Women of Influence

postcard from archives

Postcard from Elmira Bier to Marjorie Phillips, undated. From The Phillips Collection archives

Women of Influence: Elmira Bier, Minnie Byers, and Marjorie Phillips is the current Reading Room exhibition just outside of the Phillips’s library, and examines the critical role that each woman played in the day to day activities of The Phillips Collection. Elmira Bier first started working at the Phillips in 1923, two years after the museum opened to the public, and retired in 1972. Bier was Duncan Phillips’s executive assistant. Fiercely protective of Phillips’s time, Bier took on many responsibilities, including serving as the first director of the music program, beginning in 1941. Despite her lack of formal training, Bier quickly established a widely acclaimed concert series that highlighted new performers and innovative music, which paralleled Duncan Phillips’s support of contemporary art.

Bier traveled extensively with Virginia McLaughlin, the sister of Jim McLaughlin, who was a curator at the Phillips. In addition to trips within the United States, they ventured to Norway and Ethiopia. Bier wrote of the latter, “This is really a wonderful experience. The people are gentle and many are handsome. Had lunch in home of young Ethiopian woman whose husband is in diplomatic corps. Nature dishes, some of them red hot! Friends assisting her alert and very feminist. They have women in parliament; we had no sense of color barrier. Saw the Emperor on Monday and heard him speak. Tiny but royal in bearing and very alert. He is particularly interested in education.”

group photo with Elmira

From left to right, seated in front row: C. Law Watkins, Elmira Bier, Marjorie Phillips, Duncan Phillips. Standing are Ira Moore [?] and on the right Charles Val Clear. Photo circa 1931.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Good World”

archival_okeeffe letter

Letter from Georgia O’Keeffe to Marjorie Phillips, 1975

A letter from Georgia O’Keeffe to Marjorie Phillips, wife of Duncan Phillips and a painter in her own right, has a postscript that reads, “It was so good to see you here in what I call ‘my good world.'” Dated 1975, this letter reveals that Marjorie Phillips visited O’Keeffe in her New Mexico home, a previously undocumented journey. In 1949, O’Keeffe paid tribute to the long friendship between her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and Duncan Phillips by willing a series of Stieglitz’s photographs to The Phillips Collection. The 19 photographs, called the Equivalents, feature views of cloud-filled skies. Stieglitz’s goal was to evoke an emotional state through each image. By not including any reference points, including the horizon line, Stieglitz allowed viewers to focus on the abstract qualities of the cloud formations.

Phillips-at-Home Summer Series #5: Reduce, Reuse, Create!

Our fifth project of the Phillips-at-Home Summer Series features the artist Alexander Calder and his work Only, Only Bird. For this art activity, you are going to create a suspending bird sculpture out of reusable materials. What is a suspending sculpture? A suspending sculpture is a piece of artwork that can be viewed from any angle and is usually hung from a ceiling.

 

Alexander Calder, Only, Only Bird, 1951, Tin cans and wire 11 x 17 x 39 in.; Acquired 1966; © 2008 Estate of Alexander Calder/Artists Rights Society (ARS); The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Alexander Calder, Only, Only Bird, 1951, Tin cans and wire 11 x 17 x 39 in.; Acquired 1966; © 2008 Estate of Alexander Calder/Artists Rights Society (ARS); The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Look closely: What do you notice in this sculpture? Why do you think Calder used tin cans to create his bird sculpture? What is the significance of the reusable materials? What kind of bird would you create out of reusable materials?

 

About the Artist: Alexander Calder was born in 1898 in Lawnton, PA. He graduated from the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1919 with a degree in mechanical engineering and held several jobs before he went to the Art Students League of New York in 1923. Calder is best known for his work with kinetic sculpture, especially mobiles. His work was exhibited in several large retrospectives, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York: the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Calder passed away in New York on November 11, 1976, soon after the opening of his last retrospective, which he installed himself.

 

Marjorie Phillips had seen a photograph of the Only, Only Bird and desired it for her 1966 exhibition, Birds in Contemporary Art. She not only published it on the cover of the catalogue, but also purchased it for the permanent collection. Marjorie admired Calder’s work, stating that “in bird sculpture, more imaginative daring conceptions and materials have been used than in any previous age. Calder’s most delightful vigorous ‘Only, Only Bird’ is developed from a tin can.”

 

WHAT YOU NEED:

Ideas for reusable materials needed

Ideas for reusable materials needed

  • Possible reusable (clean) items: plastic water/soda bottles, paper towel holders, tissue boxes, cups, plates, newspapers, magazines, chenille stems, beads, or anything else that you find to be reusable
  • Clear wire/fishing line
  • Glue
  • Pen
  • 8.5” x 11” white paper
  • Tissue or construction paper
  • Tape
  • Scissors

 

SUGGESTED AGE:

  • Ages 8 and Up

 

 

TIME FRAME:

  • 4 hours

 

STEPS:

1. What bird do you wish to create a sculpture of? Find a photograph of your bird. Do a quick pen sketch using the photograph to help you draw it. I chose a flamingo.

Step One - Sketch

Step 1 – Sketch

2. Now, think about what reusable materials you could use to create your bird. Every bird is going to need different materials because every bird is unique.

3. You will create the main body of your bird first. I used a large cup as my base and layered it by gluing tissue paper to resemble feathers. You could use newspaper or magazine strips to resemble feathers as well.

Step 3

Step 3

Step 3

Step 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Then, think about what your neck will be made out of. I decided to braid chenille stems. I poked a hole in the cup in order to attach the neck to the body.

Step 4

Step 4

5. Don’t forget the head! I chose a smaller cup to use for the head, using the same technique of layering tissue paper. Poke another hole to attach the other end of the neck.

Step 5

Step 5

6. Add features to detail your bird’s face. Think about what you want the eyes and beak to look like. I chose to use chenille stems. Remember you can use whatever materials fits your bird’s needs.

Step 5

Step 5

Step 5

Step 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. For the legs, I chose to attach chenille stems to the bottom of my main cup body with tape. Every bird is different so it depends on the size of your bird’s legs.

8. Finally, add any other features with your reusable materials that might be special to your bird.

9. Attach the clear wire to the neck and body in order for it to suspend correctly. I created a loop around the neck and then taped a loop on the inside of the main cup body.

Perry, the Flamingo, Sculpture: Julia Kron

Step 9

10. Give your bird a name! Say Hello to Perry the Flamingo. Also, feel free to color in your original sketch with crayons if you would like to.

Perry, the Flamingo, Sculpture: Julia Kron

Perry, the Flamingo, Sculpture: Julia Kron

Step 10 - Color in your sketch

Step 10 – Color in your sketch

Tune in regularly for more art activities inspired by artwork in The Phillips Collection.

Julia Kron, K12 Education Intern