Hilda Thorpe

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Hilda Shapiro Thorpe (1920–2000) was an American sculptor and painter and part of The Washington Color School. Thorpe was a versatile and much-heralded artist who taught a generation of metro Washington, D.C. artists.[1]

She was one of the few females who was part of this visual-art movement of the late 1950s through the mid-1960s. The Washington Color School was originally a group of painters who showed works in the "Washington Color Painters" exhibit at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in Washington, DC from June 25-September 5, 1965. The exhibition subsequently traveled to several other venues in the United States, including the Walker Art Center. The exhibition's organizer was Gerald "Gerry" Nordland and the painters included Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Howard Mehring, Thomas "Tom" Downing, Paul Reed and Hilda Thorpe.

The Washington Color School artists painted largely abstract works, and were central to the larger color field movement. Though not generally considered abstract expressionists, in so far as much of their work is more orderly than—and not apparently motivated by the philosophy behind—abstract expressionism, there are parallels between the Washington Color School and the abstract expressionists largely to their north in New York City. Minimally, the use of stripes, washes, and fields of single colors of paint on canvas were common to most artists in both groups.


Thorpe was a prolific artist who did not start working professionally until she was nearly 40, and had raised three children.[2]

Thorpe's vibrant displays were featured in hundreds of exhibits over four decades. Although her pieces appeared in South American and North Africa, her work was shown predominantly in the Washington area, at such locations as the Phillips Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Gallery K. In DC.

She made sculpture from materials such as sheet metal, gauze, balsa wood and handmade paper painted with shimmering fields of color. Thorpe carried on the proud tradition of the Washington Color School.[3] Contemporary multimedia artist Barbara Januszkiewicz recalls Thorpe's combining music, dance and art "happenings in her studio." Barb Januszkiewicz had present of mind to once videotape a day in Hilda's studio. Later this footage was made into a television documentary for creative vision television and after it was passing was really mixed as a salute to her life in her own words.The documentary Januszkiewicz remixed was also printed word to word in the upscale art house black-and-white newspaper magazine called The Washington Review, publisher Mary Swift.[4]

Januszkiewicz was first exposure to "happenings" through The Washington Color School artist Hilda Thorpe in the early 1980s. Her art studio in old town Alexandria Virginia would foster diverse artists and performers to coming together in making performing art installations. Thorpe recalls many of Washington's best artists would show up and be part of these happenings. Others spectators would just layback and enjoy the interplay between all the different disciplines. This was a forerunner to the art happenings that occurred in the Washington area with Art-o-Matic. These happenings provide a forum for artists to convene, perform and exhibit, strengthening Washington's arts community.[5]


  • Elizabeth Tebow Hilda Thorpe: sculpture, paperwork, painting, 1963-1988, Athenaeum, Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association (Alexandria, Va), 1988
  • "Hilda Thorpe, in her own words", Washington Review Volume XXVI No.1 June/July 2000


  1. ^ Hilda Thorpe: Sculpture, Paperwork, Painting 1963-1988; Introduction and catalog essays by Elizabeth Tebow; Organized and edited by Lois McArdle.
  2. ^ Hilda Thorpe: Sculpture, Paperwork, Painting 1963-1988; Introduction and catalog essays by Elizabeth Tebow; Organized and edited by Lois McArdle.
  3. ^ http://users.erols.com/januszkb/cvtv7.html
  4. ^ Washington Review XXV June/July 2000
  5. ^ Washington Review XXV June/July 2000

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