a new way of thinking and Yayoi felt comfortable returning. She lives there today, still inspired and painting her dots. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama’s Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees at the Singapore Biennale 2006 on Orchard Road, Singapore
Little Guides to Great Lives: Frida Kahlo by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Marianna Madriz
Struck by two tragedies, polio and then a terrible bus accident, Frida Kahlo battled to become strong again. Her father introduced her to art through photography, and his gentle nurturing fed her creative and independent spirit. Her family was opposed to her marriage to Diego Rivera for many reasons but she married him anyway. The marriage was rocky and they eventually divorced. Frida poured her sadness into her art and her first solo art show was a great success. At 37, Frida’s back problems worsened and she was unable to stand or sit. Her art students came to her bedside for their lessons, and Frida managed to find hope and strength to keep on making art. [early chapter book biography, ages 6 and up]
Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), Harry Ransom Center
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra
Frida is famous as an artist and for her vast number of pets: two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a cat, and a fawn. She treated them like her children perhaps because she was unable to have children of her own after the terrible bus accident she was in. Her pets were also her inspiration and were featured in many of her more than two hundred paintings. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Frida by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Ana Juan
If you need a book about Frida Kahlo for preschool or Kindergarten, this one is perfect. The text is simple but tells her story in a way that young children can understand. The illustrations are a little surreal in style, conveying a Salvador Dali kind of vibe. In a sense, it’s like a visit to a museum and a social studies class wrapped up in one picture book as there are many references to Mexican folk art sprinkled throughout the book. I feel like Frida would have really liked this book! [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Use this award-winning picture book to introduce kids to Spanish words and the art and life of Frida Kahlo. Though the text is brief and bilingual, use other resources like picture book Frida Kahlo: The Artist Who Painted Herself to fill in her life and then let the kids find these references in the gorgeous illustrations. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen
Gwen was born in 1906 with a physical disability but her mother, a teacher, pushed her to learn. Because her hands were weak, she created artwork to strengthen her grip. Kids were not kind to Gwen in school so nature was a place of solace. She took her art skills and became a decorative artist, and printmaker. Gwen Frostic demonstrated that people with disabilities could be successful. The art school at Western Michigan University was renamed The Gwen Frostic School of Art after her donation of 13 million dollars earned from her business! [nonfiction picture book biography, for ages 6 and up]
You can purchase books and stationery from her company here.
I’m adding these two female photographers. I know they are not artists, but they are also creatives.
Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sarah Green
Dorothea Lange had childhood polio which left her with a limp, but also a sense of empathy that shaped her view from behind the camera. Her famous photo of a migrant mother and her kids has a backstory: the family was stranded and starving after rains had destroyed the pea crop. 📸Dorothea’s powerful image was published in the newspaper, and then the government rushed ten tons of food to the camp. Lange captured powerful images of The Great Depression and Japanese Americans in internment camps. She also documented the conference that created the United Nations. Read this inspiring picture book biography that shows the power of art in the fight for social justice. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña
Review from Nonfiction Detectives:
“Don’t be fooled by the slim size of the book; it’s not a book for very young readers. The figurative language, symbolism, art history, and photographic terms and concepts make it an ideal read for teens.
“Photography lets me look into multiple worlds simultaneously. The serene and the violent. The beautiful and the terrible. The dead and the living.”
The story is not organized in chronologically like traditional biographies. Instead, the narrative jumps from present day to 1979 and then back to the 1950s when Iturbide was a child before it shifts into a chronological order. Iturbide married young and had children. After the death of her daughter, she took photography courses then traveled around the globe photographing people, animals and the land. Her photographs depict mothers, gang members, landscapes, rituals, goat slaughters, and more.
I’ve read quite a few artist biographies written for kids and teens. Sometimes those biographies focus so much on events from the person’s life, they miss the significance of the art. That’s not the case here. Quintero and Peña expertly convey the meanings behind Iturbide’s photographs.” [nonfiction young adult, for ages 12 and up]
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