Art @ Home: Make a New Friend: Carmen Herrera

When you make friends with a work of art at the museum, you begin a friendship that will grow and grow, just like when you make friends with a person. And, you’ll discover that whenever you spend time with your friend, you’ll learn new things about what you see and how you feel about it.

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, held from September 15 to October 15 each year, we’re going to make friends with a work of art by Carmen Herrera, Untitled. During this time, we honor the contributions of Latinx Americans, such as Herrera, who was born in Cuba and spent much of her life working in France and the United States.

Carmen Herrera, Untitled, 2013. Acrylic on canvas. 36  x 72 in. (91.4  x 182.9 cm). Gift of Barbara and Theodore Alfond. Accession Number: 2014.035

A couple of things to know about this work of art and the artist:

  • The artist, Carmen Herrera, was born in Havana, Cuba in 1915, the youngest of seven children. She studied architecture for a short time, and then moved to New York in 1939 when she married American Jesse Loewenthal. She struggled to get her art shown and purchased, encountering resistance largely because she was a woman and a Cuban immigrant. She sold her first painting at age 89, and is now widely accepted as one of the great postwar abstract painters. 
  • She became more widely known after a documentary about her was released in 2015, called The 100 Years Show. Her work has been the focus of museum exhibitions, and at age 105 she continues to work, recently completing a design for an outdoor work of art in East Harlem. 
  • The painting at the Colby College Museum of Art, Untitled, features Herrera’s signature style, sometimes called hard-edged abstraction or geometric abstraction. Geometric shapes include squares, circles, triangles, and rectangles. In many of her paintings, she uses only two colors, as you can see in this work of art.
  • The white and green colors seen in this painting play an important role in Herrera’s work. From 1959 to 1972, she created more than a dozen rectangular paintings that featured white and green triangular forms of various sizes. They were titled Blanco y Verde, which translates to  “White and Green.” She once said of the choice of these two colors: “Look, to me it was white, beautiful white, and then the white was shrieking for the green, and the little triangle created a force field …”

Today, inspired by her, we’re going to use some of the same ideas that guide her work as an artist, drawing straight lines to form geometric shapes using only two colors. 

Gather what is available to you at home. For your surface, look for something that is fairly strong like canvas, cardboard, or cardstock. To create your geometric shapes of color, you can use paint, crayons, markers, colored pencils, or even colored paper if you have a glue stick to attach it to your surface. Scissors will be helpful too.

To draw your geometric shapes with straight lines, use a ruler. And have fun being precise. Carmen Herrera once said of this part of her work: “There is nothing I love more than to make a straight line. How can I explain it? It’s the beginning of all structures, really.”

It may be hard to choose just two colors for your composition. One of the things Carmen Herrera does is color small sketches on paper that she hangs by her desk. She lives with these sketches for a while, just looking at them and trying to decide if the colors and shapes are right. There is no deadline with this art project, so take as much time as you need.

Here are my four samples: To create my surfaces, I took a piece of white cardstock and folded it into fourths so they were all the same size.

Have fun being creative—we can’t wait to see how this artist inspires you! Have a parent tag @ColbyMuseum on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #ArtAtHome, and we might share your creation with our followers.

Inspiration by Kristin Bergquist, Mirken Curator of Education and Engagement