March is Women’s History Month and March 8 was International Women’s Day. And over the past weekend, the Barbie doll celebrated her 60th birthday with worldwide sales topping $1 billion in 2018. The doll was introduced to girls in 1959, becoming a weird icon of feminine beauty in Western culture.
Castleton artist Sandy Mayo curated a new art show, “Barbie, Brains and Pink Hats,” and invited local womanly artists to contribute works to celebrate the gender journey from high heels to pink protest hats. You can catch the exhibit at the B&G Gallery in Rutland, at 74 Merchants Row. The show comes out of Mayo’s research considering the roles of women in our culture, and the issues and dangers that are particular to the gender: for example, beauty, style, violence, mothering, sex and the glass ceiling.
At the show’s opening reception March 8, area artists went full-on pink with the refreshments. The bountiful pink table featured, among other delicacies, shortbread cut-out cookies in the shape of the pink pussy protest hats. The decorative cookies were both festive and a reminder of turbulence in the history of women’s struggles for recognition, for the vote, for equal rights, for a seat in the boardroom, for a safe place to sleep.
The art is the thing, though. Mayo, assisted by artists Mary Fran Lloyd and Jim Boughton, gathered the work of 15 artists and artist Bill Ramage hung the show.
Walk in and be welcomed by Betsey Moakley’s “Almost There,” a painting of a scrappy girl climbing rocks by the sea. The painting is a significant opening remark about feminine strength and aspiration: evocative and filled with girl power and nature’s energy.
Move through the room and see Kerry Furlani’s surreal graphite drawing. Is there a woman here? Has she grown armor to save herself? Who hurt her? Is she an animal or a machine? Furlani uses graphite to its dramatic advantage, posing hard questions with her drawing.
Mayo’s very large oil painting, “Burnt Torso,” is both abstract and dense. The painting practically smells of char and ash. Here Mayo is depicting the violence reserved for women who develop special skills that give them power: herbalists turned to witches and burned to a crisp.
You will see a simple sculpture from Nora Valdez, “Paper Bag,” a tribute to the minimalist aspect of immigration — bringing very little, hoping for more.
Christine Holtzschuh’s series, “Becoming a Woman,” depicts friendly girls, protesting women in pink hats, a pregnant bather and an elderly questioner: passages of the gender.
Barbie is an icon of female perfection in Western culture. But Mayo thinks of Barbie as the starting point; thus, her exhibit uses a wider-angled lens revealing the broad scope of the value of women and their work. By using Barbie as an ironic jumping off point, Mayo moves forward to issues other than style and beauty. This exhibit features sculpture, painting and drawing, the contents of which have connections to gender strength, bias, experience and history. There is so much more to consider than the costuming of women.
Mayo has dedicated this exhibit to the efforts of women who have chosen to work in the arts. She asked each artist to bring pieces that describe “who they are.” “This is a women’s exhibit,” she writes, “women signing their own work.” In doing so, they contribute to the ongoing history that is particular to half the humans on earth.
The 16 contributing artists have agreed, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, to contribute 15 percent of proceeds from sales to Rutland’s NewStory Center, supporting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
In conclusion, Barbie’s feet may be shaped like high heels, but these days women wear running shoes with their pink hats. It’s more comfortable and besides, a woman can go farther in sneakers.
Participating artists are: Fran Bull, Joan Curtis, Elizabeth Dietz, Carol Driscoll, Kerry O. Furlani, Christine Holzshuh, Alma Hooker, Louise Kenney, Lowell Snowdon Klock, Mary Fran Lloyd, Sandy Mayo, Mareva Millarc, Betsy Moakley, Lyna Lou Nordstromb and Nora Valdez.