Nicole Block researches 19th and 20th-century art of the United States, with interests in race, socio-political issues, and critically assessing the canon. Her thesis is about three women artists from Washington who participated in New Deal projects and how they contributed to national and regional conversations about abstraction, modernism, politics, and race during the 1930s. Nicole earned her Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Literary Journalism from the University of California, Irvine. Before coming to the University of Washington, she was a curatorial assistant at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles where she developed interests in provenance and archival research.
Beyond Propaganda and Realism in the New Deal Era: Modernist Negotiations of Artistic Style and Social Engagement in the Work of Northwest Women Artists Rapp, Helder, and Morgan
New Deal work relief programs empowered women, like Seattle-based artists and friends Ebba Rapp, Z. Vanessa Helder, and Blanche Morgan, to pursue art careers. These artists occupied unique subject positions that have been marginalized from the art world (as women, as queer, as Seattleites), but their work overtly supported a limited idea of liberalism and racial equality that protected whiteness. Yet, their work also reveals how artists across the United States were affected by circulating conversations about modernism, art’s role in society, and an “American” cultural identity, as well as controversies with New Deal politics and projects. Though histories of modernism often focus on abstraction, their figurative works demonstrate formal experimentation corresponding to the aesthetic debates of their time while also depicting relevant subject matter. This study reorients our perspective to examine how these women artists contributed to their region’s artistic legacy and engaged in conversations that cut across geographic boundaries and, ultimately, offers a more nuanced understanding of modernism across the nation, beyond a singular male-oriented definition of Northwest art. By paying attention to previously overlooked artists like Rapp, Helder, and Morgan, we can better understand the compromises between New Deal politics and aesthetics, and the identity factors and categories that have limited and shaped the canon of American art.