What are some good picture book biographies of women artists? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here's a book list for you filled with beautifully illustrated biographies featuring a diverse group of visual artists! The books on this list are a feast for the eyes.
Your children and students will read about traditional visual artists like painters and sculptors, but also photographers, architects, quilters and fashion designers. For your convenience, I've grouped the artists below into several general categories to make what you are looking for easier to find. Happy reading!
But wait! Don't confine your learning to the visual arts. Expand your definition of art by reading from the companion booklist: Picture book biographies of female performing artists. Dancers, actors, filmmakers and more!
(Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
Biographies of Painters and Illustrators
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown. You can find a number of biographies of Kahlo on the library shelves and I like this one because it focuses on the animals that inspired many of Kahlo's paintings. Kahlo had a number of pets including monkeys, birds, turkeys, even a fawn. The text draws comparisons between the artists love of her animalitos, Azetc culture and her Mexican heritage, commenting on their influence in her art. Major life events are briefly mentioned, but they are not the focus of the biography.
Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter by Kathy Whitehead. Hunter was a self-taught folk artist who persevered through poverty and hardship and because of segregation was not even allowed in the gallery that was exhibiting her art. Evans's gorgeous illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Whitehead's narration.
Wanda Gág: The Girl Who Lived to Draw by Deborah Kogan Ray. Gág created the children's book, Millions of Cats. Like many of the artists on this book list, she spent her childhood immersed in artistic pursuits and loved stories. After her father, a fellow artist, died she went to work to support her family by teaching and illustrating. There are lots of quotes from Gág's writings and the illustrations are wonderful.
Through Georgia’s Eyes by Rachel Victoria Rodríguez. Despite the rarity of professional female artists at the beginning of the 20th century, from a young age O'Keefe determines she, too, will be an artist. Rodríguez focuses on how O'Keefe saw the world around her: color, light, shapes, landscapes. The endnote provides further biographical information.
Biographies of Fashion Designers
Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews. Coco Chanel was not content to be like everyone else. She knew she was different and she embraced it. She didn't let her start in life as a poor orphan prevent her from becoming a revolutionary, independent woman. I love this biography because it demonstrates that fashion is not necessarily a frivolous pursuit; it can change women's lives and is an artistic passion in its own right
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal. Ann Cole Lowe, a little known fashion designer who took over the family business at age 16 made one of a kind gowns, including Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress and an Oscar gown for Olivia de Havilland! She was also considered "society's best kept secret" as few people knew of her then and she was rarely given the public credit she deserved. Now you and your kids can learn all about her in this fascinating picture book biography.
Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear. As a child in Rome, Elsa Schiaparelli knew others did not think she was beautiful, so she looked for beauty in the world. The cover illustration represents an event in which Elsa attempted to make herself different by "planting" seeds in her ears, mouth and nose. Elsa then went on to be a fashion designer, heavily influenced by the surrealist art movement. This beautifully illustrated love letter to the joys of being different will inspire any child.
Biographies of Artists Who Work in Three Dimensions
I wasn't entirely sure what to call this category! I've included female artists and sculptors who work with diverse media like fabric, or who create large scale art like memorials.
Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist by Barbara Herkert. Harriet Powers, born enslaved, learned the art of needlework, carding and other fabric-related handicrafts from her mother and other enslaved women. She vowed to one day“sew a magic world.” Quilting and needlework was a valuable tool of expression for people who were denied literacy. When the Civil War ended she used her talents to support her family. Her two story quilts now hang in museums. Historical side notes and endnotes add valuable context to Powers's story.
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker harvey. This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Chinese-American Maya Lin, the architect and artist who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It traces her journey from a girl who was fascinated by nature, building and learning about the art of structures to the college student who enters a contest to design the Memorial. An author's note gives further information.
Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life by Joan Schoettler. Growing up, Ruth took artistic inspiration from the family farm but her family was forced into a Japanese internment camp during WWII. Throughout her life, Asawa faced adversity and injustice, but she never stopped learning as an artist. This picture book biography was a little dry for me but her sculptures are so interesting I wanted to include it as a resource for leaning more about the artist.
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky. A dynamic, poetic narrative makes this biography of 20th century French textile artist, Louise Bourgeois a pleasure to read. Marvelous mixed media illustrations accompany the tale of how the artist's childhood spent learning alongside her mother influenced her later work. Delightful.
In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage. Author Alan Schroeder admits it was difficult to research the very private Augusta Savage (1892-1962). The story focuses on Savage's youth up until her entrance into art school and her discovery of the importance to "sculpt what she knows." There is an afterward with photos and more information about the artist. Savage is not very well know, but after reading this book I am curious to see more of her work!
The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter. Born in Iraq, and educated in London, Hadid designed fascinating and artistic buildings around the world. But as a Muslim woman, the road was not easy and she had to overcome the hurdle of prejudice. This biography is written simply, making it a great choice for the early elementary set. Make sure to look at photographs of Hadid's beautiful buildings, too.
Biographies of Photographers
Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford. Working in a field dominated by men and with a limp left over from a bought with polio, Lange captured the hardship of poverty, unemployment, workers strikes, internment camps and more, including her iconic, "Migrant Mother." Be sure to look at Lange's photographs with your kids and talk about how Lange captured feelings and mood in her art.
Imogen: The Mother of Modernism and Three Boys by Amy Novesky. Imogen Cunningham's father built her a darkroom when she was a child, thus setting the stage for a fascinating career of this little known modern artist. After she attends college, Imogen gets married and after building herself her own darkroom starts photographing her boys, leading to an interest in photographing nature, especially flowers. This was an interesting book to read as Novesky describes Cunningham's challenge of balancing her artistic interests with raising a family. Sound familiar? Your kids might enjoy comparing her portraits of Frida Kahlo to Kahlo's self-portraits!
More biographies to teach kids about women's history:
- Books about Amazing African-American Women
- Picture books for women's history month.
- Women in science and STEM