Elizabeth Catlett (Mexican, born United States, 1915–2012)
Mahogany and opals
27 x 18 x 13 in. (68.6 x 45.7 x 33 cm)
Hortense and William A. Mohr Sculpture Purchase Fund, 1993 (1993.217)
Elizabeth Catlett graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1935, where she studied under a number of notable artists, including Lois Maillou Jones, James Porter, James Wells, and James Herring. She then obtained a master's degree from the State University of Iowa, studying under painter Grant Wood and sculptor Henry Stinson. During the 1940s, Catlett taught art at a number of schools and began to exhibit with other African American artists who would go on to equally illustrative careers, including Robert Blackburn, Jacob Lawrence, Hughie Lee-Smith, Norman Lewis, Archibald Motley, and Charles Wilbert White. In 1946, Catlett moved to Mexico, establishing permanent residency there the following year and joining the Taller de Gráfica Popular, a printmaking workshop in Mexico City. Although best known for her wood and stone sculptures of archetypal black women rendered with abstract simplicity, she is also a talented printmaker and has produced lithographs and linocuts throughout her long career that celebrate the heroic lives of African American women.
Woman Fixing Her Hair is a late sculpture that embodies the characteristics of her best work. Its subject, a nude woman caught in the act of her daily toiletry, is familiar and empathetic. Melding human form and furniture into a seamless whole, the artist navigates a line between abstraction and realism, cubism and biomorphism. Her exquisite handling of natural materialthe smoothly polished mahogany and luminous opalsconveys the beauty that she sees in her subject matter.