Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists

Drawn to Art illuminates the stories of ten women artists, some of whom may not have received the attention they deserved in their lifetimes. Each has artwork represented in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Inspired by graphic novels, these short takes on artists’ lives were drawn by ten women student-illustrators from the Ringling College of Art and Design. In creating this project, we wanted to give young people the opportunity to identify with the struggles and triumphs of ten visionaries and rule breakers, to see themselves reflected, and to draw strength from that visibility. 

Can art make a difference in your life? We think so! And after reading the comics, we hope you’re inspired to learn more about each artist, while also holding them up as a mirror to see yourself, perhaps in a whole new light. 

An illustration of a woman standing in front of a colorful painting with her back to the viewer.  Below, a smiling young girl in a white dress runs out of the frame and holds a paint brush with a swirl of red paint framing the words, 'The Story of Alma Thomas: beneath the holly tree.'

Illustrated by Lauren Lamb

At the top of the page, a woman with brown hair in a bun and scoop necked blue dress is standing with her back to us, looking at a painting with pink and red dashes of paint in bands of bright color. Other colorful paintings sit propped on the floor beside her. On the lower part of the page, in front of the woman and facing us, is a young girl, about eight, in a white, long sleeve dress with a ruffle collar. The girl is running out of the frame, her face is towards us, looking back over her shoulder. She has curly chin length hair, brown eyes and brown skin. She has a bright, happy face, and is smiling, holding a paintbrush aloft with a swirl of bright red paint coming off the brush, framing both figures and the words "The Story of Alma Thomas: beneath the Holly Tree."

Beneath the Holly Tree: A Comic About Alma Thomas

Alma Thomas became the first woman to graduate from the art department at Howard University, as well as one of the first Black women to receive a degree in art. Her exuberant, colorful paintings explore the natural world around us, from garden to galaxy.

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Anni Albers Comic Cover

Illustrated by Emily Fromhage

 

Threads of History: A Comic About Anni Albers

Anni Albers studied art at the innovative Bauhaus, where she discovered weaving. She fled Nazi Germany and became an influential teacher at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

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 gray-and-white illustration depicts a bustling cityscape. A young woman with short dark hair, big eyes, and a bright smile stands behind a large camera on a tripod. Around her is a street filled with people all going in different directions with tall buildings rising above them.  At the top of the page, text reads, “Berenice Abbott: Picturing a City.”

Illustrated by Madeline Kneubheul

A gray-and-white illustration depicts a bustling cityscape. We stand on a street filled with people all going in different directions. Businessmen in light fedora hats and dark trench coats and other people with their heads and eyes down, hurrying forward. Above them are tall buildings with dark windows in stark rows. The facades of the buildings recede away from us down the street. Facing us is a young woman with short dark hair with a heavy sweep of bangs above one eyebrow. She has big eyes and a bright smile and wears a long scarf, loose flowing jacket, and skirt. She stands behind a large camera on a tripod. Her hands cradle the bottom and side of the lens of the camera, which is pointed straight at us as if she is about to take our photo. Above her at the top of the page, text reads, “Berenice Abbott: Picturing a City.

Picturing a City: A Comic About Berenice Abbott

Born in 1898, Berenice Abbott discovered her gift for photography in Paris. When she returned home, she created iconic portraits of buildings and people in New York City, images that still move us to this day.

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Carmen Herrera Comic Cover

Illustrated by Ezra Gaeta

 

In Awe of the Straight Line: A Comic About Carmen Herrera

Carmen Herrera was born in Havana, Cuba, then lived in Paris before moving to New York City in 1952. She faced discrimination in the art world for being an immigrant and a woman and only found success late in life for her minimal, beautiful works.

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A young girl, a woman wearing a nun’s habit, and an old woman stand together, surrounded by flowers. Above them are the words, “Corita Kent: A Life in Color.”

Illustrated by Mica Borovinsky

Comic book cover is a colorful illustration of a young girl, woman, and old woman standing together under the words, “Corita Kent: A Life in Color.” The young girl is entirely depicted in yellow. Her hair is in a bob, and a barrette holds it away from her face, and her dress is edged in lace at the collar and cuffs of the long sleeves. She is holding paintbrushes in her left hand. Next to her, a woman wearing a nun’s habit is depicted in blue in purple. The older woman stands next to her, and is all in red. Her hair is pulled away from her face. They are all smiling and looking into the distance. Around the three figures, yellow, orange, and pink flowers are illustrated. They represent the three stages of Corita Kent’s life.

A Life in Color: A Comic About Corita Kent

Corita Kent joined a religious order after high school and became fascinated with screen printing. She would go on to be described as “the pop art nun who combined the sensibility of Andy Warhol with social justice,” and helped to bring a little more color to the world.

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A girl with curly brown hair and brown skin holds a mallet in both hands and looks directly out of the page. Text reads: “Edmonia Lewis: Breaking the Marble Ceiling.”

Illustrated by Rachel Bivens

An illustration of a girl with curly brown hair, brown eyes, brown skin, and rosy cheeks standing in 3/4 profile facing out of the page. She is wearing a blue jacket with fringe along the shoulders, a cream-colored shirt with a pointed collar, a pink tie around her neck, a small red sculptor’s cap--a close-fitting brimless hat--on her head, and a cream-colored skirt that flows out of the frame of the image. In her hand she holds a mallet, her other hand cradles the head of the hammer. She stares straight out of the page with an expression of fierce determination on her face. Behind her, is a purple background in a washed, watercolor effect. Text reads, “Edmonia Lewis: Breaking the Marble Ceiling.”

Breaking the Marble Ceiling: A Comic About Edmonia Lewis

The daughter of a Haitian father and an Ojibwe mother Lewis overcame many obstacles before finding success as a sculptor in Rome, where her fame brought countless visitors to her studio.

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An old woman, wearing glasses, an orange sweater, and orange scarf around her neck, stands with a smile on her face. Her head is surrounded by long, loose threads from a weaving in progress. Long threads at the end of the fabric wind down across her heart.  At the bottom of the page is the title. Text reads, “Weaver’s Weaver: Kay Sekimachi.”

Illustrated by Emily Ehlen

Comic book cover shows a colorful illustration of an old woman from the torso up.  The elderly woman’s hair is short and white in a pixie cut and she is wearing glasses and a red scarf around her neck. She is wearing an orange sweater and a smile on her face. Her cheeks are rosy. On each side of her head are three woven rectangles in progress, alternating in orange and a sunshine yellow with threads of fabric crisscrossing each other. Across her chest, there is a singular strand of fabric that loops into a heart over the place where her human heart is. It glows in bright white on the otherwise orange sweater. On the left side of this strand, there are two red paper origami cranes, one below the strand and one above the strand. At the bottom of the page is the title. Text reads, “Weaver’s Weaver: Kay Sekimachi.”

The Weaver's Weaver: A Comic About Kay Sekimachi

Kay Sekimachi and her family were forced into a Japanese incarceration camp during WWII. There, she spent her time making art. After the war, she discovered weaving and her innovative practices and mastery of techniques earned her the sobriquet “the Weaver’s Weaver.”

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A smiling young woman with brown hair, wearing a straw hat and long blue dress, stands in a colorful garden. She is holding a paintbrush up to a canvas on an easel. Text above her reads: Maria Oakey Dewing: A Garden-Thirsty Soul

Illustrated by Kippy Sage

A young woman, Maria Oakey Dewing, stands in a colorful garden. The sky behind her is bright blue, and she wears a long blue dress with full length sleeves, buttons down the front, and a bustle in the back. Her straw hat has a blue ribbon. She smiles slightly and looks out, making eye contact with the reader. Around her, a riot of blooms, including yellow Black-eyed Susans, pink and yellow lupines, blue hydrangeas, peach tulips, and pink roses. In her right hand, she holds a paintbrush up to a canvas on an easel.

A Garden-Thirsty Soul: A Comic about Maria Oakey Dewing

Born in 1845, the American painter known for her depiction of flowers described herself as a “Garden-Thirsty Soul.” Her promising career was overshadowed by her marriage to a more famous artist. Her artworks remain unsurpassed in celebrating the beauty of the natural world.

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Black woman sitting on a chair in the center of the cover with her hand resting on her forehead set against a patchwork background of colorful geometric and floral patterns. Text at the top of the page reads “Mickalene Thomas: Portrait”

Illustrated by Shayna Cohen

A vividly colored cover with a patchwork of purple, yellow, pink, tan, and blue geometric and floral designs. Artist Mickalene Thomas, a black woman wearing glasses with her hair in dreads tied up in a bun, is seated in a chair with wheels in the center. The artist has her left arm resting on her forehead as she leans backward in a relaxed position. The background is full of many different patch work patterns in a variety of colors with various floral patterns and textures represented. Text at the top of the page reads “Mickalene Thomas: Portrait”

Portrait: A Comic About Mickalene Thomas

When contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas was in art school, she couldn’t afford traditional materials and gravitated towards craft stores and the glitter and rhinestones within. Her paintings speak to female empowerment and of women of color owning and defining their own spaces.

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 An illustration of a small girl with short, bright orange hair looks up at a large, framed portrait of an individual wearing a long black coat and top hat, with a serious downcast expression, hanging on a wall. Text reads, “Do you think I’m Hiding?” at the top of the page, and “Story of Romaine Brooks,” at the bottom.

Illustrated by Abigail Rajunov

The cover image for this comic is illustrated with rough, choppy pencil markings and strokes in a style of pencil sketches. The cover is predominantly in greyscale. At the center of the page is a framed portrait of an individual wearing a long black coat, a black top hat, and a downcast expression. In the bottom right corner, a young girl with striking short, straight, bright orange hair looks up at the portrait with curiosity. Text reads, “Do you think I’m Hiding?” across the top of the cover, and “Story of Romaine Brooks” is at the bottom of the cover.

Do You Think I'm Hiding? A Comic About Romaine Brooks

Romaine Brooks suffered an abusive childhood but triumphed as an adult, embracing gender fluidity and her queer identity. Her fierce independence is inspiring to people today. 

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Credit

Generous support has been provided by the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative. Special thanks to the Ringling College of Art and Design.

The logo of the Smithsonian's Women's History Initiative