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Historical women artists: a timeline

Olivia Barone

Arts & Entertainment Editor


March is Women’s History Month, giving creatives a chance to reflect on inspirational women artists who have made waves in their crafts. Celebrate women’s history by traveling back in time with The Anchor to meet the historical icons of women-made art. 


Our timeline begins in c. 610. Sappho is alive on the isle of Lesbos in Greece, writing poetry. She is one of the first poets to write emotional poetry from her perspective rather than commenting on the world around her or reciting a myth. Despite only having access to fragments of her works, Sappho is widely regarded as one of the most influential poets for bold strides in female and LGBTQ+ art. 


Photo from singulart.com

The Renaissance in Europe shone light on the creative world. Everywhere, people were showing pieces of themselves and their communities via art and music and Lavinia Fontana was no different. Born in Italy in 1552, Fontana is considered the first professional female visual artist in western art and is celebrated for her sophisticated works. Most notably, her painting, “The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon” (1599) hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland. 


Frida Kahlo has created for herself an unforgettable silhouette: dangling earrings, floral crown and strong brow. Her portraits, painted throughout her life in the early 1900s, are recognized by many and it seems she has blossomed into a household name. She often pulled from her culture as a Mexican painter, presenting herself in traditional dress and her backgrounds woven with hints to her heritage. Today, a museum in her honor stands in Mexico City. 


Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,'' reigned during the mid 1900s and has since been named the greatest singer of all time twice by the “Rolling Stone.” She was a powerhouse, selling upwards of 75 million records during her career and solidifying herself as one of the most talented musicians of her generation. Not only an incredible talent, Franklin also contributed to the civil rights and women’s rights movements through charity and performing at benefits. 


Film director Vera Chytilová is best known for revolutionizing the Czech film industry with attitude. Her film, “Sedmikrásky,” was released in 1966 and banned soon after but proceeded to win the Grand Prix at the Bergamo Film Festival in Italy. Repeatedly met with censorship, Chytilová did not back down until the release of her final film 40 years later. 


Author of celebrated titles, “Beloved,” “The Bluest Eye” and “The Song of Solomon,” Toni Morrison is one of the most recognizable names in literature. Famous for her complex characters, stunning visuals and emotional narratives, Morrison is deserving of her popularity. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988 and later received a Nobel in literature. Morrison’s stories give a voice to the black community, unveiling generations of oppression in America through prose.  


Reinventing the music industry one song at a time, Madonna the “Queen of Pop,” is a cultural icon. She transcends generational divides, remaining popular among young listeners despite her relevance in the 1980s. Once considered radical for her rebellious content and power as a woman in music, Madonna is now the best-selling female recording artist of all time. 


Cheryl Dunye is a black lesbian contemporary filmmaker from Liberia. Her films began on a low budget, with Dunye often starring, but have quickly climbed into the spotlight. They often incorporate documentary-style techniques as well as narrative, tackling topics of race and sexual orientation. She is known as the first openly lesbian black woman to direct a feature film and for her strides in both black and LGBTQ+ communities. 


In 2015, Misty Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year long history. Despite beginning dance at 13, Copeland leapt to stardom via her considerable talent and dedication. Now, she is a motivational speaker, author of her autobiography: “Life in Motion,” and an inspiration to young ballerinas everywhere. 


Author of “Detransition, Baby,” Torrey Peters, took center stage in 2021 for her work in LGBTQ+ literature. “Time” Magazine recalls “Detransition, Baby” being the most celebrated novel of the year, attributed to its confrontation of the gender binary and transgender life. Peters received the PEN/Hemingway award for best debut novel the year of the book’s release, proudly representing trans women across the world. 


It was Sappho who wrote: “Someone, I tell you, in another time will remember us,” unaware of the strides we take to honor women of the past. Spend Women’s History month remembering women’s success and what was endured to achieve it.

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