Yale's Beinecke Library Celebrates Women in the Arts

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University will celebrate women in the arts in a series of events that includes exhibitions of photographs and archival material, film screenings, a concert, a reading and lecture by acclaimed novelist Alice Walker and a poetry reading by Jorie Graham.

From July 28 to October 18, exhibitions at the Beinecke Library titled “Intimate Circles: American Women in the Arts” and “Extravagant Crowd: Carl Van Vechten’s Portraits of Women” will showcase material from the Beinecke’s rich collections documenting the contributions of American women in the artistic and literary movements of the early 20th century.

“Intimate Circles,” an exhibition drawn exclusively from the Beinecke’s collections, documents the lives of 61 women who lived and worked in the early 20th century - writers, artists, publishers, performers and community builders - whose energies set in motion enduring aesthetic idioms and cultural conventions. The exhibition explores the relationships among these women to reveal networks that shaped and defined the artistic movements of the period. The contributions they made to the development of modern art, literature and theater have guided the course of these arts well beyond their own lifetimes. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Georgia O’Keeffe, Muriel Draper, Josephine Baker, Harriet Monroe, Sara Teasdale, A’Lelia Walker, Eve Le Gallienne, Neith Boyce Hapgood, Georgia Douglas Johnson, H.D., Marianne Moore and Mabel Dodge Luhan are among the great cultural divas represented in the exhibition.

The photographs in “Extravagant Crowd” are only a fraction of those the writer and photographer Van Vechten took of women. During his career as a photographer, Van Vechten’s subjects, many of them from his social circle, included dancers, actresses, writers, artists, activists, singers, costume designers, photographers, educators, socialites and aesthetes. The exhibition includes portraits of some 50 women of achievement photographed between 1932 and 1964, including Billie Holiday, Zora Neale Hurston and Marianne Moore - to name a few of his best-known subjects - and some now-forgotten women who made significant contributions to the Broadway theater, the Harlem Renaissance, the early Hollywood film industry and the expatriate communities that thrived in Paris and London between the World Wars. Through these images, the exhibition also reveals something of the photographer’s life. Born in 1880, Van Vechten was a leading opera and music critic in the early 20th century and, by many accounts, America’s first serious dance critic. He was also a best-selling novelist and counted Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen among the literary figures whose talents he promoted. After a full career as a writer and critic, Van Vechten began photographing friends and professional acquaintances in 1932.

Catalogs for each exhibition will be published in August.

The exhibitions, at the Beinecke Library, 121 Wall St., are free and open to the public. They can be viewed Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fridays, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Exception: The exhibition area is closed Saturdays in August.

In connection to the Beinecke exhibitions, the American Women in the Arts Film Series will be screened at the Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel St., every Saturday in August at 1 p.m. The following is the series schedule with information about each film and its relationship to the Beinecke collections.

August 2: “The Age of Innocence” (1993, Martin Scorsese, 139 minutes)
Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and Michelle Pfeiffer star in this adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel. Wharton’s literary archive is housed at the Beinecke Library.

August 9: “Reds” (1981, Warren Beatty, 194 minutes)
Beatty directs and stars in this Oscar-nominated epic set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution about radical journalists John Reed and Louise Bryant. Beatty’s unique narrative style is expressed in interviews with “witnesses” who were contemporaries of Reed and Bryant, including Adele Gutman Nathan whose theatrical career is featured in the Beinecke exhibition. Co-stars Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Maureen Stapleton were nominated for Oscars. Stapleton won the award for Best Supporting Actress.

August 16: “The Nun’s Story” (1959, Fred Zinnemann, 149 Minutes)
Based on the novel by Kathryn Hulme, who is featured in the Beinecke exhibition, the film is about the life of Gabrielle Van Der Mal, whose calling to the religious life is complicated by daily tests of her faith, particularly as a missionary working at a Congolese hospital. When she returns to the motherhouse in France, she faces the ultimate test when the sisters are forbidden by the order to take sides in World War II.

August 23, “St. Louis Blues” (1958, Allen Reisner, 105 minutes)
St. Louis Blues features some of the most popular African American musicians and performers of the 20th century, including Nat King Cole, Ruby Dee, Eartha Kitt, Mahalia Jackson, Cab Calloway and Pearl Bailey. The film’s main character, Will Handy (played by Cole), is a blues musician who wants to reconcile with his estranged father, a southern preacher. Van Vechten’s portraits of several of the women starring in the film are featured in Extravagant Crowd.

August 30: “Rebecca” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock, 130 minutes)
The only one of Hitchcock’s films to win the Oscar for Best Picture, “Rebecca” stars Joan Fontaine as a new bride who moves into the house her wealthy husband, played by Laurence Olivier, shared with his late wife, Rebecca. In a stunning, Oscar-winning performance, Judith Anderson plays the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who, in defense of Rebecca’s memory, torments the new wife, pushing her toward insanity. Anderson’s portrait is included in Extravagant Crowd. Van Vechten made hundreds of photographs of the actress, who was his close friend.

The following are other events related to the Beinecke exhibitions:

September 10, 4 p.m., Battell Chapel, corner Elm and College streets
Pulitzer-Prize winning author of “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker, will read from her work and deliver a lecture.

October 1, 5 p.m., Beinecke Library
The ensemble group Collegium Musicum will perform “Mina, Marianne, Maxine and More,” a concert of new compositions written for texts by Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Maxine Kumin and other women represented in the Beinecke Library’s Archival Collections.

October 21, 4 p.m., Beinecke Library
Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Jorie Graham will read from her work.

For more information, contact Nancy Kuhl at 203-432-2966 or nancy.kuhl@yale.edu.

Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this

Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345