MAYA LIN (B. 1959)
SEE HER WORK: Outside the Asian galleries
The 21-year-old Yale senior was barely old enough to drink when her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. beat out 1,420 entries—including a design by her Yale architecture professor—in a public competition in 1981. Her spare black granite wall, intended to prompt introspection for the fallen soldiers, wasn’t a universal hit, though: the National Review dismissed it as “Orwellian glop,” and a group of Vietnam veterans derided Lin’s “black gash of shame.” But a year later, Lin’s design became one of the most moving monuments in our nation’s capital. (In 2007, the American Institute of Architects ranked Lin’s memorial No. 10 on their list of America’s Favorite Architecture). In 2007, she designed and installed a 2,000-square-foot black, painted wire landscape, Above and Below, inspired by Indiana’s underground rivers, on the ceiling of the balcony outside the Asian galleries at Newfields—proving that, despite the naysayers, she’s always looking up.
GEORGIA O’KEEFFE (1887–1986)
SEE HER WORK: American galleries
The mother of American Modernism told male critics intent on interpreting her flowers as female genitalia to get their minds out of the gutter—her oversized poppies and petunias were intended to show the ladies of New York how she saw flowers. “I decided that if I could paint a flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty,” she said. And paint she did, through driving rain and biting cold, taking shelter under tents fashioned from tarps—she was an avid camper and rafter well into her 70s. Even after going blind, she continued to sculpt and work in watercolor, pastel, charcoal, and pencil with help from a friend until she was 96. O'Keeffe earned the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, the greatest civilian honor in the United States, from Gerald Ford in 1977. The U.S. Postal Service put her 1927 painting, Red Poppy, on a 32-cent stamp in 1996—a fitting tribute for a trailblazer as tenacious as any mail carrier.
JANET SCUDDER (1869–1940)
SEE HER WORK: American galleries
As the country’s foremost fountain fashioner in the early 20th century, this Hoosier gave the gardens of wealthy Americans their glow-ups. In 1901, inspired by a trip to Italy's villas in Florence, the Terre Haute native created her famous Frog Fountain, which features a chubby, flower-crowned boy prancing among three frogs. (Newfields' bronze replica is currently off the view.) Scudder earned commissions from the likes of John D. Rockefeller and became one of the most successful American sculptors of her day—male or female. But that didn’t mean she’d sculpt for the sake of it: when she was approached about sculpting a figure for prominent public display in Washington, DC., she refused, unwilling to contribute to “this obsession of male egotism that is ruining every city in the United States with rows of hideous statues of men-men-men— each one uglier than the other—standing, sitting, riding horseback—every one of them pompously convinced he is decorating the landscape!”
ZAHA HADID (1950–2016)
SEE HER WORK: Design Gallery
The world’s leading female architect was no stranger to breaking out of boxes. Long saddled with a rap for devising “unbuildable” designs that many believed would never move beyond sketches—she was initially nicknamed the “paper architect”—Hadid dared to imagine the impossible. The Iraqi-born British builder transformed her plans into iconic institutions such as China’s “double pebble” Guangzhou Opera House, the spaceship-like London Aquatics Centre, and the first 2022 FIFA World Cup Stadium in Qatar. Despite becoming the sole female recipient of the 172- year-old Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2015, joining an illustrious club that includes Frank Gehry and I.M. Pei, the “Queen of the Curve” continued to face skepticism that a female wouldn’t be pigeonholed into doing interior design work—though she excelled at that, too, as her curvaceously cutting-edge Moraine Sofa at Newfields can attest.
CAROLINE MARMON FESLER (1878–1960)
One of Indy’s original influencers proved that a woman didn’t have to create art to wield clout in the community. As a philanthropist and fine-art collector with an eye for genius, the city’s “first lady of the arts” amassed a retinue of artists based on one person’s assessment of quality —her own. The daughter of Indianapolis automobile manufacturer Daniel Marmon studied painting in Europe after graduating from Smith College in 1900, which set her on a path to a two-year presidency of the Art Association of Indianapolis (the precursor to the Indianapolis Museum of Art), funding the construction of the Herron Art Institute, and befriending Georgia O’Keeffe. She exploded the model of patrons buying pieces for themselves and then donating them to museums—she often purchased pieces for the museum directly. But she also gifted them, too. Though her gifts were often anonymous, everyone knew who the new Picasso came from when Fesler bought the artist’s Ma Jolie out of pocket in 1944 and bequeathed it, following her death in 1960, to the Museum. The members of the arts committee originally rejected the purchase as too radical. Today, Newfields’ permanent collection boasts paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, and Georgia O’Keeffe, as a legacy of Fesler’s fine taste and influence.