Thursday, October 28, 2010

Art Heroes: Hildreth Meière

8 x 10" Vitreous Painting on Glass, of Hildreth Meière

“It drives me wild to be spoken of as ‘one of the best women artists,’ ” she wrote to a friend in 1936. “I’ve worked as an equal with men, and my rating as an equal is all that I value.”

~ Hildreth Meière

Hildreth Meière (1892-1961) was a mural artist of some renown during her lifetime. She was a distinguished Art Deco muralist, mosaicist, painter and decorative artist, and ranks with the very small number of women artists - such as Violet Oakley, Bernice Abbot, Isabel Bishop and Georgia O'Keefe - whose achievements gained the recognition of the established art world during the first half of the twentieth century. Educated at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in Florence, Italy, she became a leading practitioner of the art of mosaic, and one of America's most gifted embellishers of architectural environments.
A large body of her work remains in public view on and in buildings such as Rockefeller Center, the Nebraska State Capitol Building in Lincoln, the St. Louis Cathedral, and St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan. Hildreth Meière's designs, ranging from traditional historical realism to Art Deco, reflected many of the tensions that surface in mid-twentieth century American culture, as a modernism accommodated the wishes of Americans in positions of power. Issues of class, patronage, religion, and partitions provided the framework for Meière's life and art, as well as a specific picture of public art in mid-twentieth century America.
Designing for mosaic, ceramics, metal, stained glass, and frescos, she was commissioned by mainstream architects for projects on buildings associated with the East Coast upper-middle class. At the same time she worked in harmony with artisans and craftspeople to see her designs through to execution. Practical and efficient, neither avant-garde nor consistently conservative, Meière's murals, numbering well over a hundred, often represented the middle ground of American modern style in architectural projects, from churches to World's Fairs to public buildings to skyscrapers.
Meière believed that being labeled a woman artist trivialized her work, a view shared by her contemporary Georgia O'Keeffe. She disliked political feminism, yet lived an independent life as a successful artist and single parent. Meière's relationship to her clients represents less familiar areas of women's cultural and social history. Her career fleshes out the story of American women in art and the broader history of upper middle class, conservative American society during the mid-twentieth century. Meière served as President of the National Society of Mural Painters and the Liturgical Arts Society (the latter founded in her studio), was first Vice-President of the Architectural League of New York (one of the first women members, she received its Gold Medal in Mural Painting in 1928), was a director of the Municipal Arts Society, an Associate of the National Academy of Design, and was appointed the first woman on the New York City Art Commission.
Hildreth Meière as an artist was a significant figure in several important areas of American visual culture:
First - She was most famous as an Art deco muralist and decorator whose work stands among the most distinguished of her era
Second - She is an important figure in the history of American Liturgical Art, and one of its most ecumenical practitioners
Third - She is one of the preeminent mosaicists in the history of American art
And Finally - She is a woman artist who was able to gain the respect of the greatest muralists and architects of her day. * In 1928, she received a Gold Medal from the Architectural League of New York. * In 1956, she was the first woman honored with the Fine Arts Medal of the American Institute of Architects.

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