On January 9th, I received an email that began, "My name is Gloria Crespo. I am a Spanish journalist and have been researching on Maria Blanchard for years. I have just recently finished a documentary film on her and now I am working on her written biography. Today I have found on the Internet a text about your poems on her...."
This was great news to me. As I have chronicled in an essay titled "Speaking of Maria Blanchard," for the online journal Wordgathering, I have been trying to write about Blanchard for nearly 25 years. When I began, there was little available to me on her life or images, but the few scraps I could find, buried in biography footnotes and blotchy black and white photocopies of prints from interlibrary loans, intrigued me. More recently, as my essay chronicles, I have actually gotten to see one Blanchard painting and many prints. And since receiving Crespo’s email, I have been able to find more moving information about and images by this great Spanish artist.
In subsequent emails, Crespo has informed me that currently, an exhibit titled simply, “Maria Blanchard,” running till February 25, 2013, at the Queen Sofia Museum in Madrid hopes to recover the artist from oblivion. In the article, “Reclaiming Maria Blanchard,” the curator of the exhibit, Maria Jose Salazar, notes that Blanchard has been treated very unfairly. For just one example, on one canvas, Blanchard’s signature was erased and replaced with that of “Juan Gris,” her dear friend, but NOT the person who made the painting. Both gender and her disability worked against her in her time and in the decades following. For 2012, the 80th anniversary of her death, many in Spain set about trying to give this brave, talented woman her due.
In addition to paintings, three letters have been discovered recently, which Crespo has written about for El Pais. But Crespo’s big contribution to Blanchard’s legacy is a one-hour documentary film about Blanchard, a clip of which can be viewed on YouTube, “26, Rue de Depart.” Crespo is looking at the investment of time and money it would take to make the film available in the U.S.—subtitling, copyright, and other issues and tasks—which may prove daunting while she works on the Blanchard book.
I think Americans would show much interest in the film about this fascinating woman and talented artist. When I posted about Blanchard last week on Facebook, my friend Maria Bonnett said she really enjoyed viewing the Blanchard images now available online. A midwife for many years, Bonnett also reminded me that the story of Maria’s mother’s fall from a horse was probably the sort of blame-the-mother tactic that was used for generations of children with congenital defects, and I am sorry to have repeated it. I do agree with an online poster who has suggested that the effect of Blanchard’s kyphosis on her work and reputation would be a rich area for disability studies.
Dartmouth University, as far as I know now, has the only Blanchard painting in the U.S. (I have tried to see it, but the painting hasn’t been available when I am, and vice versa.)
Having written about Frida Kahlo for years, too, I find both women fascinating and admirable in the excellence they achieved despite debilitating pain and disability, but the more I come to know about Blanchard, the more I admire how she went it alone, and, as I have written elsewhere, how she did not become the maidservant to the famous male artists around her, as many of the women artists of the time did. That stubbornness may have cost her some fame in her time, so now we must see to her legacy in our time.