In 1941, 21-year-old recent Sarah Lawrence graduate Elizabeth Rockwell decided to bring modernism to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She opened Outlines, a gallery that remained open until 1947, when lack of support finally forced her to close its doors. Over the course of six years, however, Outlines featured the work of the likes of Alexander Calder, John Cage, Maya Deren, Merce Cunningham, Paul Klee, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Amadeo Modigliani, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Georges Seurat and Marc Chagall, to name only a few.
Pieces were borrowed from museums and private collections, and exhibits changed every four weeks. The gallery also boasted a circulating library of art books, literature and experimental recordings and hosted lectures and film viewings. The gallery itself was decorated with modern plywood furniture designed by local architect Crombie Taylor.
At the time, abstract art was considered bizarre at best and even subversive and un-American by some, so this was a monumental achievement by a young woman that newspapers in her day called "a girl." Elizabeth Rockwell Raphael died in 1998 and has been called "one of the most ground-breaking women in the modern art scene." In 1971 she founded the Society for Contemporary Craft.
In 2009, Raphael's granddaughter Cayce Mell happened upon several documents bearing her late grandmother's name, along with an address in downtown Pittsburgh, as well as a list of famous artists. Until then, she had no idea what her grandmother had been doing when she was in her early twenties. What she discovered was a missing link in art history.
Mell and her husband Jason Tracy have spent the last four years compiling a documentary film about Elizabeth Rockwell Raphael and Outlines. A few weeks ago, we were contacted by Tracy, who sent us a link to the trailer for their film. I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did and will look forward to seeing the film in its entirety.
youtube.com - Cayce Mell