war

Mixed Media

Curatorial Spotlight: Ann Stewart Anderson


“I believe that I’m here to create in a world that’s falling apart.”


A photograph of Ann Stewart Anderson. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis Photography for LVA

A photograph of Ann Stewart Anderson. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis Photography for LVA

I’ve known Ann Stewart and her work much of my adult life. As I got to know her work, I admired it for its visual accessibility and its conceptual complexity. Her resume of accomplishments and milestones is pages long. Over the past several weeks, I’ve read what others have said about her work, what she’s said about it, and looked at images of pieces I remember, along with ones I’ve never seen. This process has only increased my admiration.

Recently, she and I had a conversation in her studio that ran the gamut from homemade paper dolls to theologian Paul Tillich’s assertion that myths express truth. 

In our conversation, Ann Stewart talked about her father, a Presbyterian minister who studied architecture in college, built a playhouse for his three little girls, and had the courage to stand up publically for civil rights in a time when most other white ministers steadfastly kept their seats; and her mother, an artist who nurtured her daughters’ creativity with easels and paints in the sunroom, building supplies outside, and the steady encouragement to imagine.

Her parents were bedtime story readers, letting the girls take turns picking the book. When it was Ann Stewart’s turn, she always picked Greek mythology, tales of valorous men in war and the women whose lives intersected their personal and public battles. 

Dolls hanging in Anderson's studio. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis Photography for LVA.

Dolls hanging in Anderson's studio. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis Photography for LVA.

After graduating with honors from Wellesley with a BA in art history, Ann Stewart got a job as a secretary to the Assistant Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. With additional odd jobs and what she saved (proudly recalled) from her $2,700 a year job, she paid her own way through graduate school, earning a degree in painting from The American University.

Although she began her career in art as a painter, early collaborations with friends like potter Sarah Frederick and fiber artist Lida Gordon offered opportunities to experiment with other media. Her first big collaboration came when the Louisville Visual Art Association chose Ann Stewart as one of five artists for its “Collaborative Effort” show. The only condition was they needed to pick an artist from outside the region to work with.

But whom would she ask? “Somebody suggested Judy Chicago,” Ann Stewart recalls. At that time, Chicago was gaining a national reputation as a feminist artist with The Dinner Party. So Ann Stewart wrote a letter and sent some of her work. Miraculously, Chicago called. 

“What do you want to do?” Chicago asked.

A close look at Anderson's studio's desk. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis Photography for LVA

A close look at Anderson's studio's desk. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis Photography for LVA

Ann Stewart recalls feeling unprepared. “When she was on the phone, I had to say something, so I just said ‘menopause.’”

And that was the birth of the Hot Flash Fan project, a giant multi-media collaboration that eventually included work by over 50 artists and helped bring menopause out of the shadows and away from silly euphemisms like, “the change.”

Throughout her career, Ann Stewart’s subject has been women and the sustaining rhythm of their ordinary days. Her goal has always been to see women as subjects, not as objects. “That opens the possibility for other women to identify with the women in my work. I don’t paint portraits. I make up these women and somebody will say, ‘That reminds me of so-and-so,’ or the situations will remind them of themselves. Only women can do that. I admire male artists and have been influenced by the painting of Matisse, Bonnard and Max Beckmann, but I think there’s something significant about a woman artist being able to see something and identify with other women.”

But she’s also been a thoughtful artist, one who reads widely, assesses dispassionately and, for much of her life, kept an ongoing journal about her work: a conversation of ideas, technical struggles, connected and disconnected thoughts.

"Esther" by Ann Stewart Anderson, 14x12in, paper mosaic (2016)

"Esther" by Ann Stewart Anderson, 14x12in, paper mosaic (2016)

It’s Ann Stewart’s point of view that makes her work so provocative. In one series, she creates women in conversations. “It’s the kind of thing women are criticized for,” she says, “nattering, gossiping, but it’s how people learn things. It’s how the important things of life are passed on.” 

Her point of view sometimes reveals a wicked sense of humor, too, like the Ugly Bride series, and the Reject project that she put together at a time when she wasn’t being accepted in shows. “I got depressed,” she says. “Nobody wanted my work. It was going on too long and I decided I had to do something, so I created an art project.” By following the steps to enter a juried exhibit--excruciatingly well known by most artists—she made a point of attempting acceptance in twelve shows. The project culminated in a gala at Louisville Visual Art (LVA) when their home was the Louisville Water Tower, where all her rejection letters were displayed.

“The theme was ‘lemonade from lemons.’ Everything was yellow, and I put up all my rejections on a big wall and invited everybody else to stick theirs on, too, and then I gave ribbons for the best and worst rejections.” Although it was not part of the plan, the mojo worked. After that show—she started getting accepted again.

In her artist’s statement, Ann Stewart says her work is “characterized by dynamic ambiguity.” You can see that in the planes and angles of her “broken dish” women, or in those whose faces are partially hidden—under the brim of a hat, behind a veil or sunglasses, or the old women in extravagant dress and accessories. “You have to fill in the spaces yourself,” she says.

Various works hanging in Anderson's studio. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis Photography for LVA.

Various works hanging in Anderson's studio. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis Photography for LVA.

One of the most satisfying experiences she’s had as an artist came with a series depicting the relationship between mother and daughter from the time the mother was pregnant until the day her daughter stood by her mother’s flower draped coffin. At the time, this work was displayed through LVA at Louisville International Airport. One day, Ann Stewart got a call from LVA telling her a woman had called, wanting to talk with her. She assumed the caller wanted to purchase her work, but as Ann Stewart recalls, “It was even better.”

“Are you the artist?” the woman asked.

When Ann Stewart said yes, the woman told her she’d never talked to an artist before but, ”’I was at the airport between planes when I saw your work. My daughter and I were having a big fight, but after I saw your work I was moved to reconcile with her.’ I tell that story to a lot of artists—it’s easy to feel guilty for ignoring social ills, but we don’t really know how our work affects people. “

"Sun Stand" by Ann Stewart Anderson, broken dish mosaic (2008) NFS

"Sun Stand" by Ann Stewart Anderson, broken dish mosaic (2008) NFS

Throughout her life, she’s been blessed with having good jobs to “support my habit,” she laughs. For her, there’s never been a question of how to balance making a living with making art. “Art has always come first. I always had a studio because making art is what I do.” Even marriage to Ron Mikulak, food writer and retired Food Editor for the Courier-Journal, has not created the tension some artists experience trying to balance home with making art. “I’ve been lucky. Ron cooks and I make art. When I’m working in the studio, he’s creating in the kitchen, where he loves to be. And when I come out of the studio, there’s a beautiful meal on the table.” 

Her work has tended to follow the chronology of her life. Today, she’s working on “old women” and, most lately, a series she calls the Teffubud Sisters

“I was working on the broken dish women, and I was getting really tired having to be in a mask breaking dishes. It was a big mess.” A friend gave Ann Stewart a book about paper mosaics. “I thought, ‘I’d like to try that,’” so she began hunting through some old art magazines she’d tried unsuccessfully to sell at a yard sale for material to use in mosaics. “I discovered I loved working with paper and scissors.”

"Discord (Women and War)" by Ann Stewart Anderson, 46x40in, oil on canvas (2010)

"Discord (Women and War)" by Ann Stewart Anderson, 46x40in, oil on canvas (2010)

That change of medium was fortuitous when she and her husband moved into a condominium where she couldn’t work with oil paints any more because of the fumes, and still more so later when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “There are some things I can’t do, but fortunately, I can still cut.”

The Teffubud Sisters were born from a picture of a grotesque man by artist Jean Dubuffet that Ann Stewart discovered in one of the art magazines. Each sister’s face takes its basic shape from the Dubuffet “parent,” but after that the ridges, lines and contours of each woman—and her adornments—belong to her alone. 

Parkinson’s has forced other accommodations. The most painful? - The fact that she can’t write any more. As she tells me this, Ann Stewart points to a long row of books and notebooks on the top shelf in her studio. “I’ve always journaled about what I’m doing—and I can’t any more. That’s really hard.”

So how does she look at her art now? “I don’t think being recognized is the most important thing anymore. I want to be like Renoir—and this story might be apocryphal—but he’s supposed to have painted on the day he died. That’s what I want to be. I want to keep creating.” 

Today, she says, that’s more important than ever. “I believe that I’m here to create in a world that’s falling apart. Creative energy is the only counter to all the destructive energy out there. That’s why it’s so important for all of us.”

"Phoebe" by Ann Stewart Anderson, 14x12in, paper mosaic (2015)

"Phoebe" by Ann Stewart Anderson, 14x12in, paper mosaic (2015)

"Millie" by Ann Stewart Anderson, 14x12in, paper mosaic (2016)

"Millie" by Ann Stewart Anderson, 14x12in, paper mosaic (2016)


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This Feature article was written by Sarah Yates.
Sarah Yates is a writer who lives and works in Louisville, KY.


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Entire contents copyright © 2016 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

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Sculpture, Public Art

Feature: Ed Hamilton

"Ed Hamilton's Studio"     P    hoto by Sarah Katherine Davis For LVA (2016)

"Ed Hamilton's Studio" Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis For LVA (2016)

On the west-facing side of the Glassworks building in downtown Louisville you will find an over-size image of sculptor ED HAMILTON with the legend, “Ed’s Louisville.” Part of a series of such tributes to native sons and daughters located throughout the city, the placement of this particular portrait is significant because the west side of town is where Hamilton came of age. Although born in Cincinnati, he grew up on what was then Walnut Street (later rechristened Muhammad Ali Boulevard); a stretch from 6th Street west to 18th Street that he describes in his autobiography as, “…my street, and I owned every crack and every weed in those concrete sidewalks.”* So it is appropriate that his visage is cast out onto what truly was Ed’s Louisville. 

It also explains why the renowned artist has never let fame lure him away. His heart is here, where his parents, Edward Hamilton, Sr. and Amy Jane Hamilton, ran the family business, a tailoring and barbershop, in the early Mammoth Building at 6th and Walnut Streets. Hamilton’s first steps as an artist were at Parkland Junior High School, where art teacher Harriet O’ Malley nominated him for the Children’s Free Art Classes (CFAC) operated by Louisville Visual Art, then called The Art Center, located on the University of Louisville campus. 

"Ed Hamilton working in his studio" P    hoto by Sarah Katherine Davis For LVA (2016)

"Ed Hamilton working in his studio" Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis For LVA (2016)

Hamilton becomes animated talking about this turning point: “If that teacher hadn’t picked me out for CFAC - she could have picked any of those other kids – but she picked me. I never would have gotten there on my own. I had no thought, no ambition to be an artist. That’s an example of why teachers are so important.”

Jean Mulhall, a professional medical illustrator taught that CFAC class, but the human form was not a subject. “We were mostly outside. We drew all over campus.”

Later he attended Shawnee High School, where his art instructor was Patsy Griffiths. In his autobiography, Hamilton describes the contentious atmosphere created by the push for “total” integration in the city schools: “I still remember the animosity and disrespect from white students in that school.” So the fact that Griffith, a white teacher, fostered the talent of a black student in the midst of such tension made an important impression on the budding young artist. When Hamilton graduated in 1965, she pushed him to apply for a scholarship to the Art Center School, which was located in the same building where he had taken CFAC classes. When he returned, with portfolio under his arm, for his interview, he was taken aback: “It had been a few years, and I was still young,’ he laughs, ”and I kept thinking, ‘this place sure seems familiar’.”

Art Center building,ULUA.001.0026, University of Louisville Archives & Records Center, Louisville, Kentucky

Art Center building,ULUA.001.0026, University of Louisville Archives & Records Center, Louisville, Kentucky

The Art Center building was located on South First Street on the U of L campus, and Hamilton used to hang out between classes at a café in Bigelow Hall that was a gathering place on campus for Black students. It was there he met his wife. “I made my move… and introduced myself. When she said her name was Bernadette…well, the name alone was enough for me!” For their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2017, the Hamiltons are planning a trip to Europe to celebrate.

Of course, there is a lot more life and history between that meeting and today. For 49 years Ed Hamilton has built a career and a reputation that now positions him as one of the foremost American sculptors of public work. Yet his studio is surprisingly modest considering the scale of some of his most famous pieces: the Lincoln Memorial in Louisville, the Joe Louis statue in Detroit, or the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, in Newport News, Virginia. It is a reminder of Hamilton’s humble roots and that, whatever his preeminence, he remains a hard-working artist.

"Bust of George DeBaptiste". Madison Indiana commission of an   Underground Railroad conductor.

"Bust of George DeBaptiste". Madison Indiana commission of an Underground Railroad conductor.

His latest commission is a life-size bronze bust of George DeBaptiste to be installed in a park development in Madison, Indiana. DeBaptiste (1815-1875) was a freeborn black man who settled in Madison before the Civil War and was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, ferrying slaves across the Ohio into Indiana, and later a key figure in the abolitionist movement after riots forced him to move his family to Michigan. It is a subject that fits very well into Hamilton’s oeuvre of African-American History. Taking on such stories as the mutiny of the slave-ship Amistad, African American soldiers during the American Civil War, the migration of southern blacks to the western United States, or the contributions of such individuals as Booker T. Washington and Medgar Evers, seems a natural task for someone with such an acute sense of history. Hamilton does extensive research into the historical background of each project just to prepare his submission, long before he has been formally selected. “I’d like to think it makes the difference – one of the reasons they choose ME.” Even 25 years after completing the Amistad Memorial in New Haven, Connecticut, he speaks extemporaneously and in great detail of Cinque’s mutiny aboard the notorious slave ship and the landmark Supreme Court ruling that finally allowed he and his compatriots to return to their native Sierre Leone twenty years before the Civil War. Should Hamilton ever wish to “retire” from making monuments, he could easily forge a lucrative career as a guest lecturer in history classes, just don’t expect that retirement to come anytime soon.

A 360° video featuring the "Bust of George DeBaptiste" (Madison Indiana commission of an Underground Railroad conductor) by Ed Hamilton. 

"Ed Hamilton" Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis For LVA (2016)

"Ed Hamilton" Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis For LVA (2016)

*The Birth of An Artist: A Journey of Discovery, by Ed Hamilton, Chicago Spectrum Press, 2006


This Feature article was written by Keith Waits.
In addition to his work at the LVA, Keith is also the Managing Editor of a website, www.Arts-Louisville.com, which covers local visual arts, theatre, and music in Louisville.


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Photos by Sarah Katherine Davis. Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2016 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

Please contact    josh@louisvillevisualart.org    for further information on advertising through Artebella.

Please contact josh@louisvillevisualart.org for further information on advertising through Artebella.