Girls Reading

Elizabeth Catlett (Mexican; American, 1915 – 2012)
Image : 12 x 16 1/2 in. (30.48 x 41.91 cm)
Sheet : 17 1/2 x 23 in. (44.45 x 58.42 cm)
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Purchased with funds donated by Ronald '62 and Gerri Vander Molen
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Elizabeth Catlett was born and raised in Washington, DC. Her maternal and paternal grandparents had been born into slavery, and she grew up hearing first-hand family stories about the cruel treatment of African Americans in the South both before and after the Civil War. Catlett initially studied art at Howard University under the tutelage of Lois Mailou Jones. She then enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Iowa, and in 1940 was the first African American woman to earn the MFA degree from that institution. After graduating from Iowa, Catlett worked as a teacher in New Orleans, Chicago and the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, where she became friendly with many leading artists, writers and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance. Catlett’s ambitions to work professionally as an artist were frustrated by the fact that she was African American and female, so in 1946 she moved to Mexico in search of fresh opportunities. In Mexico, Catlett joined the People’s Graphic Workshop (Taller de Gráfica Popular), a left-wing artists’ collective that was associated with the Mexican Muralist movement. She created this print of three young girls learning to read while working in Mexico with the People’s Graphic Workshop. The issues raised by this image—race, gender, class and the importance of education—were all common themes in Mexican Muralist art at the time but were also themes that resonated with Catlett personally as a result of her own life experiences.

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