Walking past the main lobby information desk and through a series of glass doors on the way to an important meeting, it would be easy to miss a small gallery of prints in the hustle and bustle of Boston City Hall. These prints hang small and large on the brick walls and cement columns of the open gallery, exhibiting exclusively female artists and their portrayals of women’s issues.
In honor of Women’s History month, Boston City Hall is featuring the work of four female members of the Boston Printmakers Association in its Scollay Square Gallery. The name of the exhibit—“March Four Women”—references both March being Women’s History Month and the four female artists showcased in the gallery.
The opening reception at City Hall on March 2 was part of the Boston Printmakers 70th Anniversary Symposium. City Hall was one of 15 venues throughout Boston and Cambridge, Mass. to hold special events, exhibitions, and receptions on printmaking for the celebration. The prints will remain in the gallery for public view through March 31.
The artists’ prints vary in their styles and subject matter, with some being more overtly related to women’s issues than others, but they all share in their figurative nature. According to Rhoda Rosenberg, a member of the Boston Printmakers Association board of directors, this shared characteristic was purely incidental.
After deciding which artists to showcase, Rosenberg and fellow board of directors member Susan Schmidt noticed that all four women reference the human figure in some manner in their work. They did not, however, intentionally exclude abstract or minimalist styles from the exhibition.
“All these prints [that] deal with the human body, are figurative, so to speak,” Rosenberg said.
The four female artists—Clara Lieu, Emily Lombardo, Carolyn Muskat, and Debra Olin—are members of the Boston Printmakers living in the Boston area, but “March Four Women” is the first time they have exhibited their work together. The artists work in etching, lithography, relief printmaking, and mono printing.
“All four of these women are working artists—they all have jobs, they teach, they have families, they have children, some of them,” Rosenberg said. “I think all prints have to do with issues that we’re about as human beings, whether a woman or a man, but some are more specific than others.”
Clara Lieu’s work is not specifically related to women’s issues, but her prints have a deeply personal element that connects them to the theme of Women’s History Month.
“They’re very personal and they’re very deep prints that have a lot of psychology about herself,” said Rosenberg.
In terms of scale, Emily Lombardo’s prints are the smallest of the four artists’ work. She was inspired by Spanish artist Francisco Goya’s series of 80 etchings called “Los Caprichos” that were created in the 1790s. Lombardo turned each one the etchings into a print related to women.
“If you look at the prints you’ll see they’re the same compositions and they’re the same statements, but she’s turned all the characters into women and made them about women’s issues,” Rosenberg said.
She emphasized how Lombardo’s prints, like Lieu’s, are connected to personal psychology, but do connect to commentary as well.
“Emily Lombardo’s prints deal with social issues, and they’re very political,” Rosenberg said.
Each of Lombardo’s pieces is accompanied by a sentence or phrase that calls attention to the social issue portrayed. For example, a print of a woman laying abandoned on a bench is captioned “Because she was susceptible.”
There was no question of whether Carolyn Muskat would be showcased in the exhibit, as Rosenberg called her the “strongest lithographer” known to the Boston Printmakers at the moment. Her work is less explicitly related to women’s issues, focusing on space, water, and light instead.
“She is just a beautiful, strong mono printer,” Rosenberg said.
Muskat’s prints feature heavily images of nature, such as tree roots and images of water. The “March Four Women” exhibit is the first time this series of Muskat’s work has been showcased in a gallery.
Olin’s prints are the largest of the four women’s work, taking up nearly an entire wall of the gallery. She created four relief wood carvings that depict the internal structure of the female body surrounded by natural elements.
“She deals with internal components of the body and maybe how they relate to the outside,” Rosenberg said. “I would say Debra’s are more figurative and they’re more bodily.”
Although Olin and Lombardo may seem to more explicitly address topics specific to women compared to Lieu and Muskat, the fact that all four are working woman printmakers unites them.
“We’re women,” Rosenberg said. “We make work, we have jobs, we struggle, we just keep making prints. We’re working printmakers.”
Featured Image by Chloe McAllaster / Heights Editor