Beyond Vassar

About Books

Self-Portraits by Women Painters
By Liana D. Cheney, Kathleen L. Russo, and Alicia Craig Faxon ‘52
Ashgate Press, 2000

Self-Portraits by Women Painters, a survey of painted self-portraits by women, covers Western art from antiquity through the end of the 20th century and is the production of three authors, one of whom is Alicia Craig Faxon ‘52. Faxon, now professor emerita at Simmons College in Boston, wrote the sections on the 19th- and 20th-century painters. The artists’ styles range widely, from the formal, frontal, self-portrait of Gwen John to Annette Messager’s wall installation combining artwork, stuffed animals, photography, and constructed shapes–which is, according to Faxon, "a self-portrait as putatively created by others."

Faxon addresses feminist concerns in several works in which women artists abandon traditional portraiture for irrational and spontaneous images. In "A Delicate Balance," Juanita McNeely paints herself with baby on her lap confined to a tiny space by threatening walls. Faxon finds humor and imagination in Anita Steckel’s audacious collage "Giant Woman on New York," in which Steckel’s nude body, paintbrush in hand, embraces the Empire State Building over an aerial view of the city. In Hung Liu’s traditional portrait, entitled "Golden Gate," Faxon sees the representation of every immigrant woman who has come to the United States in search of a better life. More cryptic, as Faxon states, is Howardina Pindell’s "Autobiography: Water/Ancestors/Middle Passage/Family Ghosts," a self-portrait in which the artist does not appear directly but that includes references to the notorious slave voyages from Africa to America, which Pindell’s ancestors had taken.

Earlier sections in this volume by Liana Cheney and Kathleen Russo discuss the intimate and personal self-portraits of women in the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance periods, often examining their relation to works in the same period by male artists.

Alicia Faxon was professor of art history at Simmons College and department chair for six years; she was awarded an honorary degree upon her 1999 retirement. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa during her junior year, Faxon was a history major at Vassar and received her doctorate from Boston University in 1979. She is the author of numerous articles and her 1989 volume, Daniel Gabriel Rosetti, published by Abbeville, is in its second printing.

Faxon is now organizing an exhibition of paintings by Samuel Bak, a holocaust survivor, for a Boston gallery and preparing a paper, "Daniel Rosetti: Secret Societies, Secret Sources," to be given at a medieval conference at the University of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. She continues to publish on Pre-Raphaelite and feminist issues.

—Bannon Jones McHenry ‘52

Exploring Twins
Toward a Social Analysis of Twinship


By Elizabeth A. Stewart ’64
St. Martin’s Press, 2000

After the birth of her own twins, London-based sociologist Elizabeth Weinberg Stewart ’64 began to think about and eventually study the complex concept of twinship. The result is her book, an original contribution to the growing field of twin studies. Exploring Twins questions the reduction of twinship to wholly genetic explanations, identifying and analyzing the more nuanced social dimension of twinship. It will be of interest to specialists in the analysis and social practices of twin relations as well as to those fascinated by the intricacies of the wider human family.