National Museum of Women in the Arts
Dorothy Dehner
December 23 1901 - September 22 1994
Photograph of Dorothy Dehner with her sculpture Gateway 3, 1985, by Arthur Tress, 1986, courtesy of the photographer
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
DOHR-oh-thee DEH-nerr
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Active Dates:
circa 1955 - 1994
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Designer, Mixed Media Artist , Painter, Printmaker, Sculptor
Abstraction, Other
Artist's Biography:
She began making sculptures at fifty-four, and just two years later Dorothy Dehner had her first one-woman exhibition at New York’s Willard Gallery. Throughout the next four decades, Dehner was an award-winning sculptor, producing abstract works in various media.

The Cleveland native had originally intended to be an actress. Following the death of her parents in 1918, Dehner moved to California, where she took classes at the Pasadena Playhouse and majored in drama at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1922, she resettled in New York and three years later switched her sights to a career in visual arts. For several years Dehner studied painting at The Art Students League, getting to know emerging American modernists, including David Smith, whom she married in 1927.

While living in Brooklyn and then, from 1940 to 1950, on a farm at Bolton Landing in upstate New York, Dehner limited her artistic production to drawings and paintings, participating in only a few group shows. Her work at this point was figurative, alternating idyllic representations of her daily life on the farm with devastating, demonic images that reflected the deteriorating state of her marriage. After she and Smith separated in 1950, Dehner was more active professionally, studying printmaking at William Stanley Hayter’s Atelier 17 and becoming known for her work in three dimensions. Initially, Dehner made cast-bronze sculpture; in the mid-1970s she started working with wood, and during the early 1980s she produced enormous pieces in Cor-ten steel. The recipient of numerous art prizes and an honorary doctorate, Dehner had major retrospectives of her work at The Jewish Museum in New York (1965), City University of New York (1991), and the Katonah Museum of Art, New York (1993).

Other Occupation(s):
Actor, Instructor, Writer
Place(s) of Residence:
New York
Bolton Landing
Where Trained/Schools:
Atelier 17, New York, NY, USA (ca. 1950) The Art Students League of New York, New York, NY, USA (1925 - ca. 1929)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of David Smith friend of Stuart Davis friend of Jan Matulka friend of Ashille Gorky friend of Louise Nevelson friend of John Graham friend of Milton Avery classmate of Irene Rice Pereira student of Kimon Nicholaides student of William Stanley Hayter
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Award of Distinction, National Sculpture Conference: Works by Women, Cincinnati, OH, USA (1987) Lifetime Achievement Award, Women's Caucus for Art, New York, NY, USA (1983) Fellowship, Yaddo Foundation, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA (1970)
Earliest exhibition:
Annual Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, USA (1950)
NMWA exhibition(s):
The Washington Print Club Thirtieth Anniversary Exhibition: Graphic Legacy
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
Artist retrospective(s):
Dorothy Dehner, A Retrospective of Sculpture, Drawings, and Paintings, Baruch College Gallery, City University of New York, New York, NY, USA (1991) Dorothy Dehner, A Retrospective, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA, USA (1988) Dorothy Dehner: Ten Years of Sculpture, The Jewish Museum, New York, NY, USA (1965)
Related places
New York (died at)
Black and Brown
Ladder II
Looking North F