Martica Sawin


Art historian and critic Martica Sawin is a native New Yorker who has spent a half century covering contemporary art in print and in the classroom. As an historian she has focussed especially on Surrealism, but she has written more than 100 essays on contemporary artists for exhibition catalogues and art magazines as well as authoring and co-authoring a number of monographs.

On graduating from the State University of Iowa (1950) after attending Stanford University and the Sorbonne, Sawin fulfilled a long-standing ambition to work at the Museum of Modern Art (1950-1952). As executive secretary for the Museum's Junior Council she implemented the setting up of the Art Lending Service and organized a program of symposia and poetry readings sponsored by the Junior Council. After her first child was born in 1952 she worked as a freelance writer on art, serving as a contributing editor for Arts (1953-63) and New York correspondent for Art International (1957-59). In the mid-1960s, now a mother of three, she began teaching as an adjunct at Hunter College and enrolled as a graduate student in art history at Columbia University where she earned a Masters Degree in 1967 and completed all the requirements except a dissertation for a Ph.D. in 1969. In 1967 she was appointed chair of the Department of History and Criticism of Art and Design at Parsons School of Design where she was a member of the faculty until 1995.

At Parsons Sawin developed an art history curriculum designed to fit the needs of the school's different areas of specialization, instituting many courses in various aspects of design, such as History of Design and Technology, Backgrounds in Graphic Design, and American Art From Ashcan to Soupcan.  Students taking the required introductory art history course were given accompanying workshops in fresco, stone carving, manuscript illumination, stained glass, Chinese calligraphy and other techniques to provide a hands-on familiarity with the materials of art. In 1978 Sawin started Parsons in Paris, initially a summer program for art and design students, and subsequently a four year school with an international student body.

During this same period Sawin continued to write as well as to serve as a curator of exhibitions, including an Abraham Walkowitz retrospective for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, New York WPA Artists Then and Now at the Parsons Exhibition Center, and a Henry Varnum Poor retrospective at the Rockland Center for the Arts where she served as exhibitions director in the 1970s. Her book, Wolf Kahn, Landscape Painter was published in 1980 and this has been followed by other monographs on artists of the later 20th century, Nell Blaine, Louisa Matthiasdottir (co-author) Stephen Pace, and, forthcoming, Alan Gussow, artist and environmental activist. She also co-authored a book on Yves Tanguy which was published in France. In 1993 she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to complete her book, Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School, MIT Press 1995. From 1988 to 1994 she was Reviews Editor of The Art Journal. After leaving Parsons in 1995 Sawin was appointed a Libra visiting professor at the University of Maine in Augusta, and subsequently served as a guest curator for the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid for an exhibition based on Surrealism in Exile. She was also a guest curator for an exhibition of Icelandic landscape painting for the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. and contributed a catalogue essay to the recent André Masson exhibition at the Reina Sofia Museum as well as writing essays for many other museum catalogues. 

Currently Sawin lives in New York City's West Village and in Harpswell, Maine. Her first marriage was to artist David Sawin, with whom she had three daughters. She is the widow of James Marston Fitch, architect, author, professor, and prime mover in the establishing of historic preservation in the United States. She is working on a layperson's book on sustainable energy building.

Selected Works

Art History
The surrealist artists flee wartime Europe and change the course of American art.
An artist triumphs over early seeing disorder, poverty, and crippling polio in mid-life.
Masson flees wartorn Europe for rural Connecticut where the natural surroundings make a transformative impact on his art.