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"Serendipity, art and a book’s surprise," Dorothy Klopf, Santa Fe New Mexican, December 20, 2014:

I have recently been introduced to a lively and interesting group of women who are the New Mexico State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Being completely ignorant, I did a little research on their website and learned that the National Museum, which is located in Washington, D.C., itself owes its inception to a bit of serendipity.

Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and her husband, Wallace F. Holladay, fell in love with a 17th-century Flemish still-life painting and were frustrated when they could find no information about the artist, Clara Peeters, in any of the standard texts on art history. Nor did they find any mention of any other female artists.

In the 1960s, they began accumulating art by women, and their collection today comprises the core of the museum. The National Museum of Women in the Arts houses more than 4,500 works by more than 1,000 artists from the 16th century to the present. Highlights include works by Mary Cassat, Berthe Morisot, Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler and Judy Chicago, just to mention a few.

Around the same time as I was beginning to learn about the Santa Fe representatives of the museum, I was also reading a very fine novel by Sue Monk Kidd titled The Invention of Wings. Set in slave-holding Charleston, S.C., during the years 1803 to 1838, the novel begins as an 11-year-old rich but horrified white girl, Sarah Grimke, receives a birthday present of a beribboned 10-year-old slave, named Handful by her black mother but Hetty by her white owners. The plot describes the girls’ resistance to the oppressive conditions of the South and eventual flight to the freedom of the North.

As I concluded the novel, I was thinking how well the author had captured the racial tension between friends who, despite their respect and affection for each other, are also uneasy, resentful, hurt and estranged. After I read the author’s note, I was astonished to learn that Sue Monk Kidd had been inspired to write her novel (Dear Reader! And you thought I would never end this digression and return to my subject!) after a serendipitous encounter with the work of feminist artist Judy Chicago.

When Kidd examined Chicago’s The Dinner Party, a monumental work celebrating the important contributions of more than a thousand women in Western civilization, the author found the names of Sarah Grimke and her sister. “As it turned out,” she writes, “I’d been driving by the Grimke sisters’ unmarked house [in Charleston] for over a decade, unaware these two women were the first female abolition agents and among the earliest feminist thinkers. … In the late 1830s, they were arguably the most famous, as well as the most infamous, women in America, yet they seemed only marginally known, even in the city of their origins.”

Because I had failed to read the dust jacket or a review of her book, I had taken Sarah as Kidd’s invention and, let me confess, I thought it a stretch to attribute abolitionist and feminist sentiments to a 19th-century Charleston female. But that is why I love books: They surprise.

The importance of art rests in its ability to expose us to what we do not know, to show us what there is to discover and to teach us other perspectives from our own. The fine ladies of the New Mexico Committee do important work when they foster careers with their Women to Watch program, support our state’s galleries and museums, and reach out to the public.

If you are searching for the perfect Christmas present, here are my top three suggestions. Give someone Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings. Take someone to Peters Projects, 1011 Paseo de Peralta, before the show ends to catch The Sixth Sense, a group show curated by Yllse Kessler. One of the artists featured in this show is the 2012 Women to Watch winner Ligia Bouton. Finally, try joining a wonderful organization (with the alphabetical title) the New Mexico Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. (Just one cranky observation? That title needs work!)

Click here to read the article in the online edition.