Sculptor Louise Nevelson (Leah Berliawsky) died at 88 on this date in 1988. Born to a Yiddish-speaking immigrant family, trained at the Arts Student League, and a WPA artist for four years until 1939, she gained an international reputation for her monumental wood and found-object sculptures, which she began creating when collecting scrap wood with her son for burning in their fireplace for warmth. Nevelson lived near the poverty line until her middle years, yet left an estate of $100 million upon her death, with works in many of the world’s major museums. She was also highly publicized as an eccentric, flamboyant, and sexually liberated woman who became an inspiring force in the feminist art movement yet described herself as “not a feminist . . . I’m an artist who happens to be a woman.” Among her best-known pieces are what she called “environments,” wooden, gigantic, wall-like reliefs with boxes and cubbies holding shapes and found objects found in the streets of New York and usually spray-painted black. One of her works, “Sky Cathedral: Night Wall,” took her thirteen years to build in her New York studio. Nevelson lived with Diana MacKown for twenty-six years; while both women denied being lovers, Caryn E. Neumann suggests that Nevelson, who depended on public art commissions, “may have feared the financial consequences of being exposed as a lesbian.”

“I was discouraged about life, discouraged about people being blind, but I don’t think I had a day that I ever questioned creativity. There has never been a day like that.” —Louise Nevelson