Fannie Hillsmith was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1911. She attended the Boston Museum School and in 1958, was the recipient of their Alumni Traveling Scholarship. At the Art Students League in New York, she worked with Alexander Brook, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, John Sloan and William Zorach. She studied at the New York location of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, the intaglio printmaking workshop, in the 1940s. Hillsmith was a member of the American Abstract Artists group.
In 1945, at the invitation of Josef Albers, Hillsmith taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and in the fall of 1963, she taught at Cornell University in New York. In 1943, Hillsmith had her first one-woman show at Jimmy Ernst’s Norlyst Gallery and in the 1940s Peggy Guggenheim featured her work at The Art of This Century Gallery. Hillsmith showed at the Swetzoff Gallery in Boston from 1949 to 1963, Egan Gallery in New York in the 1950s and the Peridot Gallery in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. Hillsmith’s work has been represented by the Susan Teller Gallery since 1990.
A career-long Cubist, at the time of her Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery Exhibition in 2000, Fannie Hillsmith wrote that she was, “Motivated by Picasso, Gris and Braque, trying to incorporate a New England quality with an early American feeling in my Cubist interiors and at the same time pushing a framework of abstraction with a ‘now you see it- now you don’t’ filtered throughout my work.” Fannie Hillsmith, “Forbidden Fruits and Beyond: Paintings and Works on Paper”, December 6th through the 27th, 2003, is Hillsmith’s fifth one- person show at the Susan Teller Gallery. Others were held in 1993, 1994, 1997 and the artist’s 90th Birthday Retrospective was held in March/April of 2001. Further, in December of 2000, the gallery showed “A New York Circle”, curated by Hillsmith. Included were paintings and works on paper by Hillsmith, Josef Albers, Will Barnet, Suzy Frelinghuysen, Albert Eugene Gallatin, Alice Trumbull Mason, George LK Morris, and others.
Among Hillsmith’s numerous museum exhibitions are those at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California and the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine in 1950; The Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1953 and 1987; the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio in 1953 and 1987; the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in 1954; the White Art Gallery at Cornell University in 1963; Bristol Art Museum in Rhode Island in 1972; the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College in New Hampshire in 1972 and 2000 and the Black Mountain College and Museum and Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina from October 1996 through February 1997.
In the last few years, work by Hillsmith was featured in The Patricia and Phillip Frost Collection, “American Abstraction: 1930-1945” at the National Museum of American Art in Washington D.C. in 1989. The catalogue noted the mature works are “culminations of Hillsmith’s long standing ability to use Cubist formal elements to psychologically provocative ends.” Works were included in “A Severe Selection: Modern Art on Paper” from the AE Gallatin Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1994, “Art of This Century: The Women “, at the Pollack-Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton, NY in 1997 and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy in 1998. Recently, several pieces were included in Black Mountain College’s “Una Aventura Americana” at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain in 2002.