The Sarasota John & Mabel Ringling Museum is pleased to present the exhibition Eleanor Merritt: Remembrance, which celebrates the life and art of Eleanor Merritt (1933 -2019.), opening February 18th, 2022. This exhibition is dedicated to her indomitable spirit and creativity and represents a small sample of a significant body of work the artist created over her long career. Beginning with early work from the 1950s Untitled (Seated Figure) and concluding with her last painting Blue Embrace of 2018, the exhibition highlights her creative use of materials, movement between figuration and abstraction, and her commitment to women's rights.
Born in Harlem in 1933, Eleanor's talent in drawing and painting led to her acceptance to the prestigious High School for Music and Art in New York. She excelled as a student receiving the school's top art award, the St. Gaudens Medal. She then attended Brooklyn College for undergraduate and graduate studies, where she studied with some of the most influential artists of the time, including Mark Rothko, Ad Rhinehart, Kurt Seligmann, Burgoyne Diller, and Jimmy Ernst. She absorbed the energy and physicality of her teacher's work into her interests in figuration and symbolism.
Merritt's expansive body of work explored the interrelatedness of society, spirituality, and gender, employing the figure rendered in a range of styles derived from a vast cultural matrix inclusive of her African and Caribbean roots and the Abstract Expressionist education she received at Brooklyn College in the 1950s. Her mixed media practice alternated between oils, acrylics, inks, and black paper as a platform to describe narratives of strength, agency, and empowerment. Merritt's commitment to the relevancy of her context as a woman of color allowed her to evolve in style and expression over her six-decade career. Her work was displayed nationally in galleries and museums in Florida, California, Colorado, Texas, and internationally to Shimoneski, Japan.
Arriving in Sarasota in the 1980s, Eleanor exhibited widely in Florida. In addition to Merritt's art practice, she was an essential early advocate within national and regional art organizations, such as her role as the program manager for the Women's Caucus for Arts' Women of Color (WOCA) Slide Project influencing the careers and more equitable opportunities of other women artists of color on a national level.
Within the Sarasota arts community, Merritt was the Ringling Museum's first African American female Board Member and well-recognized leader in the local arts community, including chairing the Art in Public Places Committee serving on various Arts boards. She was named "Artist of the Year" in 1994 by the Sarasota Visual Arts Center and received the Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. In 2013, she received national recognition with an exhibition at the Houston Museum of African American Culture. Her final exhibition in 2017 at the Arts & Cultural Alliance celebrated her 60 years of painting. We are pleased to announce, along with this exhibition, the acquisition of three works into the permanent collection of The Ringling.
The works in the exhibition come from the artist's estate and a few prestigious private collections. The artist's daughter, Dr. Lisa Merritt, and artist Mike Solomon were critical guides in the development of this exhibition.
This exhibition was paid for in part by Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax revenues. Support for this exhibition was provided by the William G. & Marie Selby Foundation and Ringling Museum Endowment.
Image: Eleanor Merritt
Mixed media on paper
Overall: 36 × 28 in. (91.4 × 71.1 cm)
On loan from the Estate of the artist.