May Stevens

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May Stevens
Born May Stevens
(1924-06-09)June 9, 1924
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Education Massachusetts College of Art
Art Students League of New York
Académie Julian
Bunting Institute, Radcliffe College
Known for Painting
Drawings and prints
Books and manuscripts
Notable work Freedom Riders (1963)
Big Daddy series (1968-76)
Artemesia Gentileschi series (1974-79)
History Paintings series (1974-81)
Ordinary/Extraordinary series (1976-91)
SoHo Women Artists (1978)
Sea of Words series (1990)
Rivers and Other Bodies of Water series (2001)
Movement Feminist art

May Stevens (born June 9, 1924) is an American feminist artist, political activist, educator, and writer.[1] Major works include: Freedom Riders (1963), "Big Daddy" series (1968–1976), Ordinary/Extraordinary (1976), and SoHo Women Artists (1978). In 1977, she was one of the featured artists discussed in a seminar given by Jacqueline Moss at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. The seminar was titled "The Women's Movement: Iconography, Esthetics".[2]


Stevens was born to working-class parents, Alice Dick Stevens and Ralph Stanley Stevens, in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in Quincy.[3] Stevens had one brother, Stacey Dick Stevens who died of pneumonia at the age of fifteen.[4]

May Stevens studied at the Massachusetts College of Art, the Art Students League and the Academie Julian in Paris. She began her first major painting series in 1963, Freedom Riders (with catalogue essay by Martin Luther King, Jr.) before moving to New York in 1967, where she lived and maintained studios with her husband, Rudolf Baranik, until 1997. During this time, she taught at the School of Visual Arts (1961–96). Other well-known painting series include Big Daddy (1967–76); Artemesia Gentileschi (1974–79); History Paintings (1974–81); Ordinary Extraordinary / Rosa Luxemburg and Alice Stevens (1976-91); Sea of Words (begun in 1990); and Rivers and Other Bodies of Water, (begun in 2001). Stevens helped found the magazine Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, published from 1977 to 1992.

Stevens’ has exhibited widely throughout her life. She moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1998 and in 1999, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, had a major retrospective of her work, entitled Images of Women Near and Far 1983-1997, the museum’s first exhibition for a living female artist. Her solo exhibition in 2006 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art traveled to Springfield Museum of Art, MO and National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC. Stevens’ work is in numerous museum collections, including the British Museum; Brooklyn Museum; Cleveland Museum; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Academy of Design, NY; National Museum of Women in the Arts; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Whitney Museum of American Art.

Stevens is the recipient of numerous awards including the College Art Association Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement as an artist, poet, social activist, and teacher (2001), 10 MacDowell Colony residencies, Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award, Bunting Fellowship (1990), Guggenheim Fellowship in painting (1986), National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in painting (1983), Andy Warhol Foundation Award (2001).[5][6][7][8][9]

Selected exhibitions[edit]

  • 1951 Salon D’Autumne, Paris, France
  • 1951 Salon De Jeunes Peintres, Paris, France
  • 1957 May Stevens, ACA Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1963 Freedom Riders: Paintings by May Stevens, Roko Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1971 The Permanent Collection: Women Artists, The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
  • 1973 Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
  • 1977 Consciousness and Content, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1980 Issue: Social Strategies by Women Artists, Institute of Contemporary Art, London
  • 1982 Art Couples 1: May Stevens and Rudolf Baranik, P.S. 1, New York, NY
  • 1983 Portraits on a Human Scale, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1984 Tradition and Conflict, 1963-1973, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
  • 1985 Ordinary/Extraordinary, A Summation 1977-84 Boston University Art Gallery, MA (traveling exhibition)
  • 1988 Committed to Print, 1960 to Present, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
  • 1988 One Plus or Minus One, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY
  • 1989 Mothers of Invention, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, New York, NY (traveling exhibition)
  • 1995–98 Sniper’s Nest: Art That Has Lived with Lucy R. Lippard, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, NM
  • 1999 May Stevens: Images of Women Near and Far, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
  • 2001 Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, CA Rivers and Other Bodies of Water, Mary Ryan Gallery, New York, NY (begun in 2000)
  • 2002 Personal and Political: Women Artists of the Eighties, Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, NY
  • 2002 In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI
  • 2003 Deep River, new paintings and works on paper, Mary Ryan Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2005 New Works, Mary Ryan Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2005-6 The Water Remembers: Paintings and Works on Paper from 1990-2004 Started at the Springfield Museum of Art, Springfield, MO and traveled to the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts (June – September 2005) and the National Museum of Women in the Arts (October 2005 – January 2006).
  • 2006 How American Women Artists Invented Postmodernism: 1970-1975, Mabel Smith Douglas Library, Rutgers (traveling exhibition)
  • 2006 Women, Words, and Water: Works on Paper by May Stevens, Rutgers University
  • 2007 ashes rock snow water: New Paintings and Works on Paper, Mary Ryan Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2008 May Stevens: Big Daddy, Paintings and works on paper, 1968-1976 Mary Ryan Gallery, NY
  • 2010 May Stevens: Crossing Time, I.D.E.A. Space at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO
  • 2011 One Plus or Minus One, Mary Ryan Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2012 May Stevens: The Big Daddy Series, National Academy of Design, New York, NY
  • 2013 May Stevens: Political Pop at ADAA: The Art Show, Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY

Selected public collections[edit]

Selected awards[edit]

  • 1958 New England Annual Landscape Prize
  • 1968–69 National Institute of Arts and Letters Child Hassam Purchase Award
  • 1971 MacDowell Colony Fellowship
  • 1978 LINE Association Grant for Artist’ Books
  • 1983 National Endowment for the Arts Grant in Painting
  • 1986 Guggenheim Fellowship in Painting
  • 1988–89 Bunting Fellowship, Radcliffe College
  • 1990 WCA Honor Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • 1997 Massachusetts College of Art Alumna of the Year
  • 2001 Andy Warhol Foundation Award
  • 2001 College Art Association Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement “as an artist, poet, social activist and teacher”
  • 2004 Edwin Palmer Memorial Prize for Painting, National Academy of Design

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Alloway, Lawrence. May Stevens. Catalog for Big Daddy Series. New York: Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 1973.
  • Braff, Phyllis. “The Feminine Image in Its Many Facets in the 20th Century.” New York Times, April 6, 1997.
  • Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art and Society. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.
  • Glueck, Grace. “May Stevens ‘Rivers and Other Bodies of Water’”. New York Times. June 1, 2001.
  • Gouma-Peterson, Thalia and Patricia Mathews. “The Feminist Critique of Art History.” Art Bulletin, September 1987.
  • Hills, Patricia, ed. May Stevens. Ordinary/Extraordinary: A Summation, 1977-1984. Essays by Donald Kuspit, Lucy Lippard, Moira Roth, Lisa Tickner. Boston: Boston University Art Gallery, 1984.
  • Hills, Patricia and Phyllis Rose. May Stevens Petaluma, CA: Pomegranate Communications, 2005.
  • Johnson, Ken. “May Stevens.” New York Times, November 21, 1997
  • King, Martin Luther. Preface in Freedom Riders [exhibition catalogue]. Roko Gallery, New York, NY, 1963
  • Lippard, Lucy R. From the Center. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1976.
  • Lippard. “Caring: Five Political Artists.” Studio International [London, England], March 1977.
  • Lippard. “In Sight, Out of Mind.” Z Magazine, May 1988.
  • Lippard. “The Politics of Art Criticism.” Maine Times, August 4, 1989.
  • Mathews, Patricia. “A Dialogue of Silence: May Stevens’ Ordinary/Extraordinary, 1977-1986.” Art Criticism 3, no. 2, Summer 1987.
  • Mathews. “Feminist Art Criticism. ”Art Criticism, vol. 5, no. 2, 1989.
  • “May Stevens” The New Yorker. February 17 & 24, 2003.
  • Murdoch, Robert. “May Steven.” ARTnews. October 1999.
  • Olander, William. One Plus or Minus One. Essays by William Olander and Lucy Lippard. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988.
  • Parker, Rosika and Griselda Pollock, eds. Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1985. London: Pandora, 1987.
  • Plagens, Peter. “A Painful War’s Haunted Art.” Newsweek, September 1989.
  • Pollock, Griselda. “The Politics of Art or an Aesthetic for Women.” FAN 5, [London, England], 1982.
  • Shapiro, Barbara Stern. May Stevens: Images of Women Near and Far. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1999.
  • Wallach, Alan. “May Stevens: On the Stage of History.” Arts, November 1978.
  • Wei, Lilly. “May Stevens at Mary Ryan” Art in America. November 1996.
  • Withers, Josephine. "Revisioning Our Foremothers: Reflections on the 'Ordinary. Extraordinary' Art of May Stevens." Feminist Studies vol. 13, no. 3 (Autumn 1987), pp. 485–512.
  • Zimmer, William. “Ten Major Women Artists.” New York Times, March 22, 1987.


  1. ^ The Art of May Stevens
  2. ^ "Art History Seminars" The Hour, Norwalk, Connecticut (November 4, 1977), p. 39. Retrieved November 3, 2011
  3. ^ Hills, Patricia (2005). May Stevens. Petaluma, CA: Pomegranate Communications, Inc. p. 11. ISBN 0-7649-3323-X. 
  4. ^ Hills, Patricia (2005). May Stevens. Petaluma, CA: Pomegranate Communications, Inc. p. 14. ISBN 0-7649-3323-X. 
  5. ^ Patricia Hills and Phyllis Rose, May Stevens, Pomegranate Communications (Petaluma, CA 2005)
  6. ^ Patricia Hills, ed. May Stevens. Ordinary/Extraordinary: A Summation, 1977-1984, with essays by Donald Kuspit, Lucy Lippard, Moira Roth, and Lisa Tickner (Boston University Art Gallery 1984)
  7. ^ Lucy R. Lippard, “May Stevens’ Big Daddies,” in From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art (New York 1976)
  8. ^ Barbara Stern Shapiro, May Stevens: Images of Women Near and Far (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts 1999)
  9. ^ Lawrence Alloway, May Stevens Catalog for Big Daddy Series (New York: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University 1973)

External links[edit]