Gallo to paint new impression of female artists

Rachael Le Goubin | Staff Photographer
Mimi Gallo will discuss “Women of the Impressionists” at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Chautauqua Women’s Club.

When Mimi Gallo spoke before the Chautauqua Women’s Club in 2012 on “Wild Women Artists,” she introduced her audience to two independent and unconventional European painters during the final third of the 19th century.

At 9 a.m. on Thursday at the CWC House, Gallo will conclude the 2014 Chautauqua Speaks series with a presentation on “Women of the Impressionists,” which will continue to spotlight artists; in this case, it will be four French and three American Impressionists.

Gallo plans to highlight and compare two of these women in particular — the Parisian painter Berthe Morisot, 1841–1895, and the American painter Mary Cassatt, 1844–1926.

According to Gallo, Morisot is considered to have been the quintessential Impressionist.

Cassatt’s best work, according to key art critics, was the body of prints she made using a difficult technique that she and Edgar Degas developed by hand.

Gallo searched widely for references, crossing the Atlantic for French art history books and other resources. She said that she also dug deep for the information she will present, some of which cannot be found in art history books.

Gallo attended Northwestern University and majored in advertising and marketing. After returning to northeastern Ohio where she had grown up, Gallo’s faculty for fundraising began to be noticed. She was called upon to design an art appreciation program for fourth-graders in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Using a program from California as a baseline, Gallo soon realized that her pilot was comprised of an odd assortment of artists that didn’t fit with Chagrin’s fourth-grade curriculum.

So she approached a large art museum nearby for guidance. It turned her down, she said, since she wasn’t a trained art historian or teacher.

The museum’s response didn’t sit well with Gallo. She knew that it had worked with a friend who also lacked such training. And by then she had begun attending summer school classes on art history and was already thinking: “I could do that; I could teach,” she said.

She’d also started collaborating with Annette Lowe, a teacher who had taken master’s-level courses in art, in order to align Gallo’s art program with Chagrin’s curriculum.

Crossing Ohio to Michigan, Gallo entered another major art museum in search of advice. There, she said, she was told that the pilot materials were rubbish and she should stop. She told the museum she’d keep at it anyway. The museum caved and cooperated.

Gallo has since immersed herself in art, art history and their broader implications and applications. By year two, she and Lowe had begun writing their own material. They soon formed the nonprofit Art Partner to customize art appreciation to fit the academic curriculum.

“It was fun,” Gallo said. “I really enjoyed it.”

Rather than teach “true art history” the way art historians are trained to do — by time period — Gallo said that her approach was theme-oriented.

For example, one of her themes is the incorporation of art into math and science. She has used paintings created by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian to demonstrate how a tree can be simplified into two masses of colors, which evolve into two squares and colors, whose squares and angles can be measured.

“The kids realize that art is not as simple as they thought,” Gallo said. “Mondrian had to do all that measuring first. In teaching children about painting, you can teach them about so many other things. First of all, you teach them appreciation. Then about how to look at a painting and make deductions about the time period in history, such as from what they’re wearing. Especially with computers and information coming so fast, people no longer take the time to look, yet looking and deduction are important for science.”

Once Gallo and Lowe began conducting in-service training programs for elementary school teachers, they were asked if they also taught adults. So Gallo began teaching a Special Studies class on the grounds.

“I teach art out of the box,“ Gallo said. “It’s all around art, artists, paintings. But it’s really about history and time frames.”

Because so much of what she was incorporating into her training and art appreciation programs was American history, Gallo traveled to Washington, D.C., to conduct research at the Smithsonian and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. In time, she focused increasingly on Native American history as painted by American artists, and on women artists.

When she and Lowe first started, Gallo said, their only resource about women artists was one book from the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Although many more books can be found now, small museums show more women artists than do large museums. While the latter may have many pieces in storage, she said they exhibit very few paintings and sculptures by women.

“I have been exploring women’s studies from a different aspect,” Gallo said. “I’ve been blown away by the number of women who supported themselves with art in the 1400s.”