National Museum of Women in the Arts
Claire Falkenstein
July 22 1908 - October 23 1997
Photograph of Claire Falkenstein, ca. 1975, by Mimi Jacobs. 10 1/5 x 8 1/5 inches (26 x 21 cm). Photographs of artists taken by Mimi Jacobs, 1971-1981. Archives of American Art, Washington, DC, USA.
Place of Birth:
Coos Bay
Phonetic Spelling:
clair FAHL-kehn-(ST-EYE-N)
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Decorative and utilitarian works, Drawings and prints, Painting, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Ceramicist, Designer, Furniture Designer, Illustrator, Metalworker, Painter, Printmaker, Sculptor, Stained glass Artist, Welder, Woodworker, Jewelry Designer
Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism , Assemblage , Other
Artist's Biography:
Claire Falkenstein was an innovative and prolific Abstract Expressionist sculptor, famous for her striking and often controversial metal and glass public art. Using thickets of welded metal, melted glass, ribbons of clay, and interlocking wood pieces, Falkenstein forged, fired, sawed, welded, and constructed abstract forms that reflect the changing scientific and philosophical trends of the twentieth century. For almost a century, the artist used new industrial materials and technologies to create architectural elements; engineered windows, doors, and gates; designed wallpaper, furniture, jewelry; and melded the traditional definitions of sculpture, painting, and prints into new media.

Falkenstien’s career began in Coos Bay, Oregon, where the natural forms found along the beaches stimulated her interest in the expressive qualities of negative space and the physical harmony of the natural world. Upon graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, the artist had solidified her modernist style and developed her passion for experimentation with both artistic concepts and physical media. Paris was her next home, where she befriended Michel Tapié, an avant-garde art connoisseur and intellectual who championed the fusion of physics, mathematics, and art. Falkenstein developed her interest in topological concepts and theories about the continuing flow of matter and space. Falkenstein was commissioned to create the gates for Peggy Guggenheim’s museum in Venice, Italy. This work exemplifies Falkenstein’s “never-ending screen”- metal webbing interspersed with chunks of shimmering glass in a repeated pattern to form a seemingly endless field. This model was later used in her largest commission; fifteen towering stained glass windows for St. Basil’s Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles. The kaleidoscopic colors and reflections, emphasized by the irregular shapes and angles of the windows, create a dynamic three-dimensional space.

Falkenstein returned to America in 1960. She created a series of public works throughout Los Angeles and the surrounding areas including the highly controversial fountain of copper tubing interspersed with Venetian glass for the California Federal Savings and Loan Association. Falkenstein worked until she was almost ninety, never stopping in her quest to create works in every feasible media and exploring the infinite possibilities of space.

Other Occupation(s):
Instructor, Teacher
Place(s) of Residence:
Where Trained/Schools:
Mills College, Oakland, CA, USA (1933) University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA (1927-1930)
Related Visual Artists:
friend of Richard Diebenkorn friend of Sam Francis friend of Jean Arp friend of Paul Jenkins friend of Alberto Giacometti friend of and influenced by Clyfford Still student of Alexander Archipenko student of George Lusk
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Distinguished Woman Artist, Council of 100, Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, CA, USA (1997) Vesta Award, Woman of the Year in Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA (1986) Lifetime Achievement Award, Women's Caucus for Art, New York, NY, USA (1981)
Earliest exhibition:
East-West Gallery, San Francisco, CA, USA (1930)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Generation of Mentors
Artist retrospective(s):
Claire Falkenstein: Looking Within - A Point of Departure, Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, CA (1997) Claire Falkenstein, Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA, USA (1980) Claire Falkenstein, Fresno Art Center and Museum, Fresno, CA, USA (1969)
Related places
Venice (died at)