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Full of grace.

On a trip to NY a few weeks back I had the opportunity to stop by MOMA, a museum I’ve always overlooked as I cluster as many sights, delis, and shops into my occasional weekends in the city. We spent a leisurely, thoughtful couple of hours exploring on a Friday afternoon, dodging school groups and an endless throng of Europeans, who seem not to recognize “please don’t touch” rules.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many seminal works—but you see reproductions of something like Starry Night so often, it’s easy to walk right by the originals before doing a double take. The works that held our attention longest, though, were photographs. Maybe in the past I just didn’t get photography—after all, you’re just capturing on film what anyone could see, amirite? But we were blown away by the 19th century landscapes, Farm Security Agency documentaries, and of course Avedon portraits.
As I worked my way around the walls of one gallery, a work by Gertrude Kasebier broke my rhythm. Both Courtney and I had seen this one before (in an art textbook? A lit book? A novel cover?) but seeing the small, sepia print in the museum was different, and affecting.

Kasebier worked around the turn of the century and, as an associate of Alfred Stieglitz, helped to legitimize photography as an art form, particularly portraiture. Her painterly photos, many of which reference religious iconography, sold well in their time and are museum standards today. A number can be viewed on Shorpy. I’m not an expert, so if you want to learn more you’ll have to learn it elsewhere, but I’m posting a few of her works, including the one that stopped us in our tracks—“Blessed Art Thou Among Women.”

Blessed Art Thou Among Women

The Gerson Sisters

Portrait of sculptor Chester Beach

Newport Laundress

The photographer herself--not her photo. Looks like a staunch woman!

Note that some of her works have no known restrictions on reproduction—prints can be ordered from places like Shorpy and the Library of Congress.

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