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Thu, 05.08.1947

Maren Hassinger, Artist born

Maren Hassinger

*The birth of Maren Hassinger is celebrated on this date in 1947.  She is a Black artist and educator.  

Born Maren Louise Jenkins in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Helen Mills Jenkins, a police officer and educator, and her late father, Carey Kenneth Jenkins, an architect. She showed a gift for art at an early age and was exposed to her mother's interest in flower arranging and her father's work at his drafting table. 

In 1965, she enrolled at Bennington College and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in sculpture in 1969. She originally intended to study dance at Bennington, which she had practiced since she was five years old. Instead, she sought to incorporate aspects of dance into her sculptures.  During her years at Bennington College, it was an all women's college with mostly men serving as instructors, many of whom had New York gallery affiliations. Hassinger believed the institutional connections and affiliations of the instructors were distant from the experiences of many students, and she rejected the formal strategies that were being taught.  

Trained in dance, Hassinger transitioned to making sculpture and visual art in college.  In 1969, she moved to New York City to enroll in drafting courses and concurrently work as an art editor at a publishing company. As an editor, she managed the inclusion of African American images in textbooks, "...a position she has described as 'demeaning.'" Jenkins married writer Peter Hassinger and returned to Los Angeles with her husband in 1970.  She earned a Master of Fine Arts in fiber from UCLA in 1973.

Hassinger discovered the wire rope in a Los Angeles junkyard while in the graduate program. This became a signature medium for her.  During the 1980s, the League of Allied Arts sponsored the musical Ain't Misbehavin, honoring various Black artists. The League of Allied Arts is the longest-running Black women's arts nonprofit arts organization in the Los Angeles area.  The musical took place at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood, and Hassinger was among the several honored artists.  From 1984-1985, Hassinger worked at the Studio Museum in Harlem as an artist-in-residence.

Hassinger started her artistic experimentation in a Los Angeles junkyard in the early 1970s, where she came across bulks of industrial wire rope. She found that the material could be used sculpturally and as a fiber that could be manipulated to resemble plant life.  She uses sculpture, film, dance, performance art, and public art to explore the relationship between the natural world and industrial materials. She incorporates everyday materials in her art, like wire rope, plastic bags, branches, dirt, newspaper, garbage, leaves, and cardboard boxes.  Southern fiction writer Walker Percy continued to influence her childhood connection between the natural and the manufactured world with his work, Wreath.

Many of Percy's novels, which Hassinger was reading at the time, are about navigating a modern world that was becoming removed from nature. Another influence that struck her was the sculpture work of Eva Hesse.  Through moving videos, Hassinger has explored personal family interactions and her family history to tackle themes of identity. Her daughter, Ava Hassinger, is also an artist. The two have produced a video in which they perform improvisational choreography together under the title "Matriarch."  Her work has been described as "ecological," but Hassinger herself does not see her work as such. Rather, she aims to produce humanistic statements about society and its commonalities.  

Additionally, Hassinger has addressed equality issues with works like Love, a display of hundreds of pink plastic bags containing a love note. Such pieces exemplify how she can evoke beauty and themes about society using everyday, common materials.  From 1997 until 2017, she was the Director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art.  Hassinger was an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University for five years.  

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