Miriam Schapiro Brach Biography

Miriam Schapiro Brach




Miriam (Mimi) Schapiro was born on November 15, 1923 in Toronto, Canada and was the only child of Russian Jewish parents. Her father was an artist and an intellectual who was studying at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, in New York, when Schapiro was born. Her mother, a homemaker and a Zionist, encouraged Schapiro to take up a career in the arts. At age six, Schapiro began drawing. During the Great Depression, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York. It was also at this time that Schapiro started taking art classes at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1941, she graduated from Erasmus High School and went on to study at the State University of Iowa, where she received a BA in 1945, an MA in 1946, and an MFA in 1949. In Iowa she met the artist Paul Brach, whom she married in 1946. By 1951 they moved to New York City and befriended many of the artists in the downtown Abstract expressionist New York School, including Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers, Knox Martin and Michael Goldberg.

They moved to New York in 1952, and, three years later, had a son in 1955. That year also marked the beginning of Schapiro’s career as a full-time artist. (She previously had been an secretary for a rabbi.) During this period Shapiro had a successful career as an abstract expressionist painter in the hard-edge style. Drawing inspiration from the Abstract Expressionists, she began exhibiting in New York. As late as 2000, Schapiro would cite that movement’s all-over compositions as a major influence on her colorful, energetic work.
In 1967 she and Paul moved to California, where she became one of the first artists to use a computer to create her artwork. Working with the physicist David Nabilof, she created hard-edged abstract paintings. One such abstraction was OX (1967), a version of which is owned by the Brooklyn Museum. The painting features a hard-edged O at the crossing of an X. The result is a vaginal shape that feminist artist Judy Chicago called “central core” imagery, which she and Schapiro considered a symbol of the body. Schapiro and Chicago established the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts.
Schapiro's work from the 1970s onwards consists primarily of collages assembled from fabrics, which she calls "femmages". Her 1977 - 1978 essay Waste Not Want Not: An Inquiry into What Women Saved and Assembled - FEMMAGE (written with Melissa Meyer) describes femmage as the activities of collage, assemblage, découpage and photomontage practised by women using "traditional women's techniques - sewing, piercing, hooking, cutting, appliquéing, cooking and the like..."

Her works are held in numerous museum collections including the Jewish Museum (New York) and the National Gallery of Art. Schapiro’s use of femmage launched her as one of the leading artists in the Pattern and Decoration movement, an American style that emerged in the mid-’70s and lasted through the early ’80s. A subversion of Conceptual art and Minimalism, Pattern and Decoration, or P&D, brought color back into avant-garde art. In Schapiro’s work, in particular, the P&D style can be seen in the patterns of her vibrant fabrics, which, as with her femmage works, have a feminist subtext—they refer to quilting, appliqué, and other crafts.

Schapiro committed herself to promoting art by women. In 1979, she co-founded the New York Feminist Art Institute, which held workshops and hosted lectures by women. Later, realizing that there weren’t enough women in art-history textbooks, she became a member of the College Art Association.

In the decades since P&D, Schapiro continued to include fabrics and craft techniques in her work, using it now toward reevaluating her Jewish identity and the role of women throughout American history.

Miriam Schapiro died on June 20 in East Hampton, New York at age 91 after a long illness.



This biography drawn from her obituary by Alex Greenberger in ARTnews, 06/23/2015 and other sources.