Abstract* painter, lithographer and feminist*, Alice Baber specialized in paintings of ovals, circles and free-forms that extolled the radiance of color. Born August 22, 1928 in Charleston, Illinois, the artist was dogged by ill-health as a child, forced to spend her winters in Florida to escape the harsh northern winters. Cancer would claim her on October 2, 1982 in New York City at the relatively young age of fifty-four. She is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Edgar County, Illinois.
But she began her art studies early, as if to compensate for a shortened life, studying drawing as an eight-year-old, and taking a college class by age twelve. She attended Lindenwood College in Missouri for two years, then studied with Alton Pickens, a figurative expressionist painter, at Indiana University in Bloomington. She received her M.A. degree there in1951.
Travel was an important activity for Baber in the early 1950s, during her marriage from 1964-1970 to abstract painter Paul Jenkins, and throughout her life. In 1951, she studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Fontainebleau, France, and traveled through Europe. In 1958, she began a several-year period of living in Paris. In 1964, Baber and Jenkins visited Japan for their show at the Osaka Pinacotheca Museum.
Baber visited India twice in the 1970s. In 1974, she had a one-person exhibition in New Delhi, the same year she traveled to Iran for a show in Teheran. In 1976, she traveled to thirteen Latin American countries, lecturing and exhibiting, on a four-month tour sponsored by the United States Information Agency.
In the early 1950s, Baber went to live in New York City, where she became a member of a Tenth Street co-operative gallery, the March Gallery, where she had her first one-person show in 1958. She attended the Yaddo Colony* in Saratoga Springs, New York for the first time in that year. She was supporting herself by writing, later becoming art editor of McCall's magazine.
Baber organized exhibitions of women artists, including "Color Forum," in 1972 at the University of Texas, in Austin, and "Color, Light, and Image," in 1975 in New York City at the Women's Interart Center, a show of artists from around the world in recognition of the United Nations International Women's Year. Baber wrote an essay for the catalogue of the Texas show. Phyllis Derfner covered the latter exhibition in the March-April, 1976 issue of Art International.
Baber was a writer and teacher, as well as an artist, serving as artist-in-residence in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico's Tamarind Institute lithography workshop. She taught painting at the New School, New York City; University of California at Santa Barbara, and University of California, Berkeley. Her stain paintings, different from but related to those of Paul Jenkins, explored both variations of a single color and rich combinations of multiple colors.
Several Alice Baber paintings form the nucleus of the Baber Midwest Modern Art Collection of the Greater Lafayette Museum of Art in Indiana. In East Hampton, Long Island, New York, the Guild Hall Museum established the Alice Baber Memorial Art Library.
Her work is in the collections of four major New York City museums, the Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art; and in Washington, D.C., the Corcoran Gallery of Art and National Museum of Women in the Arts. Other collections with her work are museums in New Delhi, India; Manchester, England; Amsterdam, Holland; Osaka, Japan; Israel; Austria; Cologne, Germany, and San Francisco and Santa Barbara, California.
Jules and Nancy Heller, North American Women Artists of the 20th Century
Written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier