Fannie Hillsmith, Sea Gate, 1966. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College  Museum + Arts Center. Gift of Mary Holden Thompson.

Fannie Hillsmith (Faculty Painting 1945 Summer Session) (b.1911-d.2007)

Fannie Hillsmith grew up in Boston, the granddaughter of a founder of the Boston Museum School, which she attended for four years. In 1934 Hillsmith moved to New York and became involved in the vanguard art scene, developing an abstract cubist style. Upon seeing her work reproduced in Sidney Janis’s Abstract & Surrealist Art in America, Josef Albers invited Hillsmith to Black Mountain College to teach painting for July of the 1945 Summer Session, along with Bauhaus artist Lyonel Feininger and the then-unknown Robert Motherwell.

Hillsmith painted throughout her life and was well received by the public and critics, including major critic and later Black Mountain faculty member Clement Greenberg. Her paintings employed a cubist aesthetic, merging different planes and geometric forms in addition to the color field style of many Abstract Expressionists. In her own words, “I endeavor to find a personal way to express in painting the basic qualities of nature. I try to combine the structural with the intimate and to secure simplicity by using few colors and shapes, to acquire variation by using these in diverse ways throughout the canvas.