Five extraordinary women in an extraordinary place

Women Artists of the West: Five Portraits in Creativity and Courage; by Julie Danneberg; 84 pages; Fulcrum Publishing; $12.95

Five extraordinary women; one extraordinary place.

Whether a master of the clay pot, the photograph or the palette, each woman established herself through her talent as well as her tenacity. And each woman became who she was because of the power and beauty of the West.

The presentation of “Women of the West” is unique. Julie Danneberg incorporates factual side notes with her own creative interpretations of what her subjects felt and thought.

The result is a work of fictional nonfiction. While the information that Danneberg presents is factual, the way that she presents it is not. Her combination of third-person facts and first-person narratives creates a story that reads half like a history text and half like a diary collection.

Complete with riveting black and white photographs, “Women of the West” artfully expresses the relationships between reality and fiction, historical fact and historical romance, and the past and present. “Women of the West” chronicles the lives of master potter Maria Martinez, painters Georgia O’Keefe and Mary-Russell Colton, landscape photographer Laura Gilpin and documentary photographer Dorothea Lange.

Danneberg explores the influence the West had upon each woman, and in turn, the influence each woman had upon the West: “The purpose of this book is to offer a deeper understanding of each woman by showing her life in relationship to the world around her. So by switching between first and third person, the book offers the reader the unusual opportunity to see the West through the eyes and experiences of each of these artists, as well as gives the reader the benefit of observing each woman through the eyes of the West.”

Though each woman featured is both famous and fascinating, the story line is focused on the culminating moment of her career in the West. Martinez is an internationally acclaimed potter, but “Women of the West” details her experiences in New Mexican pueblos: “Maria’s pottery was not only made in the West; it was actually made of the West.”

In a letter, O’Keefe stated “I am West again, and it is as fine as I remembered it – maybe finer – There is nothing to say about it except the fact that for me it is the only place.”

Colton was raised in Philadelphia, Pa., but her heart belonged to the West: “Where others saw rattlesnakes and cactus, the Coltons saw a home away from home.”

Gilpin was a western native; her photographs “showed a loving relationship with a land that she knew well.”

Lange is known for her photographs of migrant farmers during the 1930s: “With compassion, respect, and complete honesty, Dorothea recorded their suffering.”

Danneberg’s use of simple language has produced a book that is accessible to all ages. Scholars, both young and old alike, have the opportunity to immerse themselves in western history.

“Women of the West” is a sneak peek into the captivating appeal of the West, a quick study of five influential women, and a break from bland documentaries.

Jessi Rochel is a student at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.

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