Banjo-Wielding Women in Art

TUE, SEP 19, 2006 (56:53)

Anglo-female banjoists appear in myriad American paintings, photographs, illustrations, and advertisements from the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. Their presence is equally apparent, and yet more charged, in twentieth-century visual culture. The earlier artists often aligned the banjo with female achievement and enlightenment, yet the instrument was at best an ambiguous emblem of early twentieth-century New Womanhood, with any hint of feminist reform tempered by the literary, visual, and commercial contexts in which a bevy of increasingly coquettish banjo-wielding women appear. This talk traces that evolution, from Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, and Frances Benjamin Johnston to the contemporary muralist Margaret Kilgallen and the singing group Dixie Chicks where the instrument challenges male hegemonies in art and music. Leo G. Mazow is curator of American art at the Palmer Museum of Art at the Pennsylvania State University, where he is also affiliate associate professor of art history. He received his Ph.D. in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His essays and reviews have appeared in American Art, Southern Cultures, and Railroad Heritage. He has also written and edited several exhibition catalogues, including Picturing the Banjo, Arneson and the Object, and George Inness: The 1880s and 1890s.

+ BIO: Leo G. Mazow

Leo G. Mazow is Curator of American Art and Affiliate Assistant Professor of Art History at The Pennsylvania State University.

Boston Athenaeum