Lois Mailou Jones, the focus of a small show of black women artists at the city's main library, sat in an exhibit hall, a sheer white Hindu scarf draped over her heavy rainbow brocade tunic, reviewing this past week of women's arts activities.
On Tuesday the National Women's Caucus for Art had honored five artists at a White House ceremony. Lois Jones, an active artist for 50 years, had been one of the original nominees but she was two years too young for the qualifying age of 75. "But I was determined a black woman would be among the five. So I suggested Selma Burke. I don't think the people at the Metropolitan Museum had ever heard of her," said Jones, her voice low with dismay.
"Then I saw this new book by Elsa Fine with hardly any mention of black women artists," continued Jones. "I am very distraught over that. But, at least, this exhibit came together."
The exhibit of 21 local artists, however, was not considered a complete victory by some but an example of how black women artists are given secone-class treatment. Originally, the Caucus, which is meeting here this week, had asked two Washington artists to organize a national show of black art.
"We wanted to have 75 artists and had about 50 commitments. We applied to foundations for financial aid but had to cancel the show because of a lack of funds," said Edith Martin, a museum technician at the Renwick Gallery. Also, the Caucus couldn't afford $6,000 for the security guards at the Humphrey Building, where the exhibit was to be held. The black women, encouraged by the Caucus, went ahead wih a scaled-down Washington-area show and found support from the D.C. Library's Library for the Arts Program.
"But," said Teixeira Nash, one of the exhibitors, "I feel the Caucus didn't make an effort to give the show their priorities, more financial support and exposure. The black women shouldn't be in the basement of the library."
Claudia Vess, the local Caucus coordinator, said at last night's opening that the Caucus had tried to highlight the contributions of minority women. "Last year when we met in New York, we noticed the separateness of the white, Hispanic and black women. We really felt it was important to broaden our perspective. We really wanted a splashy national exhibit of black women."
The works, which will be on view at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library until Feb. 28, illustrate that the contemporary output of black women artists defies any ideological or stylistic bounds. Juette Day, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia, who last night wore a mink pillbox hat resting on her white hair, painted a storm scene of bright orange swirls called "Venice."
Patricia Landry, her purple knickers a symbol of her fashion-designing avocation, submitted "Reflections," a black ink drawing of a woman in three narcissistic poses. Gerogia Jessup, the acting director of art for the D.C. public schools, showed a collage of carton pieces and scrap paper, entitled "Urban Renewal," in which black people were crowded under the Capitol Building. She also had the last word on the exhibit's politics.
"We, the artists, shouldn't have had to find the money and the place. We should have been creating," said Jessup. CAPTION: Picture, Lois Mailou Jones, left, D.C. Libraries director Hard Picture, Lois Mailou Jones, left, D.C. Libraries director Hardy Franklin and Delilah Pierce, by Joe Heiberger -- The Washington Post