GREENSBORO — This year marks the 40th anniversary of a groundbreaking art exhibition.
Twelve female artists showed their work in a historic feminist exhibition titled “Twelve Places” at the former Art School in the Orange County town of Carrboro.
They all belonged to Center/Gallery, a women’s space formed in nearby Chapel Hill in response to a 1978 lecture by feminist art critic and author Lucy Lippard. Lippard had urged female artists to form groups to support one another.
Although Center/Gallery closed in 1987, its members have stayed in touch.
Forty years later, four of the female artists in that original exhibition have joined with eight others to present “Twelve Places: Redux.”
The exhibition opens today and runs through Dec. 13 in the Guilford College Art Gallery.
Terry Hammond, the gallery’s founding director and curator who organized the show, can relate to its subject matter.
She herself was an art student at Guilford 40 years ago.
“It’s interesting to look back at our history and think, ‘What was it like then? How have things changed?’ ” Hammond said.
It celebrates the artists’ ongoing and evolving explorations of feminine consciousness and cultural identities. It reminds viewers that feminist issues then and now are not that different.
Greensboro mixed-media artist Beatrice Schall was among those showing her work in the original exhibition.
She suggested “Twelve Places: Redux” to Hammond, and will display a piece in it.
The exhibition also will include work by three other original “Twelve Places” artists — Hunter Levinsohn, Kaola Phoenix and Hollie Taylor.
Four other original members of Center/Gallery — Bryant Holsenbeck, Ann Rowles, Rosie Thompson and Virginia Tyler — also will display their art.
They will be joined by four younger female artists whom the eight have mentored: Blair Gray, Pamela Ferguson-Haggins, Carrie Nobles and Nicole Uzzell.
“This shows that the spirit of the group lives on and that they’re passing it along to new women artists,” Hammond said.
Rowles lives in Atlanta. All the others live in North Carolina.
Schall said she looks forward to seeing how each woman expresses herself in art.
“I want the audience to look at the work and realize that each of us has our own perspective on our life and on the world,” she said. “I’m hoping that they will be open to the different ways of expression.”
Back in 1979, Schall was studying art at UNC-Chapel Hill. She remembers Lippard’s lecture.
“She talked about how the power of women artists working together could achieve so much more than individuals working alone,” Schall recalled. “That really hit home.”
The women started out in a Ransom Street basement in Chapel Hill. But seeping rainwater prompted them to move to an upstairs space on Main Street in Carrboro.
The women were at different stages of their art careers. Schall was pregnant with her daughter, Rachel.
“You could see someone more experienced and working,” Schall said. “Then there were younger people coming along. It was that kind of camaraderie that made it very special.”
Their original “Twelve Places” show was inspired by the collaborative nature of “The Dinner Party,” a monumental multimedia project by Judy Chicago. Chicago pioneered the feminist art movement in the early 1970s at California State University, Fresno.
Created between 1974 and 1979, “The Dinner Party” features 39 elaborate place settings for mythical and historical famous women, arranged along a triangular table.
For that first “Twelve Places,” each artist agreed to use a chair, and the wall space in the gallery behind it, to create a work about “self” and “breaking the taboo against knowing who we really are.”
Schall recalls using a small chair on a pedestal, and a book that she made from cloth.
For the new exhibition, some artists will use chairs. Some won’t.
Schall will use a rocking chair in which she rocked Rachel as an infant. A white robe that she took to the hospital when she gave birth hangs over the chair.
Her piece includes images significant to her family, including those of her grandparents, her mother and her mother’s siblings. One shows the hands of her late husband, Dr. Stewart Schall, holding a grandchild.
It displays her mother’s aprons. Pennies symbolize the work of her paternal grandmother, who opened a grocery store to make a living after her first husband died.
A butterfly symbolizes rebirth. Rose petals on the floor remind Schall of the beauty and fragility of life.
Overall, Schall’s artwork reminds her that “family continues to be an important part of my life, and nature as well,” she said. “I’m interested in the cycles of life and nature and the relationship between the two.”
Hammond views the exhibition as an opportunity for current students to meet women involved in the Center/Gallery and the original “Twelve Places,” and to compare then and now.
She said she notices women’s art being shown more regularly today than in decades past.
“I think progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go,” Hammond said. “There are people who would argue that they still aren’t valued equally.”