Five women artists: Interpreting Shakespeare through sculpture and book art

This blog post spotlights five female artists whose interpretations of Shakespeare’s works are part of the Folger collection. We decided to highlight three sculptors and two book artists. Several of these artists and their work have been featured on The Collation, a Folger blog about research, scholarship, and the Folger collection.

Alice Morgan Wright

This bronze figure of Lady Macbeth was sculpted by Alice Morgan Wright (1881-1975).

Alice Morgan Wright
Alice Morgan Wright. Lady Macbeth. Bronze, ca. 1920. Folger Shakespeare Library.

As Erin Blake, then Folger curator of art, wrote in a 2013 blog post on The Collation:

“The bronze was a gift to Mr. Folger from Mrs. Folger’s sister, Mary Augusta Jordan. Records show that the gift went into storage almost immediately after it was received in September, 1921. Mary Augusta Jordan surely knew that modern art wasn’t to her brother-in-law’s taste, and I like to think that she had a sly grin as she presented it. Not only was it modern art, the sculptor was a women’s rights activist who had served time in prison following a Suffragist demonstration in London in 1912. He might not care for it, but thanks to the Shakespearean subject—Lady Macbeth, no less—he couldn’t get rid of it.”

Anne Seymour Damer

Called Britain’s first woman sculptor, Anne Seymour Damer (1749-1828) contributed three basso relieve (low-relief) sculptures to the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, depicting scenes from Antony and Cleopatra (Act V) and Coriolanus (Act II, Scene 1). This fashionable London gallery, which opened in 1789, was packed with works inspired by Shakespeare’s plays by leading artists of the day.

One of the ways the Boydell Gallery made money was selling engravings of the artwork on display. This print by Thomas Hellyer shows Damer’s Antony and Cleopatra sculpture, the death of Cleopatra. The other images show Damer’s sculptures as they might have appeared in the Boydell Gallery, according to an online recreation called What Jane Saw.

Brenda Putnam

Sculptor Brenda Putnam (1890-1975) worked as a Works Progress Administration artist in the 1930s. She was the daughter of Herbert Putnam, director of the Library of Congress, the Folger’s neighbor.

This statue will be familiar to anyone who’s visited the Folger. The original statue was created for the Folger grounds in 1932 and restored in 2001. An aluminum replica graces the Folger’s outdoor fountain, while the original sits in the Folger Theatre lobby.

Sue Doggett

And now, turning to the book artists. This beautiful sketchbook in the Folger collection is the work of Sue Doggett.

ART Vol. d108, binding
The Tempest, a sketchbook from the play by William Shakespeare. 1995. Folger Shakespeare Library.

As Blake wrote in a 2011 blog post on The Collation:

“The Folger recently acquired a 1995 version of The Tempest by London book artist Sue Doggett that complicates the distinction. Readers of this one-of-a-kind book encounter Shakespeare’s text through Doggett’s artistry, where her choices of paper, lettering, imagery, texture, and color help interpret the selected scenes. The book is not an edition of The Tempest, but rather an artist’s encounter with it, entitled The Tempest, a sketchbook from the play by William Shakespeare.”

Jan Kellett

Jan Kellett is another book artist, whose book Storming Shakespeare the Folger acquired in 2013. The book itself is 73mm high, 65mm wide, and 28 mm in thickness.

Kellett wrote the following in a 2014 blog post on The Collation:

“This is the finished book, showing the three parts: the first part is the essay about Shakespeare’s use of storms in Julius Caesar, King Lear, and The Tempest; the second part, (facing front on the right side of the picture) consists of quotations from Julius Caesar and King Lear with drypoint and monotype illustrations; and the third part in the center (here facing away from us) deals with the storm in The Tempest, using quotations and illustrations, and bound in such a way as to convey the ethereal dreamlike nature of the play.”

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