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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Women at Work

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This week, two art exhibitions outside the city’s borders—one at West Bend’s Museum of Wisconsin Art (MWA) and the other at the Racine Art Museum (RAM)— will honor women as leaders, innovators and artists. The “Professional Dimensions Collection,” featuring 16 selected pieces of artwork, opens April 2 at the MWA. This unique exhibit centers on the history of Sacagawea, the young Shoshone woman who, with her small child, led Lewis and Clark forward to the Pacific Ocean beginning in 1803. All of the artwork exemplifies (or complements) the multifaceted qualities and talents that allowed Sacagawea to command an expedition of men through dangerous, unexplored territory.

The collection is the inspiration of Professional Dimensions, a business organization that recognizes outstanding women in the Milwaukee community. They created the Sacagawea Award as a way to honor the exceptional commitment demonstrated by her life—a commitment that has shined brightly in each of the award’s recipients since its conception in 1982. To commemorate the annual award, Professional Dimensions com- missions a Wisconsin woman artist to create a piece of artwork that expresses the spirit of Sacagawea. The awards, designed by the artists, display the expertise of each woman in her chosen medium and are accompanied by an artistic statement explaining how the artwork relates to Sacagawea. Stephanie Trenchard, the 2006 artist, showcases an amphora vase suspended in cast transparent glass that represents the “balance, strength and beauty of [Sacagawea’s] life.” The 1993 award by Claire Pfeger is a detailed, symbolic vessel that signifies the “depth of [Sacagawea’s] character, [which] is deeply etched into the container.” A silver sculpture completed by Hai-Chi Jihn in 2000 shows “the growth and devotion in Sacagawea’s life.”

During a reception and gallery talk on May 18, MWA Assistant Director Graeme Reid will speak about the artists involved in the award’s 25-year history. Another female artist, Chicago’s Diane Simpson, travels to RAM to install five new pieces in the museum’s windows on Fifth Street for an April 4 unveiling. The artwork, exhibited through July 27, will preview her September 2008 exhibition at Chicago’s Alfedena Gallery.

Simpson’s window dressing, which offers insight into RAM’s history as a former department store, makes references to the sociological and personal impact of clothing through mixed-media sculptures. One of the windows introduces her interpretation of an oversized bowler hat adorned with architectural imagery. Simpson explains her sculptural art in a gallery talk on May 2 at 6:30 p.m. (one of RAM’s First Fridays).