Book Review: Women Artists as Entrepreneurs

by Eric L. Miller

 

Women Artists of the Great Basin

Text by Mary Lee Fulkerson

Photographs by Susan E. Mantle

University of Nevada Press, $49.95, 216 pages

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Making a living as an artist has never been easy. Couple this hardcore reality with being a woman artist and things become even more complicated and interesting. This new book is a series of compelling portraits set around dynamic women artists from across the region, those who actually made it work. This is a lively illustrated chronicle and a candid look inside the lives of some of the most creative and fascinating women on the planet.

 

One of the stars of the book is the Great Basin itself, a landscape replete with a unique geography and a smorgasbord of cultures that occupy its cities and towns. A region much maligned and dismissed as a barren wasteland, the Great Basin comes across in this book as a powerful creative generator for a wide variety of woman artists who work in and on the land, and are inspired by its playas.

 

Forged in a hotbed of searing creativity, readers of this book will come to see these women as visionaries, creating their own pathways to success, always defining and redefining what it means to be a working artist. Veteran authors Fulkerson and Mantle logged in thousands of miles from their base in Reno to visit these artists in their homes and studios. Actually visiting with the artists helped them to gain a deeper understanding of who these artists were, what their art was all about, and how they went about creating it.

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We are introduced to 32 different artists who work in a diverse set of media, from sculptors, painters and fabric workers, to glass blowers and stone workers. Diversity is the key word here. Carola Nan Roach is a world-renowned artist in Reno who overcame poverty and homelessness as a child to own two homes and a 10-acre property. She works with what she calls “the crazy alchemy of glass.” Through a combination of discipline and raw inspiration, she expertly forms molten glass into lyrical forms. Danaë Bennett-Miller from Oregon prevailed over divorce and a catastrophic horseback riding accident to find her passion and success as an innovative sculpture artist in wax. She creates distinctive public sculptures of animals and other wildlife. Kay Minto from Eagleville, CA bounced back from having breast cancer and used her art as a source of healing and regeneration to become a pioneer in industrial arts. She developed a novel form of welding using lava rock and aluminum.

 

Mary Lee Fulkerson wrote the text and is a Great Basin artist in her own right. She is author of Weavers of Tradition and Beauty: Basketmakers of the Great Basin (1995) with Kathleen Curtis, one of the artists profiled in this book. She writes with an insightful and colorful style rendering the life story of each artist and their various modes of work. The photographs of Susan E. Mantle expertly catch the spirit of artists at work, displaying their art works, and putting the entire thing in context with stunning visual representation.

 

There is a striking variety and richness to the work and lives of these artists, who are spread across the four corners of the Great Basin. The art comes from each artist’s lived experiences and this is what makes it so powerful. The range of artists represented for the book in the Great Basin region was clearly not meant to be comprehensive. Surely there are male artists, and other women doing highly original work across this vast region. What is so compelling are the striking biographies of the women profiled, and how they circumvented economic and domestic adversity, overcame sexism and transcended their roles as wives, mothers, sisters, and friends to create lasting and spectacular artworks and forge meaningful careers for themselves in the art world.

 

Eric L. Miller is a writer and marketing consultant based in Reno, NV. You can contact him at eric@3ibooks.com.

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