Take the 2011 book Written Out of History: Memoirs of Ordinary Activists. Substitute “biographies” for memoirs, and “extraordinary artists” for ordinary activists.
The result, “Written Out of History: Biographies of Extraordinary Artists,” could be the title of the colorful new book written by Bridget Quinn and illustrated by Lisa Congdon — officially called Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (In That Order). This is also the title of the Special Studies course she is teaching each weekday afternoon during Week Seven.
Quinn — writer, art history scholar, educator, rock climber, triathlete — will set Chautauquans straight. Not about whether there were great women artists in the past other than Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe; Mimi Gallo put that issue to rest during her 2012 and 2014 presentations for the Women’s Club’s Chautauqua Speaks lecture series.
At 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at the Chautauqua Women’s Club, Quinn will further dispel the notion that Horst Waldemar Janson (better known as “H. W. Janson,” 1913-1982) lodged in the minds of the millions of college and graduate student minds who read and all but memorized his survey book, History of Art. Her talk is part of CWC’s Professional Women’s Network program.
First published in 1962, History of Art — not “a” history — was translated into 15 languages, used as the standard textbook for many if not most art history 101 survey courses, and sold more than four million copies. Because Janson did not mention a woman artist in his early editions, for generations the false notion was that there were none of significance permeated the (un)consciousness of men and women alike.
As Quinn wrote in the introduction to Broad Strokes, even before she encountered Janson’s text as an art history major at the University of California, Santa Barbara, it made her sad to think that girls could not be great artists. Not one of the dozens of Time Life books she read during her childhood on a Montana dairy farm showcased a woman.
The story of Quinn’s awakening to the world’s rich history of women artists of all sorts at UCSB, and at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, where she earned her master’s, is left for her to tell on Tuesday.
Quinn, who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and for galleries and private collections, lives in San Francisco with her husband and children. She said she had a one-year turnaround contract with Chronicle Books. In just over a year, she researched and wrote about each of the 15 women in her book (which covers the period from 1600 to the present), and applied for and got the rights to photos of their art work.
“Lisa Congdon lives in Portland, Oregon, and is very well known,” Quinn said. “She’s probably published a dozen books. I was nervous because I didn’t get to choose who the illustrator was. So when I got the news it was Lisa, I knew her work and I was thrilled.”
Quinn will share vignettes of some of the 15 remarkable women artists she wrote about, including 19th-century sculptor Edmonia Lewis, whom she said has a relationship to the Western New York region. African-American on her father’s side and Chippewa (Ojibwe) on her mother’s side, Lewis grew up in Niagara Falls and went to Oberlin College in Ohio — the first U.S. college to educate men, women, whites, and blacks together.
“I actually wrote the first draft of one of the chapters at Chautauqua,” Quinn said. “ ‘Rosa Bonheur,’ Chapter 5.”
First and foremost a writer, Quinn’s stories have been published in numerous books and magazines. Her story “To the Lake” was included in the anthology Two in the Wild: Tales of Adventure from Friends, Mothers and Daughters, and “The Cliffhanger” in the anthology Solo: On Her Own Adventures.
The Best American Sports Writing 2013 includes her memoir, “At Swim, Two Girls.” Quinn’s essay, “Back to the Pool,” was a finalist for the 2006 Annie Dillard Prize in Creative Nonfiction.
The magazines Narrative, Mademoiselle, San Francisco, So To Speak, Thema, Literal Latte, and Brain, Child have also published Quinn’s work.
She and Larry Rosen recently became hosts of the “GrottoPod,” which the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto launched on Feb. 7.
“I’d like people to know, whether they’re men or women, that it’s so important to recover stories of the history of women as active and celebrated people in the past, generation after generation,” Quinn said. “I also hope that in reading these stories, people will be inspired to lead their lives with passion and joy and courage.”