Born in Washington, D.C., in 1915, Elizabeth Catlett became the first student to receive
a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History in
1940. Highly influenced by the ideas of Grant Wood, who prodded his pupils to work
with subjects they knew best, Catlett decided to focus her work on the lives of African
Americans, and particularly women. In addition, she also studied ceramics at the Art
Institute of Chicago, lithography at the Art Students League of New York, and
sculpture with Ossip Zadkine, a cubist artist deeply influenced by African art. In the late
1940s Catlett moved to Mexico, where she worked closely with artists associated with
the Taller de Gráfica Popular, the famed printmaking workshop that used art to effect
social change. There she met fellow artist Francisco Mora, who became her husband in
1947, and over the following decades the couple shared their time between Mexico and
the United States.
Elizabeth Catlett is a key figure in continuing the tradition of connecting the public to
artwork that explores and displays acute attention to detail, technique, and formal
qualities while also exposing the social, economic, and racial issues of our time.
Her inclination for multiple forms of expression—sculpture, painting, and
printmaking—is reflected in the broad conceptual scope of her art and its relationship to
art history. Artists that have played a part in Catlett’s personal artistic development
include Spanish painter and engraver Francisco Goya, who explored the calamities of
war and the corruption of the elite; Chicago born Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt,
who powerfully represented the work of women in domestic settings; and German
expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz.