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a historic journey

"Juneteenth represents triumph and pain. Catlett’s body of work documents our long suffering and endurance."

- Simone Renee Spruce

Curator: Simone Renee Spruce

2006.150 (Elizabeth Catlett)

Elizabeth Catlett (American 1915–2012), I have always worked hard in America, 1946, Linoleum cut, 15 x 11 in. (38.1 x 27.9 cm), Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), Gift of Dr. Elizabeth Catlett, 2006.150. © 2021 Catlett Mora Family Trust / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY 



Think of the word that connects each of your pieces together.

How do you feel connected to these images, to the artist?
“I have always wanted my art to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential. We have to create an art for liberation and life.” Elizabeth Catlett

Elizabeth Catlett created art with political messages focusing primarily on social justice issues throughout her life. She was deeply committed to social justice through her artwork and activism.

Her print I have always worked hard in America from the Negro Woman series, three images of women during household chores, suggests the repetitive, bitter, physical labor of domestic work. The unpleasant and painful labor is displayed by the unconventional rendering of the poses, the worn dresses, and the physical build of the women’s arms and legs. The artist chose to convey a feeling of discomfort in the placement of her characters in this series.

2006.152 (Elizabeth Catlett)

Elizabeth Catlett (American 1915–2012), In Sojourner Truth I fought for the Rights of Women as well as Negroes, 1949, Linoleum block, H. 19 x 12 ¼ in. (48.3 x 31.1 cm), Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), Gift of Dr. Elizabeth Catlett, 2006.152. © 2021 Catlett Mora Family Trust / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Another image from this series, In Sojourner Truth I fought for the rights of women as well as Negroes, speaks to the impact the abolitionist had as Black feminist and women’s rights activist. In her speech “Ain’t I a Woman,” delivered at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, Sojourner further addresses her feelings regarding slavery and equal rights for all women, regardless of color. The narrative is closely framed and does not require any additional information to explain its meaning. Rhythmic mark making creates textures and the placement of her hands symbolizes her faith.

As a social commentary artist, I have the freedom through immediate response to tell the truth about humankind and create work that documents our differences, similarities, and moments of crisis. Elizabeth Catlett and I both create work that focuses on women’s issues and class disparities and advocates for justice. 

How do you feel your choices connect to Juneteenth?

Juneteenth represents triumph and pain. Catlett’s body of work documents our long suffering and endurance.

About the Curator: Simone Renee Spruce

Simone Renee Spruce was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1960. Simone works predominantly in the medium of graphite pencil, but also works in painting, installation, theater and poetry. She has been a teaching artist for 40 years to various groups which include K–,12, At-Risk Youth, Adults, Seniors, and the Developmentally Disabled. Her art credentials also include curating and jurying exhibitions in 2D and 3D in various mediums, panelist on various private and grant-making institutions to the arts, an art consultant, and grant writer. Simone completed her BA in Art at Findlay University in Findlay, Ohio in 1982. She received her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2017. She has participated in solo and group exhibitions in the Southeast, Midwest, and Northeast. Her work is in both public and private collections. She lives and works in Toledo, Ohio.

About the Artist: Elizabeth Catlett

Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012) was born at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, DC. Both her maternal and paternal grandparents were born enslaved, a family legacy that influenced her art. Catlett knew from a young age that she wanted to be an artist. After Carnegie Mellon rescinded her acceptance due to her race, she attended Howard University, graduating in 1935 with a BS in Art. In 1939, she began graduate studies in art at the University of Iowa, where she shifted her focus from painting to sculpture, and became the first woman to receive an MFA in sculpture from the University of Iowa. Her work often centered Black women. In 1946 Catlett moved to Mexico, where she was a guest artist at the printmaking collective, Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP, People's Graphic Arts Workshop). Inspired by the artistic activism within her circle of Mexican artists including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and David Siqueiros, Catlett continued creating images that showed the constant struggle and surprising strength of women, African Americans, those experiencing poverty, and disadvantaged social classes. From (National Museum of African American History and Culture)

About TBAC

The Toledo Black Artist Coalition’s mission is centered around creating avenues of artistic agency through advocacy, education, and activism. Throughout history, the African American perspective in the arts has been omitted, leaving a void within many mainstream cultural institutions. In reality, Toledo, Ohio has a rich legacy of African American artists who formed collectives to provide resources and education within the greater community. The Toledo Black Artists Coalition is a new wave formed within the context of the current national and international movement to heal a nation traumatized by the effects of white supremacy embedded within every facet of society. It is our ongoing goal to create pathways for artists of color and combat racial inequality as it continues to manifest within and in relation to Toledo institutions of culture.

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About TMA

Since its founding in 1901, the Toledo Museum of Art has earned a global reputation for the quality of our collection, our innovative and extensive education programs, and our architecturally significant campus. Thanks to the benevolence of its founders, as well as the continued support of its members, TMA remains a privately endowed, non-profit institution and opens its collection to the public, free of charge. Our mission is to integrate art into the lives of people, and we are accountable to ourselves and to our community that each action TMA takes reflects our four core values of Diversity, Community, Innovation, and Trust.