Lina Bo Bardi: Uncompromising Modernist

By paulisson miura from Cuiabá, Brasil – Lina Bo Bardi, SESC Pompéia., CC BY 2.0, Link

Many people are afraid of glass houses, but not this
amazing architect, born Achillina Bo in Rome in 1914.
At age 25, she graduated from the Rome College of
Architecture with her final piece, “The Maternity and
Infancy Care Centre”. Lina then began working in
partnership with architect Carlo Pagani at Studio Bo e
Pagani. She also collaborated with architect and designer
Gio Ponti on a home design magazine. She opened her
own solo studio in 1942, but due to the war, architectural
work was scarce, so Lina did illustrations for newspapers
and magazines. A year later, her studio was destroyed
by an aerial bombing; this led to her becoming more
involved in the Italian Communist Party. Domus Magazine
commissioned her to travel around taking pictures to
document the destruction war had brought to Italy.
Lina also took part in the First National Meeting for
Reconstruction in Milan, highlighting public indifference
on the issue; to her, reconstruction was not merely
physical, but moral and cultural.

In 1946, Lina and her husband moved to Brazil; they
were received in Rio by the IAB (Institute of Brazilian
Architects). She again opened her own studio and found
her creativity newly inspired by Brazil. She and her
husband cofounded the seminal art magazine Habitat; then
in 1947, her husband Pietro was asked to establish and run
a Museum of Art. Lina designed the building’s conversion
into a museum as well as designing an office building for
the Associated Newspapers. In 1951, Lina completed the
Casa de Vidro or “Glass House”, a design influenced by
Italian rationalism. She became a lecturer at the University
of São Paulo in 1955 and soon published a major paper on
teaching the theory of architecture. At age 74, she was
honored with a first-ever exhibition of her work at the
University of São Paulo. Lina Bo Bardi died at the Casa de
Vidro in 1992, leaving behind designs for a new City Hall
for São Paulo and a Cultural Centre for Veracruz.

“Architecture and architectural freedom are above
all a social issue that must be seen from inside a
political structure, not from outside it.”
— Lina Bo Bardi

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Margaret Bourke-White: The Mirror’s Eye

By Bureau of Industrial Service. This was a division of advertising agency Young & Rubicam and was widely used for distribution of publicity materials in early television. – frontback, Public Domain, Link

I wonder what Margaret Bourke-White would think of her
hauntingly beautiful photograph of Mohandas Gandhi at
his spinning wheel being used in the Apple ad captioned
“Think Different.” As if the grammatical issue weren’t
irritating enough, it seems tragic for a work meant to
preserve the memory and honor of a man dedicated to
peace and simplicity (he’s spinning his own cloth so as to
not wear manufactured foreign goods) now being used to
market computers.

Born in the Bronx in 1904, Margaret Bourke-White
“dared to become an industrial photographer and a
photojournalist at a time when men thought they had
exclusive rights to those titles, then rose with startling
speed to the top of both professions,” writes her
biographer Vicki Goldberg. Indeed, her abilities did much
to contribute to the rise of photojournalism, and many
of our memories of important twentieth-century history
are thanks to her efforts to document them for posterity.
Although the Gandhi photograph may end up being the
most famous thanks to some fairly insidious marketing,
others are seared onto our memory: the Indian holocaust
that took place during the partition when all Hindus were
forced to leave the new northern state of Pakistan and
all Muslims traveled north to the new state. The dead are
still unnumbered in this trail of tears, estimates are as
high as three million. She also photographed the Moslem
massacre in Calcutta, horrendous and powerful pictures of
dead Hindus being devoured by vultures.

As a Life staff photographer, she traveled the globe. In
Moscow, she caught on film the Nazi air invasion of
the Russian city. In South Africa, she photographed
apartheid-beleaguered blacks slaving in diamond and
gold mines for the gain of their oppressors. In Korea, she
photographed guerilla warfare. She covered the war fronts
in Africa, Italy, and Germany, and was with the Allied
force that entered the death camp of Buchenwald, where
she shot some of her most painful and important work. “I
saw and photographed the piles of naked, lifeless bodies,
the human skeletons in furnaces, the living skeletons.”

In America, the 1934 drought and Dust Bowl migration
were her subjects, as well as an unvarnished view of the
abject poverty in Appalachia and other parts of the rural
South. She and her husband, writer Erskine Caldwell,
collaborated on several photo essay books, including You
Have Seen Their Faces, reminding an insular America about
her own forgotten people. During World War II, she was
the first Army Air Force woman photographer in action in
Italy and North Africa.

Margaret Bourke-White’s sheroic dedication to telling
the truth with pictures has left us with a fascinating
chronicle of the twentieth century. In her pursuit of visual
verity, she often put herself in danger, walking on steel
beams to get the height for the best shot, going deep into
dangerous mines, flying with a bomb squad in Tunisia,
and even going down in a shipwreck in World War II.
She died in 1971 of Parkinson’s disease. In her lifetime,
Margaret Bourke-White returned to us our own history
and gave us the opportunity to learn from it.

“The impersonality of modern war has become
stupendous, grotesque.”
— Margaret Bourke-White, who put a face
on the horrors

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Liya Kebede 66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra).jpg
By nicolas genin – originally posted to Flickr as 66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra), CC BY-SA 2.0,

Liya Kebede was born in 1978 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A film director noticed her distinctive features while
she was still a schoolgirl attending Lycée GuebreMariam. Impressed by her unique look, the film director
immediately recommended her to a French modeling
agency. This opened up many opportunities for Liya,
and at the age of 18, she moved to France to model for a
Parisian agency before later relocating to New York City.
Things started to really take off for her when she was
offered an exclusive contract by designer Tom Ford for
his fashion show for the Gucci Fall/Winter 2000 line,
which was also the year she married Kassy Kebede.
The cover of Paris Vogue followed; the entire issue was
dedicated to her. She has modeled for designers including
Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint-Laurent,
Emanuel Ungaro, Tommy Hilfiger, Shiatzy Chen, and
Escada. But Liya Kebede is more than just another
pretty face. She was selected to be the WHO’s Goodwill
Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health
in 2005, and soon started the Liya Kebede Foundation,
which works for the health of mothers and infants and to
prevent child mortality in her native Ethiopia and other
African countries. The foundation has gone on to train
health workers who have assisted in more than 10,000
births, as well as conducting global maternal health
awareness campaigns that have reached millions. It also
funds advocacy and supports low-cost technologies,
training and medical programs, and community-based
education. Kebede has also participated in Champions
for an AIDS-Free Generation, a group of African heads of
state and other leaders working to end the HIV epidemic.
She has used her fame to help people look at the bigger
picture and brought attention to the health of mothers
and their children.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Coco Chanel, 1920.jpg
By Time / Getty – Hal Vaughan. Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War. Random House (2011), p. 20., PD-US,

Considered by many to be the mother of modern fashion,
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was the first fashion designer
to create clothes that matched emerging attitudes of
women for greater freedom and independence. Born
in France around 1883, Coco’s first step toward a life
in the fashion industry was a job at a hatmaker’s shop
in Deauville, France, where she worked until 1912. At
thirty-one years old, she struck out on her own, opening
her very own shop featuring streamlined and unfussy
wool jersey dresses. Strikingly new, her simple style
caught on quickly. Chanel’s success with the dresses
and the celebratory atmosphere following World War
I encouraged her to really go to town with smartly cut
suits, sophisticated short skirts, and bold, chunky jewelry
designed at her very own couture house in Paris!

In 1922, she created Chanel #5, the perfume every woman
wanted, named for her lucky number; to this day, it
remains one of the all-time favorite perfumes. Chanel’s
innovations are legendary—costume jewelry, evening
scarves, short skirts, and the little black dress all came
from the steel-trap mind of Coco Chanel. She retired in
1938, but got bored and staged a remarkably successful
comeback in the mid-fifties.

Coco, the ultimate Frenchwoman, never married,
but seemed to be utterly happy with her career as an
independent businesswoman, in charge of her own time
and her own life. She makes America’s Horatio Alger
look shabby—the daughter of a vagabond street peddler,
she was raised in orphanages and went on to found an
empire, live a busy glamorous life, and leave behind
a legacy that will last forever. The idol of practically
everyone in the industry, Coco Chanel was the epitome of
the modern woman. Yves St. Laurent once called her
“The Godmother of us all,” and French surrealist Jean
Cocteau remarked, “(Coco Chanel) has, by a kind of
miracle, worked in fashion according to rules that would
seem to have value for painters, musicians, poets.”

“There have been many Duchesses of
Westminster, but there is only one Coco Chanel.”
— Coco Chanel on why she rejected a
famous suitor

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Isadora Duncan portrait cropped.jpg
By Isadora_Duncan_portrait.jpg: Dover Street Studios, 38 Dover Street, Mayfair, London, UK. Active 1906–c.1912.[1] Distributed in the U.S. by Charles L. Ritzmann, photographer and importer of celebrity images.derivative work: Gobonobo – This file was derived from: Isadora Duncan portrait.jpg:, Public Domain,
Isadora nee Angela Duncan was born in San Francisco on
a summer’s day in 1877. Brought up in the manner of
fallen aristocracy by her poor mother, a music teacher, young
Angela studied classical ballet, but soon discarded the rules in
favor of her own freer, interpretive dance.
Her public debut of this new style of dance was a total flop in
New York City and Chicago, so she scraped together some savings and headed for Europe on board a cattle boat.

In London, she studied the sculptures of pagan Greece and
integrated the sense of movement from these classical
remnants into her dance practice. A grande dame of the
British stage, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, became the young
American’s patron and set up private dance salons for
Isadora at the homes of the most cultured creme de la
creme. Soon, snooty Brits couldn’t get enough of the
barefoot and beautiful young nymph, dancing her heart
out in a dryad costume that left very little guesswork as
to Duncan’s anatomy. Soon she was packing theaters and
concert halls all over the continent. In 1905, she toured
Russia as well.

Isadora Duncan was not only the dance diva of her day,
but a woman who dared to flout social convention, bearing
children out of wedlock (wedlock was a notion utterly
repugnant to Duncan and her pack) to stage designer
Gordon Craig and Paris Singer, of the sewing machine
dynasty. But her life was not all roses—Duncan lost her
two babies and their nurse when their car rolled into the
Seine and all three drowned. Duncan tried to sublimate her
grief with work, opening dance schools around Europe and
touring South America, Germany, and France.

In 1920, she received an invitation to establish a school
in the Soviet Union, where she fell in undying love with
Sergey Aleksandrovish Yesenin, a respected poet half
her age. The two married, despite Duncan’s abhorrence of
the institution, and were taken for Bolshevik spies as they
traveled the globe. Upon being heckled mercilessly at a
performance in Boston’s Symphony Hall, Isadora Duncan
bid her homeland adieu forever: “Goodbye America,
I shall never see you again!” She was as good as her
word; the honeymooners scuttled back to Europe, where
their relationship crashed against the rocks of Yesenin’s
insanity. He committed suicide in 1925 and Duncan lived
the remainder of her life on the French Riviera, where
another auto accident ended her life. One of her dramatic
Greek inspired scarves got tangled in the wheel of her car
and she was strangled.

Though her life was sad and messy, Isadora Duncan’s real
triumph was her art. She changed the dance world forever,
freeing the form from Victorian constriction to allow more
natural movement. Duncan believed in celebrating the
sculptural beauty of the female body and that dance, at its
zenith, was “divine expression.” Duncan is regarded by
many to have been the chief pioneer of modern dance. She
was a free spirit for whom “to dance is to live.”

“If my art is symbolic of any one thing,
it is symbolic of the freedom of woman and
her emancipation.”
— Isadora Duncan

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Kathe Kollwitz 1919.jpg
By Unknown – General Research Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation, Public Domain,

German lithographer Kathe Kollwitz’s art became the
vehicle for her protest of the senselessness of war. She
couldn’t have found a more effective way to express her
sentiments. The body of work she produced moved art
historians the world over to classify Kollwitz as one of
the four most important graphic artists of the twentieth
century. Tragically, a great deal of her work was destroyed
by the Nazis and by bombings in World War II, but what
has survived is a record of her power. It is not only her
powerful graphic technique that has provided lasting
fame, but her subject matter—almost always a peasant
woman with a strong body, often surrounded by children,
different from the typical passive, sexualized women
found in male-dominated art.

Born in 1867, Kollwitz became the first woman to be
elected to Berlin’s prestigious Academy of Art and became
director there in 1928. She was also the only female of
the fin de siecle group of left-wing liberal artists who
founded To the Secession, an organization dedicated to
opposing artists affiliated with the German establishment.
When her son died in World War I, the focus of her art
became graphic depiction of the effects on women and
children of the social and political events of her lifetime.
Her piece entitled “To the Weaver’s Rebellion” portrayed
the nightmarish conditions of the poor, along with the
sequel of lithographs in “To the Peasant War” about the
harsh lives of the working class in Germany. In her print
“Outbreak” from this series, she created a portrait of
a woman, “Black Anna,” who singlehandedly started
a revolution. “Raped” is one of the first pictures in
Western art that dared to show the war of violence waged
on women.

She was kicked out of the Academy of Art by the Nazis
in 1933 who regarded her as a pariah—a political artist
depicting poverty, reality, and less-than-uber-ideal
peasantfolk! She died penniless and homeless in 1945,
having been stripped of her sheroic lithographic art.
Amazingly, her surviving son discovered a diary she kept,
describing her inner emotional life and her struggle to
make art at the turn of the century, as a woman, a wife,
and mother. Her entries, published as To the Diary and
Letters of Kathe Kollwitz are a fascinating delineation of the
emotional price women often have to pay to be creative, to
be political, and to break new ground.

Her surviving art continues to affect people worldwide. In
the cemetery in which she is buried there is a note in the
visitors’ book dated September 22, 1996: “God bless you
Kathe. And all your children. We carry on what you have
wished. Signed, A former enemy.”

“It always comes back to this, that only one’s
inner feelings represent the truth. I have never
done any work cold; I have always worked with
my blood, so to speak.”
— Kathe Kollwitz

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Camille Claudel.jpg
By César – 1884 – César –, Public Domain,

Camille Claudel, born in France in 1864, is beginning to
be accorded more respect for her sculpture, after being
hidden in the looming shadow of August Rodin, best
known for “The Thinker.” Part of a creative clique in
France that included Camille’s brother Paul, who was a
Catholic poet and playwright of note in the late nineteenth
century, Camille was an artist of considerable talent. She
studied with Rodin, becoming his model and mistress.
Their relationship was stormy; the two artists’ tempers
would burn brightly and they were constantly breaking up
and making up, but the relationship endured until 1898.
When her brother Paul abandoned her, she committed
an auto-de-fe. As was typical in that era, Camille was
institutionalized for depression and hysteria starting in
1913, eroding her ability to continue forceful sculpting
until her death in 1943. Anne Delbee’s 1982 play “Une
Femme: Camille Claudel” was the beginning of a revival
of interest in Claudel. Controversially, the play posits
the theory that Camille was more than a muse; indeed,
she was the true artist of the two, infusing Rodin with
creativity and ideas. In 1989, Isabella Adjani and Gerard
Depardieu did a wonderful job of bringing the creative
couple to the big screen. Despite the difficulties of her
last years, Camille Claudel has become a French national
sheroine and cause celebre.