Born in 1923, Miriam Schapiro was a groundbreaking feminist artist whose works addressed the role of women in society. She was perhaps best known for her collaborative project, Womanhouse, an interactive art installation created in an abandoned house in Hollywood that critiqued the misogyny of everyday life.
The comic, “Becoming Miriam Schapiro” drawn by Sky Chandler, a student-illustrator from the Ringling College of Art and Design, follows Schapiro’s life from childhood in Canada and Brooklyn to her groundbreaking artwork and important legacy. Right from the cover, you know this is going to be a special read. It features Miriam Schapiro embracing miniature houses—a nod to Womanhouse—in wonderful tones of pinks, yellows and reds, with flowers blooming around her. Through Sky’s illustrations, readers can sense the blooming of Schapiro’s self in the works, as the title comes from the artist herself: “My art is an art of becoming."
The comic is propelled forward not only by narrative and Schapiro’s talents, but also Sky’s gift for visual storytelling and her implicit sense of wonder. We see Schapiro as a child, a budding creative, and then a successful artist, working to create feminist art and turning typical narratives on their head. We see her meet influential artist Judy Chicago, who created the legendary installation space Womanhouse with Schapiro in 1972. Her journey continues as she weaves together art and feminism, creating works that speak to inclusion and equality.
Schapiro’s work in SAAM’s collection, Dollhouse, created with artist Sherry Brody, was originally part of Womanhouse. It subverted the typical dollhouse created for young girls: it even featured an artist’s studio—what was typically seen as a male space—that includes a tiny replica of one of Schapiro’s own abstract paintings. The old, tired adage may say, “A woman’s place is in the home,” but if she’s going to be there, she definitely needs a studio. Whenever I talk about the comics with colleagues, and I am fortunate to have presented them recently at conferences, I always end with the last page of this comic. Here, the lineage of women creators is depicted in Sky’s wonderful portrait of four women artists, including Miriam at far left, who paved the way for so many to come after her. And the quote is really what the comic is about: “I was trained to be an artist by men, but I learned how to express myself from women.”
This comic is part of a series Drawn to Art: Tales of Inspiring Women Artists that illuminates the stories of women artists in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Inspired by graphic novels, these short takes on artists’ lives were each drawn by a student-illustrator from the Ringling College of Art and Design.
We invite you to read the comic and share it with your friends and young people in your life.