Arts & Culture

Wichita Art Museum exhibit shows off hard-working side of art

Lucile Blanch, Diego Rivera, Arnold Blanch and Frida Kahlo in San Francisco, about 1930.
Lucile Blanch, Diego Rivera, Arnold Blanch and Frida Kahlo in San Francisco, about 1930. Courtesy photo

Lucile Blanch was adamant about practicing her craft and refused to miss even one day of sketching. Her hard work and dedication is on display in the Wichita Art Museum’s exhibit “Art and Everyday Life.”

“She wasn’t shy about saying how hard it was to be an artist,” says Lisa Volpe, curator at Wichita Art Museum. “She really set the example that art was a profession that required daily work.”

Blanch’s talent was evident at an early age. As a young woman, she was one of 10 recipients of a fellowship to the New York Art Student’s League. In 1933, she was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which helped establish her as an artist. During the late ’30s, Blanch was commissioned to create four murals for the Works Progress Administration, in Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia.

A large portion of the exhibit features Lucile’s daily sketches of her cat, Sally. The drawings highlight Blanch’s tireless commitment to her work, while also providing a glimpse of her playful side and companionship with her cat. Sally is captured in different poses through sketches that are signed and dated – some with Sally’s age. These daily drawings almost serve as a journal, noting the artist’s 20-year friendship with her cat.

Blanch had a very feisty personality and sly sense of humor, says Volpe. Some of the sketches have cartoon-like characteristics and a sarcastic tone.

She took her calling very seriously. But she never really took herself too seriously as an artist.

Lisa Volpe, curator at WAM

“She took her calling very seriously,” Volpe says. “But she never really took herself too seriously as an artist.”

Blanch, who was named one of the most important artists in the U.S. in the 1950s, found an accomplice in this “playfulness” in fellow artist Frida Kahlo. Blanch and her husband, Arnold, who was also an artist, met Kahlo and Diego Rivera in northern California and lived with them for a winter. A photo of the couples together is featured in the exhibit.

“Her description of Kahlo as a ‘playmate’ really defines their friendship,” Volpe says. “It provided a respite for them from their daily work.”

While the majority of Blanch’s work is in realism, she experimented with abstract art in the 1950s. Volpe says her abstract art is less emotional, but it was an important stage for Blanch to work on her space, placement and composition.

Volpe hopes those who visit the exhibit walk away appreciating Blanch’s work and understanding her a bit more.

“I want them to become more familiar with Lucile,” Volpe says. “I hope it helps them see art differently – as a serious endeavor.”

‘Art and Everyday Life’

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tues. to Sat., noon to 5 p.m. Sun., in the Kurdian Gallery, through March 20

Where: Wichita Art Museum, 1400 Museum Blvd.

Admission: $7 adults, $5 seniors, $3 students with an ID, children under 5 get in free; free on Saturdays.