Betty and Pancho

Catlett’s ‘Sharecropper’ (1952) Prints and drawings by lifelong artistic partners Elizabeth Catlett and Francisco Mora go on display at Payne Gallery next week, prefaced by a talk by Catlett on December 4 in Foy Hall. “Betty and Pancho” will showcase the smaller works of African-American painter, sculptor, and printmaker Catlett and Mexican painter and printmaker Mora, whose marriage and artistic collaboration lasted 56 years, until the death of Mora earlier this year at the age of 79.

Catlett, who celebrated her 87th birthday in April, was born in 1915 in Washington, D.C. She is fiercely proud of her African-American heritage, which includes three grandparents who had been slaves.

Much of her work focuses on African-American women who have faced and triumphed over oppression. The stoic woman in the straw hat in “Sharecropper” is emblematic of these nameless survivors who have maintained their wholeness under slavery, poverty, and illiteracy. Their facial planes are derived from African masks and express the timeless, ageless beauty of the African people.

Refused admission to then-Carnegie Tech because of her race, Catlett received her undergraduate degree in art at Howard University and was the first person to earn an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, where she studied with Grant Wood (“American Gothic”).

After teaching at Dillard University in New Orleans, she used a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to travel to Mexico with her husband, African-American printmaker Charles White. In Mexico City, she joined the Taller de Gráfica Popular, an influential printmakers’ cooperative. There she met Francisco Mora, whom she married in 1947.
Catlett has spent most of her working career in Mexico and headed the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas, part of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Mora, born in 1922, was part of the generation that followed Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and José Orozco, the great Mexican artists who celebrated the working poor of their country in paintings and murals marked by bold colors and strongly hewn shapes.

But though Mora’s subjects are similar, his aesthetic is closer to that of the German expressionist Käthe Kollwitz. Her subjects were the women weavers who worked in the factory districts of Berlin; his are the miners of Mexico. Both sketch the laboring hands and weary faces, shabby clothes and rough implements of their people with dark charcoal markings on a monotone ground.

The video Betty y Pancho will be shown while the exhibit runs. It was made by their son, filmmaker Juan Roberto Mora Catlett. The score is by anothe son, the renowned and much-recorded jazz percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett.

Betty and Pancho Information

  • December 5 -January 19, Payne Gallery
  • Opening night reception: 7:30 p.m.
  • A talk by Elizabeth Catlett: 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 4, Foy Hall
  • Hours: 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Closed Mondays, major holidays, and Christmas break (December 26-January 10)
  • Special hours: Open before the six Christmas Vespers services: 6:30-8:00 p.m. December 6-7 and 13-14, 3:30-5:00 p.m. December 8 and 15
  • Information: (610) 861-1680, weekends (610) 861-1667, or www.moravian.edu

November 26, 2002

Betty and Pancho
Preview of Payne Gallery exhibit, works by Elizabeth Catlett and Francisco Mora.

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