Woman Fixing her Hair

Elizabeth Catlett (Mexican (born United States), Washington, D.C. 1915–2012 Cuernavaca)

Mahogany and opals
H. 27, W. 18, D. 13 inches (68.6 x 45.7 x 33 cm.)
Credit Line:
Hortense and William A. Mohr Sculpture Purchase Fund, 1993
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Elizabeth Catlett graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1935, where she studied under a number of notable artists, including Lois Maillou Jones, James Porter, James Wells, and James Herring. She then obtained a master's degree from the State University of Iowa, studying under painter Grant Wood and sculptor Henry Stinson. During the 1940s, Catlett taught art at a number of schools and began to exhibit with other African American artists who would go on to equally illustrative careers, including Robert Blackburn, Jacob Lawrence, Hughie Lee-Smith, Norman Lewis, Archibald Motley, and Charles White. In 1946, Catlett moved to Mexico, establishing permanent residency there the following year and joining the Taller de Gráfica Popular, a printmaking workshop in Mexico City. Although best known for her wood and stone sculptures of archetypal black women rendered with abstract simplicity, she is also a talented printmaker and has produced lithographs and linocuts throughout her long career that celebrate the heroic lives of African American women.

    Woman Fixing Her Hair is a late sculpture that embodies the characteristics of her best work. Its subject, a nude woman caught in the act of her daily toiletry, is familiar and empathetic. Melding human form and furniture into a seamless whole, the artist navigates a line between abstraction and realism, cubism and biomorphism. Her exquisite handling of natural material-the smoothly polished mahogany and luminous opals-conveys the beauty that she sees in her subject matter.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Signature: Initialed and dated (lower right): EC 93

  • Exhibition History

    Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, March -September 1996. New York: The Equitable Gallery, November 1996-January 1997. Texas, Dallas: Museum of African American Life and Culture, February-April 1997. California, Los Angeles: California Afro-American Museum Foundation, May-July 1997. Boston: Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, August-November 1997. Georgia, Savannah: Telfair Museum of Art, December 1997-February 1998. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of African American Life and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, March-August 1998. ¦Three Generations of African American Women Sculptors: A Study in Paradox¦. Pg. 45, illus. in b &

    Purchase, New York: Neuberger Museum of Art, February 8 - June 7, 1998. Houston, Texas: Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston. October 23 - December 20, 1998. Baltimore, Maryland: The Baltimore Museum of Art, January 27 - April 11, 1999. ¦¦Elizabeth Catlett: A Fifty-Year Retrospective¦. Pg. 94, illus. in color

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History