MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Art Museum of West Virginia University (WVU) has announced that Art Bridges will help the museum develop and tour an exhibition of the work of early twentieth century artist, and West Virginia native, Blanche Lazzell.

The award from Art Bridges will allow the Art Museum of West Virginia University to create an exhibition of Lazzell’s work, “Blanche Lazzell: Becoming an American Modernist,” from their extensive holdings.

The exhibition will include more than 50 pieces of Lazzell’s work, drawn primarily from the Art Museum of West Virginia University’s permanent collection, and will center on a suite of large-scale abstract paintings she made in the 1920s. Related sections of the exhibition will showcase Lazzell’s “winding paths through abstraction, realism, process, and media.”

Blanche Lazzell, “Untitled,” 1917 (Art Museum of West Virginia University Photo)

Lazzell, born in 1878 near the community of Maidsville, W.Va., was considered to be one of the earliest American artists to adopt abstract art. In 1905, she graduated from WVU with a degree in fine arts and later enrolled at the Art Students League in New York City and later studied in Paris. Lazzell’s time away, and the people she met, influenced some of her first abstract prints and paintings, after she returned to the United States.

She eventually became part of the Provincetown, Mass. artist colony, where she co-founded the Provincetown Printers and made a name for herself in the art of white-line color woodblock printmaking. She died in Morgantown, W.Va. in 1956. 

Lazzell is now one of only 23 artists in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s “At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth-Century American Modernism.”

“All of us at the Art Museum of West Virginia University are extraordinarily grateful to Art Bridges for this award,” said Todd Tubutis, the director of the Art Museum of West Virginia University. “Blanche Lazzell feels like West Virginia’s best kept secret, but with this support we’ll be able to bring her work to a broader audience. Lazzell played a vital role in American modernism and deserves her due as the radical artist that she was. But perhaps even more importantly, as a woman from West Virginia, she challenges our received narrative about avant-garde artists and who was truly making avant-garde art here in the first half of the twentieth century.”

The Art Bridges Foundation offers support for arts projects that “educate, inspire, and deepen engagement with local audiences.”

The Art Bridges Foundation also gifted four more works by Lazzell to the museum. From the Sander family, the museum has received an untitled still life painting (1917); the linoleum block print “Beach Combings” (block cut 1931, printed 1942); and the watercolor “Provincetown Wharf” (1935), created as a family Easter card. The white-line color woodcut “West Virginia University Farmhouse” (1950) is a gift of the grandchildren of Edna Douglass Hamilton and Richard Hamilton.