________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Astonishing Women Artists. (The Women’s Hall of Fame Series).

Heather Ball.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2007.
120 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-897187-23-4.

Subject Heading:
Women artists-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Fern Reirson.

** /4


Art, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.  If you look at a painting, you might see something that moves you to feel great joy, while the person next to you might see and feel something quite different. Although art is often displayed in public galleries and museums, it is very personal.


It’s hard to believe that less than a hundred years ago, women weren’t allowed to attend the best art schools. Their work was not considered as good as that of male artists. They weren’t taken seriously as artists, simply because of their gender. With few or no role models, women artists had to forge their own paths.


Astonishing Women Artists is a collection of 10 biographies of astonishing women artists.  It is a welcomed fourth addition to “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series” on remarkable women writers, musicians and leaders, topics often ignored in the past. The featured women artists range from the 1500’s to the present. Some questions come to the readers’ minds about the women in this book. Are these the only notable women artists of the last 500 years? How were the featured artists selected? The easy-to-read conversational tone of the text, text boxes, and web links have the potential to make this an engaging text for art students. Different life circumstances and attitudes of and towards women in different time periods are treated in a respectful but realistic manner. The greatest disappointment is the lack of colour inside the colourful covers of this book. It appears, on the first page, to mimic informational biographies of years past. This may deter all but the most devout art student from using this resource. However, once started, the stories and lives of women will draw readers into the book. The inclusion of three Canadian artists, Emily Carr, Kenojuak Ashevak and Mary Pratt, is especially pleasing for Canadian readers. The diversity of artistic styles adds to the broad appeal of this book.  The women’s personal passion for art is clearly evident by the challenges they faced to attain success as artists. They provide strong role models for female students and inspiration to anyone who might pursue a career in art.  I will be certain to pass this onto my own daughter who is beginning a fine arts program.

     So much more could have been done with this book by including pertinent colour and/or historical photos/reprints of art work. The limited or absence of examples of these women’s art does not acknowledge their remarkable accomplishments. Instead of including various samples of Mary Pratt’s wonderful art work, (which I got to learn about and appreciate on a recent visit to the Newfoundland during the Canadian Library Association Conference in St. John’s this spring) the publisher selected to feature a photograph of her husband’s art work. There are no images of many of the other artists’ work at all. Though this publisher has sought to highlight these women’s art, the publishing house has marginalized their work by such photographic omissions and substitutions. What could have been an excellent biographical reference book for art students is limited by its presentation format and image selection.

     Overall, this is an adequate introductory biographical book for Art or English students learning about varied artistic styles of women artists and/or famous people over 500 years. A list of Resources at the end of the book may act as a catalyst for further study of a particular artist.


Fern Reirson is a teacher-librarian and President of the Alberta School Library Council.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.