Sue Jean Covacevich
March is Women's History Month, and this year’s theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.”
Now, I know that I am just a man but I also know that there are a number of great female artists throughout our history. In fact, let us kick off the month by looking at one of those great artists who was born in Wellington but lived right here in Winfield. Of course, I am speaking of the great Sue Jean Covacevich (1905 – 1998).
Studying under Swedish painter, Birger Sandzén. Who, as a mentor, played a huge part in Sue Jean’s style and palette. Sue Jean was also influenced by American modernist, Marsden Hartley. Both artists would look to other cultures to revitalize not only American painting, but American culture as a whole. They felt that by engaging with visual traditions that had not been emasculated by the sophistication of the genteel tradition, they could regain vitality in both life and visual expression.
In 1930 Sue Jean traveled to Mexico to see first-hand the new work that was reshaping and reinvigorating the tradition of mural painting. Foremost among these revolutionary artists was Diego Rivera, who critiqued Sue Jean's work during her residency at the San Carlos Art School. Sue Jean lived in Mexico for 12 years, returning to Winfield in the 1940s. The influence of her Mexican experience can be seen not only in her book, Impressions of Mexico, and her print portfolio Churches of Mexico, but even more grandly in the murals she executed here. Her murals for the First National Bank in Winfield (1951) pay tribute to Diego Rivera through their broad and inclusive depiction of local society and industry.
Considered a pioneer in art therapy, Sue Jean would establish innovative programs at the Winfield State Hospital and the Menninger Clinic.
After earning a BA from Southwestern College, and an MA from Colorado State College. Greeley in 1950, Sue Jean would go on to teach art at Derby High School and extension classes for Kansas State University, Manhattan. She was a teacher at Southwestern University, Winfield and head of the art department.
In the 70’s, Sue Jean moved away from her early mentors who practiced an expressive realism, to pure abstraction. It is likely that she was inspired to create this pioneering abstract work by the writings of influential art critics such as Herbert Read. The boldness of her abstraction seemed to feed her zeal for spreading the word-and example-of an art of pure form. Paintings such as Monday Morning Wash show Sue Jean moving from the example of her earliest mentors, who practiced an expressive realism, to pure abstraction. It is likely that she was inspired to create this pioneering abstract work by the writings of influential art critics such as Herbert Read. The boldness of her abstraction seemed to feed her zeal for spreading the word-and example-of an art of pure form.