Margaret "Maggie" Wenstrup passed away on March 3 at age 77. Since then, Cincinnati artists, curators, gallerists and friends have been honoring her life in art. Fortunately, even people who did not know her personally -- myself included -- had been introduced to her through the fifth and final rotation of Graphic Content at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), which closed in February.
Wenstrup was born in 1930 in Stanford, Ky.
At age 19, she entered the Art Academy of Cincinnati, studying under local modern art giants like Noel Martin in the 1950s. Wenstrup began painting in that Cincinnati mid-century modernist style that the Graphic Content exhibition lauded for an entire year.
But Wenstrup's take on modernism wasn't necessarily as precise as many of the other artists in the CAC show. She studied weaving in Arizona and attended the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tenn. As such, her work enjoyed a decidedly folk-art slant.
Her paintings reveal an obvious interest in textiles -- some large canvases could be mistaken for a quilt. She sometimes used fabrics as media, cutting and stapling them to a canvas in geometric patterns. In the 1950s modern painting was a boy's club -- think Jackson Pollock and his gang at the Cedar Tavern in New York City, brawling and drinking hard. Wenstrup certainly saw this phenomenon: In 1953, she moved to New York where she studied art under Ralston Crawford.
Wenstrup was able to infiltrate that place, but at the same time, and without apology, she made it her own.
Textiles, long considered "craft" and "women's work," seem an appropriate blow to the hard, masculine, boozy edge of modern masters. Though I can't find any interviews with her talking about this idea (how I wish I would have met her for more than a brief moment), I gather from her friends and loved ones that her intelligence and wit could not have let this go unrecognized.
Wenstrup did not have a funeral, but this Saturday friends and family will host an informal gathering to celebrate her life. It will take place at noon at the Front Street Cafe (120 Front St.) in New Richmond, the neighborhood where Wenstrup lived, worked and collected art.
CONTACT LAURA JAMES: firstname.lastname@example.org