Leading Women in the Arts

The Leading Women in the Arts series was launched at the Weissman Center for Leadership in collaboration with the InterArts Council in Spring 2006. This engaging program reflects the center's support of public presentations by scholars, artists, writers, and practitioners that engage the academic work of the college with the public sphere.

Invited guest artists are featured in public campus discussions about the interconnections between creative expression of all forms and cultural transformations.

Patrizia von Brandenstein

Translations: From Word to Image to Screen
October 15, 2015, 7:00 pm
Gamble Auditorium, Art Building
Free and open to the public

Student Leadership and Careers Luncheon
with Patrizia von Brandenstein
Friday, October 16, 12:15 pm
Preregistration required.

Patrizia von Brandenstein began her film career in 1972 with a debut screen credit as a set decorator on the acclaimed drama The Candidate, and subsequently worked as both a scenic artist and costume designer, with credits including Between the Lines and Saturday Night Fever.

In 1985, von Brandenstein won the Academy Award for her vividly detailed rendering of the age of Mozart for Amadeus, her second collaboration with Forman. In 1987, von Brandenstein received her third Oscar nomination for Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, and further distinguished herself with her work on the teen musical Beat Street, the high-society comedy drama Six Degrees of Separation, and a return to the West for The Quick and the Dead.

Her additional production credits include A Chorus Line, Billy Bathgate, Sneakers, Leap of Faith, Just Cause, The People Vs. Larry Flynt and Mercury Rising, as well as A Simple Plan, Man on the Moon, Shaft, The Ice Harvest, All the King’s Men and Goya’s Ghosts. Von Brandenstein also worked on the historical drama The Last Station, directed by Michael Hoffman, for whom she designed The Emperor’s Club in 2002. She designed the acclaimed Irish drama Albert Nobbs starring Glenn Close and Janet McAteer, and David Mamet’s production of the courtroom drama, Phil Spector, starring Helen Mirren and Al Pacino, for HBO. This production earned nominations for an Art Directors Guild award as well as an Emmy nomination.

Carrie Mae Weems

Art and Humanity
Fall 2014

Thursday, September 18
7:00 PM, Gamble Auditorium, Art Building
Free lecture and open to the public

Student Leadership and Careers Luncheon with Carrie Mae Weems
Friday, September 19
12:15 pm, Willits-Hallowell Center
Pre-registration required

Carrie Mae Weems has worked toward developing a complex body of art that has employed photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video over the past twenty-five years.  Her work has led her to investigate family relationships, gender roles, the histories of racism, sexism, class, and various political systems.

Of her own work Weems has said, “Despite the variety of my explorations, throughout it all it has been my contention that my responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the roof-tops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.” 

In a review of her series The Hampton Project in the New York Times, Holland Cotter says, “Weems has long been one of our most effective visual and verbal rhetoricians. When she tackles complex subjects in complex ways, the results are . . . deeply stirring.”

Weems has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions at major national and international museums including the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Currently, her work is the focus of a major retrospective, Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video.  The exhibition began its run at The Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville then travelled to Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, and is ending at the Guggenheim Museum, New York where it is currently on view through May 14. Yale University Press published the eponymous accompanying catalogue.

Weems has received numerous awards, grants and fellowships including the prestigious Prix de Roma, The National Endowment of the Arts, the Alpert, the Anonymous was a Woman and the Tiffany Awards. In 2012, Weems was presented with one of the first US Department of State’s Medals of Arts in recognition for her commitment to the State Department’s Art in Embassies program.

In 2013 Weems was not only the recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant, but she also received the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. 

She is represented in public and private collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, NY and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Weems has been represented by Jack Shainman Gallery since 2008. Her exhibitions with the gallery include Slow Fade to Black (2010), Signs Taken for Wonders (2009) curated by Isolde Brielmaier, Carrie Mae Weems: A Survey (2008) and The Whole World is Rotten (2005).

Billie Tsien

A Building is a Verb
Spring 2014

Thursday, April 17
7:00 PM
Gamble Auditorium, Art Building
Free and open to the public 

Student Leadership and Careers Luncheon with Billie Tsien
Thursday, April 17
12:15 PM
Preregistration required for students 

Billie Tsien, Leading Women in the Arts guest-artist in residence, recently attended a lecture where the writer Seamus Heaney was quoted as saying that as he got older he felt more like a noun than a verb. Tsien started to think about architecture and decided that for her and her partner, Tod Williams,  buildings are verbs. Their work is less and less interested in buildings as objects (nouns) and more and more interested in buildings as experiences (verbs). Tsien will present several of their recent projects including the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the process of crafting these experiences.

Billie Tsien was born in Ithaca, New York. She received her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from Yale and her Masters in Architecture from UCLA. Billie Tsien has worked with Tod Williams since 1977 and in 1986 they formed the partnership of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in New York City.

 Their compelling body of work includes Hereford College at the University of Virginia, the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, the Cranbrook Natatorium in Michigan, the American Folk Art Museum in New York, Skirkanich Hall Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, two additions to the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, the CV Starr East Asian Library at the University of California, Berkeley, the David Rubenstein Atrium at New York’s Lincoln Center, and the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College. Projects including the Asia Society Center in Hong Kong, the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington DC, the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, and a dormitory at Haverford College in Philadelphia were completed between 2011 and 2012. An information technology campus for Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai, India is under construction, in addition to two new skating rinks for Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University. The firm, with Davis Brody Bond, was recently awarded the commission to design the New Embassy Compound in Mexico City.

In addition to practicing, teaching and lecturing, Tsien serves on the advisory council for the Yale School of Architecture, and is a Director of the Public Art Fund, the Architectural League of New York, and the American Academy of Rome, where she was in residence in 1999. In 2007, Tsien was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Francine Prose

Language and Character
Fall 2012

Wednesday, October 10
7:00 PM
Hooker Auditorium, Clapp Building
Free and open to the public

Acclaimed author Francine Prose is this year's Leading Woman in the Arts guest speaker who will discuss the unique ways in which writers use language to create characters in literature.

Prose is currently Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College and most recently the author of My New American Life (2012) and Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife (2009). The recipient of many awards, Prose has published more than 20 books, including the novel Blue Angel (2000), a satire about sexual harassment on college campuses and a National Book Award nominee. Other fiction includes the novels A Changed Man (2005), Hunters and Gatherers (1995), Primitive People (1992), and Bigfoot Dreams (1986), as well as the story collection Guided Tours of Hell (1997). Along with Anne Frank and Caravaggio (2005), Prose’s nonfiction includes The New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer (2006), Sicilian Odyssey (2003), and Gluttony: The Seven Deadly Sins (2003). Her stories and essays have appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Best American Short Stories, The New Yorker, and The New York Times among many others. She is a contributing editor at Harper’s, a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities.

In 2010, Prose was awarded the Washington University International Humanities Medal. The $25,000 prize is among the largest literary awards in the United States. She received the award at Washington University in St. Louis, where she gave the address “Ten Things Art Can Do.” Awarded biennially, the medal honors the lifetime work of a noted scholar, writer, or artist who has made a significant and sustained contribution to the world of letters or the arts. Generously supported by David and Phyllis Wilson Grossman, the award’s past winners are Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk in 2006 and journalist Michael Pollan in 2008.

Student Leadership Seminar Luncheon
Authentic Authors: Leadership and Creativity
Thursday, October 11
12:15 PM

Students are invited to a luncheon with Francine Prose to discuss writing and the role of leadership in successful creative endeavors. Pre-registration is required.

Meredith Monk

Archeology of an Artist
Spring 2011

Meredith Monk, hailed as a "magician of the voice" and "one of America's coolest composers," was the 2011 Leading Woman in the Arts guest artist-in-residence at Mount Holyoke College on April 28 and 29, 2011. Monk presented "Archeology of an Artist," a public lecture and demonstration of her works and techniques, on Thursday, April 28, at 7:00 pm in Gamble Auditorium, Art Building, at Mount Holyoke College. 

A composer, singer, director/choreographer and creator of new opera, music theater works, films and installations, Monk is a pioneer in what is now called “extended vocal technique” and “interdisciplinary performance.”  She creates works that thrive at the intersection of music and movement, image and object, light and sound in an effort to discover and weave together new modes of perception. Her groundbreaking exploration of the voice as an instrument, as an eloquent language in and of itself, expands the boundaries of musical composition, creating landscapes of sound that unearth feelings, energies, and memories for which we have no words. During a career that spans more than 45 years, including a Grammy nomination in 2008 for the CD Impermanence, she has been acclaimed by audiences and critics as a major creative force in the performing arts.

Since graduating Sarah Lawrence College in 1964, Monk has received numerous awards including the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Award in 1995, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Brandeis Creative Arts Award, three “Obies” (including an award for Sustained Achievement), two Villager Awards, two “Bessie” awards for Sustained Creative Achievement, the 1986 National Music Theatre Award, the 1992 Dance Magazine Award, and a 2005 ASCAP Concert Music Award. In 2006 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and named a United States Artists Fellow. In 2010 she was awarded a Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center. Monk holds honorary Doctor of Arts degrees from Bard College, the University of the Arts, The Juilliard School, the San Francisco Art Institute and the Boston Conservatory.

Monk's most recent works include a new music theater piece, Songs of Ascension, that premiered in October 2008 and soon went on an international tour. WEAVE for Two Voices, Chamber Orchestra and Chorus premiered with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in March 2010.  In June, 2010, Monk premiered Education of the Girlchild Revisited in Paris. This evening-length work is comprised of Monk’s legendary solo from Education of the Girlchild (1972) and Shards, a reconfiguration of music, images, and movement from the Girlchild period (1969-1973).  Her music has also been performed by many notable soloists and groups including Bang on a Can All-Stars, Björk, The Chorus of the San Francisco Symphony, Double Edge, Musica Sacra, and The Pacific Mozart Ensemble, among others. It can also be heard in numerous films, including La Nouvelle Vague by Jean-Luc Godard and The Big Lebowski by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Kaija Saariaho

A Conversation with Kaija Saariaho
Spring 2010

World renowned Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho will be the 2010 Leading Women in the Arts guest artist-in-residence at Mount Holyoke College.  She will visit with us from April 9 through April 11, 2010.  Hailed as "one of contemporary music's most powerful voices," Ms. Saariaho will launch her visit with "A Conversation with Kaija Saariaho" on Friday, April 9th.   This public event will afford the opportunity to learn more about both the woman and her music through conversation and live demonstration.   A series of concerts, screenings, and master classes will complete Ms. Saariaho's stay.

As the 2008 winner of the Musical America's prestigious “Composer of the Year” award, Kaija Saariaho was recognized as "among the few contemporary composers to achieve public acclaim as well as universal critical respect."  Her works have many facets to discover, see and hear.  Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed wrote, "Hers is music of transitions, of shifting colors and stunning lyrical beauty."

A composer of immense imagination and creative power, Ms. Saariaho expands the boundaries of melody, harmony, timbre, voice, and sound in her works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, ballet, and opera.  She is fascinated by the idea that the essentially mysterious nature of sound can never be completely encompassed by knowledge and believes that the art of composition implies a constant search for new techniques and forms. Through media such as visual imaging, and computer techniques that combine with melody, harmony, and a classical sound, Ms. Saarihao creates a journey of feelings, senses, memories, and textures which captivates her audience. She has a remarkable ability to create music within different dimensions of seamless sound, melody, and mystical beauty.

Event Details

Date: Friday, April 9
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Speaker: Kaija Saariaho
Place: McCulloch Auditorium, Pratt Building, Mount Holyoke College
Free and open to the public.

Student Leadership Seminar
Beyond Notes: Orchestrating Leadership for the Twenty-First Century
Saturday, April 10
12 Noon – 2:00 pm

Students are invited to a luncheon seminar with Kaija Saariaho, highlighting the preparation, practice, and work of leadership in the arts.

Preregistration required.

Jeannine Oppewall

On Finding the Art in Industry: A Case Study
Spring 2009

Jeannine Oppewall, our 2009 Leading Women in the Arts guest artist in residence will be at Mount Holyoke on Thursday, April 2 and Friday, April 3, 2009. Ms. Oppewall's visit will include a public lecture on Thursday evening, a Friday leadership luncheon with students, master classes, and small-group conversations with faculty. Ms. Oppewall's lecture, entitled On Finding the Art in Industry: A Case Study, will take place at 7:30pm in Gamble Auditorium, Art Building on the campus of Mount Holyoke.

One of the few women production designers in the film industry and a four-time Oscar nominee, Ms. Oppewall describes her work as a multi-faceted and intensive quest. “I find, I manipulate, I create environments for characters—settings for stories to be told on film," she says, "I collect and relentlessly process images in my search for the perfect settings for the stories I choose to help tell. The perfect settings are precise visual metaphors for the emotional content of the stories. I design from the same deep and private place out of which a writer writes, a painter paints, or an actor acts.”

Ms. Oppewall’s long career began in Venice, California, in the early 1970s when she began work in the studios of the legendary designers, Charles and Ray Eames. Ms. Oppewall is a graduate of Calvin College and received her master’s degree from Bryn Mawr College. A production designer of over thirty films, she has broad experience as an art director, set decorator, and set designer. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Design for L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson, director), Pleasantville (1998, Gary Ross, director), Seabiscuit (2003, Gary Ross, director), and The Good Shepherd (2006, Robert De Niro, director).  She won the Excellence in Production Design Award for the film, Catch Me If You Can (2003), and was  nominated for the same award for the films L.A. Confidential, Pleasantville, Wonder Boys, Seabiscuit, and The Good Shepherd.  She is a member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and serves as a committee member of the Art Directors Guild. 

Event Details 

Date: Thursday, April 2
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Speakers: Jeannine Oppewall
Place: Gamble Auditorium, Art Building, Mount Holyoke College
Free and open to the public.

Student Leadership Seminar
A Liberal Arts Education in Action: Reflections and Conclusions
April 3, 12:30 pm

Students are invited to a luncheon seminar with Jeannine Oppewall, leading production designer in the film industry, highlighting the preparation, practice and work of leadership and the arts.

Rachel Rosenthal

"What's Luck Got to Do with It?":
The Extraordinary in Art and Life

Spring 2008

Rachel Rosenthal, the acclaimed artistic director and founder of The Rachel Rosenthal Company, innovative and revolutionary performer, and bold animal rights activist, will deliver the third annual lecture in the Leading Women in the Arts series and the final lecture in the 2007-2008 Bearing Witness lecture series of the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts. Rosenthal believes in the power of interdisciplinary, change, and the bold unpredictability of forms, bodies, sights, and sounds. She has been hailed by critics as a "monument and a marvel" for her pioneering performance techniques.

Rosenthal is known widely for developing a performance technique that is revolution for its integration of elements. She blends text, movement, voice, choreography, improvisation, inventive costuming, dramatic lighting and wildly imaginative sets in ways that produce "an unforgettable 'total theater' experience." In the last two and a half decades, she has presented over forty full-scale performance pieces nationally & internationally. Critics celebrate her performance triumphs and she has been ranked alongside Robert Wilson, Ping Chong, Richard Foreman, Meredith Monk and Laurie Anderson.

In her Spring 2008 Leading Women in the Arts lecture, Rosenthal, who asserts, “who are you and what you make cannot be separated,” will deliberate further on her perspectives on the inextricable links between the personal and the political, and reflect further on the extra-ordinary nature of art and life. In addition to the public lecture, Rachel Rosenthal's guest residency will include a movement workshop, discussions with students and faculty in the arts, and a leadership lunch with students from all disciplines.

Event Details

Date: Thursday, April 10
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Speakers: Rachel Rosenthal
Place: Gamble Auditorium, Art Building, Mount Holyoke College
Free and open to the public.

Student Leadership Seminar
Finders and Keepers: (Re)Inventing Self and Art
April 11, 12:30 pm

Students are invited to a luncheon seminar with Rachel Rosenthal, performer and artistic director of her own theatrical company, highlighting the practice and work of art.

Ann Hamilton

Perspectives in Art
Spring 2007

Ann Hamilton, an accomplished and extremely versatile contemporary visual artist, will deliver the second lecture in the Weissman Center’s Leading Women in the Arts series. Hamilton, who has been hailed as one of America’s most provocative contemporary installation artists, will be in residence during Spring 2007. During her time at Mount Holyoke, she will deliver a public lecture on her work, participate in discussions with senior Studio Art students as well as students from across the Arts, and be the guest of honor at a leadership seminar for students from all disciplines.

Ann Hamilton is renowned for her site-specific works and provocative uses of materials and medium.  In 1999, she was chosen to represent the United States at the historic Venice Biennale.  Her presentation, which focused on American slavery and oppression, incorporated the use of Braille and vivid red powder that rendered words and language of the exhibit visible. Her commissions include the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Allegheny Riverfront Park which received the Progressive Architecture Citation Award, Corpus for Mass MoCA North Adams, Massachusetts, and commissioned works for the San Francisco Public Library, the Seattle Central Library, and the University of Minnesota.

Student Leadership Seminar
Art, Imagination, and Action
February 13, 2007

Students participated in a leadership luncheon with renowned installation artist Ann Hamilton and alumnae guest speakers. The gathering featured engaging conversations about art, academia, exhibitions, and professions. Alumnae guests included Jane Fleck Eccles ’54, Susan Mohl Powers ' 66, and Maura Kehoe Collins ‘83.

Alumnae Biographies
Jane Fleck Eccles ’54, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, began her Mount Holyoke years studying philosophy.  Eventually, though, she immersed herself in art history and flourished as an artist while working with Edward Corbett, a California abstract painter who taught at the College from 1953 until 1962.  Recently, she was invited to exhibit her handmade paper at the prestigious Biennale Internazionale dell’Arte Contemporanea in Florence, Italy.  She is working now with pastel chalks and oil paints from her home on Cape Cod.

Susan Mohl Powers ' 66 studied studio art, astronomy, and physics during her years at Mount Holyoke.  After participating in the M.F.A. sculpture program at the University of Minnesota, she completed the M.F.A. degree in Visual Design at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.  The New York Times hailed her first solo exhibition at the Squibb Corporate Headquarters in Princeton, N.J. as “striking for its adventurousness and its emphatic presence.”  Her work is part of numerous public and private collections, and her studio is located in a nineteenth-century granite mill in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Maura Kehoe Collins ‘83, graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in Art History and a minor in Asian Studies.  She has two decades of experience in conservation and arts administration, and is the founder of Artiphile, an independent art advisory firm.  As an undergraduate, she worked as a curatorial assistant in the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, and as acting registrar in 1980 initiated a project to computerize the Museum's catalogue.

Trisha Brown

Set and Reset
Spring 2006

Trisha Brown launched the Leading Women in the Arts series with an illuminating guest residency that featured a public lecture, master classes, and recitals. She offered compelling reflections and analyses of dance, the body, design, and choreography. Brown focused especially on Set and Reset, a masterpiece created first in 1983 that established her as a pioneering force in postmodern dance and a leader in abstract choreography. Set and Reset, one of Brown’s most compelling and well-known pieces, has been hailed for its explorations of visibility and invisibility, its flirtations with the boundaries of the stage, and its evocative costumes.

Set and Reset is an innovative project of restaging that provided student dancers with intriguing opportunities for immersion into Brown’s choreographic process. Members of the Five-College Dance Department performed the piece and experienced first-hand the challenge and transcendence of Brown’s artistic vision.