3 Ukrainian Women Artists You’ll Want Your Students to Learn About This Month


Two weeks ago, as news regarding the invasion of Ukraine hit headlines worldwide, and images of families with young children fleeing for safety unground or in neighbouring countries flooded my social media feed, I felt rather confused about the events that were unfolding.

As the days went on, though, I felt compelled not only to look into the long history between Russia and Ukraine, to better educate myself, but also felt an obligation to research and uncover renowned Ukrainian artists. To my surprise, I knew a couple of them already, and you may too!

As you may or may not know, I have been integrating art history and social studies into my teaching for years. Therefore, researching artists is nothing new but rather something I do quite regularly when lesson planning for my classes.

Through the retelling of stories about my “spotlight” artist or artists, as I like to call them, I relish in sharing with my students the journeys these famous artists experienced throughout their lifetime. Furthermore, by sharing with students these often fascinating tales of hardship, failures, and maybe even some artistic quirks, I always seem to ignite a spark in even my most jaded of students.

Given that we are now in March, Women’s History Month, and in wanting to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine, I’ve decided to lesson plan all my new art activities around three amazing Ukrainian women artists I discovered through my research online: Sonia Delaunay, Maria Primachenko, and Louise Nevelson.

I take solace in knowing that I will learn more about the Ukrainian people thanks to these incredible women artists and the art activities that will be inspired by their masterpieces. Furthermore, by spotlighting these women throughout the month of March, my students too will discover the rich Ukrainian culture through various forms of artistic expression.

My only intent is to honour these three incredible women for their artistic talents and female accomplishments, and I hope I do them justice in the blog post.

Sending you lots of love and peace,

Sonia Delaunay

Sonia was born in Odessa, Ukraine, during the Russian Empire in 1885 to Jewish parents. At the age of 5, she went to live with her uncle (her mother’s brother) in St-Petersburg, Russia, and was eventually adopted by him and his wife. As such, she had a very privileged upbringing with her aunt and uncle (he a lawyer), traveling throughout Europe on her summers off. With a notable talent in drawing, Sonia went on to study art in Germany from 1903-1905, and eventually moved to Paris at the age of 20.

A painter, illustrator, and textile designer, Sonia was, more importantly, a pioneer of Abstract Art before the onset of WWI. In 1909 she met, and one year later married, painter Robert Delaunay. Together, the couple co-founded the Orphism art movement and in 1911 their son Charles was born.

Sonia was the first living female artist to have a retrospective at the Louvre in Paris, France. Her creations were much inspired by the works of Paul Gaugin and Vincent Van Gogh. Her use of colour, shape, and movement is great evidence of this.

When her son Charles was a newborn, she stitched a patchwork quilt for him. The quilt, a blend of Ukrainian folk art and elements from the avant-garde movement, now hangs in the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris.

She died in 1979 at the age of 94.

Maria Primachenko

Maria was a self-taught Ukrainian folk artist born in 1909. Her preferred media consisted of embroidery, painting, and ceramics. She spent almost all of her life in the town of Bolotnya, 30 km outside of Chernobyl.

As a young child, she contracted polio, which left her with a physical disability for the rest of her life. Her mother taught her embroidery at a young age, which she continued to do well into adulthood. Maria eventually met her partner Vasyl Marynuchuk and in 1941 gave birth to their son, Fedir. Vasyl went on to fight in WWII but sadly never returned from combat in Finland.

Maria’s art style is naïve and greatly inspired by her Ukrainian heritage. Her artworks are filled with imagery of Ukrainian people, traditionally dressed, Ukrainian motifs, flowers and animals, and mystical creatures from legends and folklore. She made the transition from embroidery to painting in the 1930s.

In the 1980s she moved away from watercolour and started working with gouache, which further enhanced her vibrant colourful artworks. In the 1970s she began to inscribe the backs of her canvases with Ukrainian proverbs and phrases.

Maria died in 1997 at the age of 88.

In February 2022, following the invasion of Ukrainian by Russian forces, 25 of Maria’s artworks were burned and lost forever at the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum. Luckily, some locals in the town were able to save a few of her artworks from perishing in the fire.  

Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson was born to a Jewish family in 1899 in Pereiaslav, Russian Empire, known as present-day Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine. In the late 1800s and early 1900s many of Louise’s relatives were moving to America for a better life, her father included.

It is said that Louise went mute for 6 months following her father’s departure. She and her family later rejoined her father in Maine, USA, in 1905. At home Louise’s family spoke Yiddish, meanwhile, at school, Louise learned and spoke English.

At the age of 9, after visiting the Rockland Public Library, Louise was smitten with a caster plast of Joan of Arc. Not long afterward, she decided to study art, taking drawing classes later on in high school.

In 1920 she married a wealthy man named Charles and moved to New York City. There she began to study art, in addition to singing, acting, and dancing. In 1922 their son, Mike, was born. He too went on to become a sculptor like his mother.

In the 1930s, Louise attended art classes at the Art Students League of New York. She studied under the famous painter Hans Hoffman, and sculptor Chaim Gross. She experimented with paint, found objects, and printing before she delved deep into sculpture and dedicated her life to the medium.

Louise is seen as a fundamental figure in the feminist art movement, challenging gender stereotypes when it came to artwork. Her totem-like sculptures were often perceived as masculine and Louise enjoyed challenging this perception, saying that art was a reflection of the individual, not masculine or feminine labels.

She passed away in 1988 at the age of 88.


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