America Is Hard to See

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This audio guide highlights selected works by artists in America Is Hard to See. Curators, scholars, and artists provide additional commentary.


713Elizabeth Catlett, Head, 1947

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Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012). _Head_, 1947. Terracotta, 10 3/4 × 6 1/2 × 8 3/4 in. (27.3 × 16.5 × 22.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Jack E. Chachkes Purchase Fund, the Katherine Schmidt Shubert Purchase Fund, and the Wilfred P. and Rose J. Cohen Purchase Fund in memory of Cecil Joseph Weekes 2013.103 Art © Estate of Elizabeth Catlett, licensed by VAGA, New York


DANA MILLER: I’m Dana Miller, Curator of the Permanent Collection here at the Whitney.

This work by the artist Elizabeth Catlett is from 1947. She made this work in Mexico, shortly after she moved there to work on a fellowship. This work was made using a terracotta coil technique that was something she learned in Mexico shortly after she arrived, and was an indigenous form of art-making. And for Catlett, I think that was important. She often wanted to look towards this sort of indigenous and local way of making art as a means of inspiration. And for us, this sculpture is just so simple in it’s sort of content, but yet it conveys such depth of feeling. And the planes of the face are just so incredibly beautiful when the light hits them in a certain way.

NARRATOR: Catlett studied art at Howard University, and then at the University of Iowa. There, she worked with the painter Grant Wood. 

DANA MILLER: And it was Wood who had a tremendous impact on her. And he encouraged her to paint and sculpt and depict what she knew. And for her that was the experience of being an African American woman. And so much of her output focuses on a very beautiful, sort of dignified archetype of an African American woman.