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Phyllis
Gillie Jaffe


W O M E N   A R T I S T S

Geraldine McCullough

C 2002 by Nancy Nield Buchwald

Geraldine McCullough
1922-2008

For inquiries contact: Kimberly McCullough - kimmi_mba2006@yahoo.com

Geraldine McCullough working on Treeform Ancestral Parade by Geraldine McCullough

This article was inspired by Advisory Board Member, Deborah Hughes who made us aware of Geraldine McCullough. We thank Anna M. Tyler for additional input and are grateful to Nancy Nield Buchwald who wrote this article. Nancy is a PhD Candidate at University of Chicago. Her research interests include Abstract Expressionism and contemporary feminist art.

Geraldine McCullough's sculptures mobilize visual contradictions and tensions with passion and playfulness. Her three-dimensional work, both large and small scale, reveal a debt to artists as diverse as Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, David Smith, and Barbara Hepworth, and a cultural heritage which encompasses traditional African ritual art as well as European and American artistic influences.

Born on December 1, 1922 in Mason County, Arkansas, McCullough spent her formative years in Chicago, graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with both Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in painting and art education, and taught in the Chicago public school system. After serving as the Chairperson of the Art Department for twelve years, Rosary College, (later Dominican University) in River Forest, IL bestowed upon her an Honorary Doctorate at her retirement. Her work is exhibited in many notable collections throughout the U.S., including 'Three Generations of African American Women Sculptors' at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the National Women's Museum in Washington, DC.

Since McCullough creates both large and small scale pieces, her work addresses the tensions between art created for the public sphere and that created for smaller spaces, whether that of the museum or the private collector. In addition, her sculptures develop a set of visual metaphors for femininity, transformation and collective memory.

While initially a painter, McCullough adopted welded sculpture as her preferred medium after her husband, Lester McCullough introduced her to the technique. McCullough first achieved recognition in the art community with her steel and copper sculpture Phoenix, which received the George D. Widener Gold Medal for Sculpture in 1965. Phoenix, as the title suggests, expresses an organic form, perhaps a leaf, wing, or claw, which rises and unfolds in an elegant twisting movement, almost contrapposto. Like many of her other works, Phoenix blends both figuration and abstraction, suggesting a figure with one arm outstretched and the other bent back over neck and head in pain or joy.

Sculptures such as her Echo series, attest to McCullough's abiding interest in her African cultural heritage. For example, Echo 5 (1993) depicts a seated ceremonial figure, composed of large simple forms and spaces, including a circular cavity in place of a face, and a decorative v-shaped form which suggests of an ornate collar.

Echo V by Geraldine McCullough Treeform by Geraldine McCullough

The 1996 multi-media, metal and yarn sculpture Ode to Joanne, exhibits the visual and thematic concerns of Echo 5 on a more personal level. As in many of her earlier works, the figure faces the viewer, standing regally, with arms outstretched, in this instance forming a crescent shape over an ovoid head. McCullough further activates the surface of the sculpture with a variety of different engravings and decorative marks. While the notion of Echo might refer to McCullough's endeavor to identify and amplify the influence of African ritual and decorative art on the development of 20th century art, Ancestral Parade (1994) makes this passion obvious. A bronze relief, Ancestral Parade combines exquisitely detailed animal, human, and organic forms which cascade into one another in a dance of celebration and transformation. An amazing amount of detail covers the surface of this work, from leaf patterns to nested circles to a variety of abstract inscriptions.

McCullough's 1999 bronze, Treeform, recapitulates her earlier visual and thematic concerns. In this piece, she suggests growth and expansion through a combination of forms which denote both a standing figure as well as organic growth; ranging from circular patterns to triangular leaf shapes, Treeform's compositional elements ascend in abstract layers. However, the same forms in combination with outstretched horizontal cylinders imply arms, just as the two flat circular shapes on the column suggest possible breasts.

In 2000, artist Geraldine McCullough was presented the Oak Park (IL) Area Arts Council's Joseph Randall Shapiro Award, given annually, in recognition of "exceptional contributions to the arts." Inside her huge Oak Park studio Geraldine McCullough continued through the end of her life to work with welded, fabricated, brazed sheet copper and brass, and mute forms of cast bronze in order to discover an eloquent visual language of shape, contour, line, scale, and texture with which to testify to her unique feminine and African-American personal and artistic experience.

EXHIBITIONS:
2004 Evanston, IL
2001 Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL
2001 National Museum of Women, Washington, DC
1997 Traveling Show - Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, Philadelphia, PA - Smithsonian, Washington, DC
1990 Chicago International Art Expo, Chicago,IL
1980 Traveling Show - Forever Free: Art by African American Women 1862-1980
Illinois State University, Normal, IL - Center for the Visual Arts Gallery, Illinois State University - Joslyn Art Museum Omaha, NE - Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL - Gibbes Art Gallery, Charleston, SC - The Art Gallery, University of Maryland - Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
1979 Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY

Studio of Geraldine McCullough

AWARDS:
1988 Purchase Award, Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY - Housing Project Totem
1965 George D. Widner Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA - Phoenix

COMMISSIONS:
Jonathan Green Galleries, Naples, FL - Ode to Joanie-Wherever You Are
State of Illinois, Springfield, IL - (across State Capitol Building) - Miles To Go Before I Sleep (sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr)
University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago, IL - Good-Bye Sepik River
Village of Oak Park, Oak Park, IL (outside Village Hall) - Pathfinder
Citizens of Geneva, Illinois, Geneva, IL (banks of Fox River) - Mill Flower
DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, IL - DuSable's Chicago
Village of Maywood, Maywood, IL - (5th Ave. and Oak) Phoenix Rising
City of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA - Tribute to Youth
Johnson Publishing Company, Chicago, IL (inside foyer) - The Oracle

(above right) 'Ancestral Parade', bronze sculpture by Geraldine McCullough.
(center left) 'Echo V', welded sheet copper, sheet brass, brass rods sculpture by Geraldine McCullough.
(center right) 'Treeform', sculpture by Geraldine McCullough.
(right) 'Partial View of the Geraldine McCullough's Studio'.

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Last Updated
June 19, 2002
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