Historical Journal

Journal Archives,Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Archives,Reviews

Lizbeth Stewart: Recent Work

November 9, 1984
Judith Stein

A writer and curator, studied at Barnard College, and has a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Eye of the Sixties, Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016). Her curatorial projects include Red Grooms, A Retrospective, for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and The Figurative Fifties, New York School Figurative Expressionism, co-curated with Paul Schimmel. Her exhibition, I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin, traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995, and earned a best catalogue award from AICA/USA. Her articles, interviews and reviews have appeared in Art in America, Art News, and The New York Times Book Review, as well as on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air and Morning Edition. Among her honors is a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant; a Pew Fellowship for literary non-fiction; and a Lannan Foundation writing residency in Marfa, Texas.

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November 9 through December 30, 1984
A favored cartoon from a vintage New Yorker depicts a mother and young girl standing before Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy at the Museum of Modern Art. Puzzling at the image of a menacing animal nosing a recumbent woman, the child pipes up and asks, ”Then what happened?” While we smile at her naivete, there is a real sense of aborted narrative about the painting. Even sophisticated audiences may wonder at the fate of the sleeper or fantasize a context for the unexpected juxtapositions presented by Rousseau.
It is this very quality of fatal attractions and covert rationale that informs the work of Lizbeth Stewart. We find ourselves intrigued by the seemingly chance encounters of cats and bones, lizards and cigarettes, flowers and umbrellas, and almost unconsciously we begin to invent a context for the visual elements or clues. Stewart’s tour force ceramic scenarios suggest a world of mysterious happenings, feminine wiles, and untoward behavior. Feline predators stand guard over casually discarded gloves; pearls, compact, snakes, and the lower legs of a nattily dressed man disport themselves in a provocative alliance. Her technical facility is breathtaking, the “how” of fabrication being as mysterious as the “why” of her subject matter.
Stewart’s iconography utilizes many archetypes of femininity: makeup, pearls, and kid gloves furnish one level of meaning; cats and delicate birds provide another. While her textures are trompe l’oeil, it is only the exaggerated scale of her work that brings us back to the reality that we are looking at art, not life. This predilection for outsized components and her frequent inclusion of only fragments of the human form give Stewart’s work its uncanny power and mark her as one of the most gifted of America’s ceramic sculptors.

Judith Stein
Morris Gallery Coordinator
All works lent by the artist, courtesy of Helen Drutt Gallery, Philadelphia.
All dimensions are in inches; all objects are hand-built ceramic with additional materials as indicated.
1. Cat and Gloves, 1983
porcelain glaze, paint
26 1/2 x 20 x 16
2. Dancing on My Heart, 1983
glaze, underglaze, lusters, paint
19 x 30 x 28
3. Arm on Pillow with Lizard, 1984
glaze, luster, paint, wood
32 x 30 x 16
4. Reclining Cat with Padlock, 1984
porcelain glaze, underglaze, lusters, paint
11 x 24 x 16
5. Gloved Hand with Lily and Umbrella, 1984
glaze, underglaze, luster, paint
9 1/2 x 40 x 28
6. Foot on Steps, 1984
glaze, underglaze, lusters, paint
23 x 30 x 26
7. The Predator, 1984
glaze, underglaze, china paints
23 x 44 x 15
8. Standing Cat with Bird, 1984
glaze, underglaze, china paints
37 1/2 x 13 x 42
9. Bird in Hand, 1984
glaze, underglaze and pressmold, china paint
17 1/2 x 9 x 7
10. Stalking Cat with Vase, Flowers and Bird, 1984
glaze, underglaze, china paint, paint, wire, wood, epoxy
35 x 40 x 25
A native Philadelphian, Stewart attended school in Bryn Quelled, Bucks County, and graduated with a B.F.A. from Moore College of Art in 1971. In 1976 she was awarded a Craftsmen’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Stewart was Artist in Residence at The Fabric Workshop in 1981. Her work is represented in numerous private collections throughout the United States and in the following permanent collections: Philadelphia Museum of Art; Campbell Museum, Camden, New Jersey; Joseph H. Hirshhorn Collection, Washington, D.C.; Lannan Foundation, Palm Beach, Florida.
For over a decade, Stewart has exhibited her work nationally. Exhibitions have included solo and group shows at the Helen Drutt Gallery, Philadelphia (1974, 1975, 1976, 1982); Ceramics and Other Sculpture, Nancy Lurie Gallery, Chicago (1973); Clay, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1974); Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art (1976); Soup Tureens: 1976, Campbell Museum, New Jersey, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Museum, Michigan (1976); Young Americans II: Clay and Glass, American Craft Museum, New York, Tucson Museum of Art (1978); Contemporary Ceramics: A Response to Wedgwood, Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center (1980); The Animal Image, Renwick Gallery, N.M.A.A., Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (1981); The Clay Figure, American Craft Museum, New York (1981); Soup, Soup, Beautiful Soup, Campbell Museum, New Jersey (1983, traveling throughout Pennsylvania to 1985); Clay: 1984, Traver Sutton Gallery, Seattle, Washington.

Selected Bibliography
Exhibition catalogues:
Soup, Soup, Beautiful Soup, Campbell Museum, Camden, NJ, 1983.
The Animal Image, Renwick Gallery, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1981.
American Porcelain: New Expressions in an Ancient Art, Renwick Gallery, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1980.
Young Americans II: Clay and Glass, American Craft Museum, New York, New York; Tucson Museum of Art, AZ, 1978.
Liturgical Arts, 41st International Eucharistic Congress, Philadelphia Civic Center, 1976.

“What a Crock,” San Antonio Monthly, January, 1982.
“Quiet Season Over, Three Exhibits Take Spotlight,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 31, 1982.
“Elegant craft, elegant vision,” The Bulletin, April 15, 1979.
“Liz Stewart exhibit features hand-built, doll-like figures,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 23, 1977.
The Morris Gallery displays the work of outstanding contemporary artists with a connection to Philadelphia, determined by birth, schooling or residence. The exhibitions are chosen by a committee composed of area artists, museum personnel and collectors, and the curatorial staff of the Academy. Currently serving on the Morris Gallery Exhibition Committee are Cynthia Carlson, Ofelia Garcia, Jennie Q. Dietrich, Dr. Helen Herrick, Harold Jacobs, Jay Richardson Massey, Charles Mather III, Cheryl McClenney, John Moore, Mark Rosenthal; and Academy staff Frank Goodyear, Linda Bantel, Betty Romanella and Judith Stein, Morris Gallery coordinator.
Copyright, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1984.
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