Like the rest of us, Judy Chicago was given extra hours and an empty calendar this past year. Unlike the rest of us, bingeing on cable TV and bemoaning our inability to finish reading a book, Chicago wrote one—her eleventh! It’s not called The Flower because the subject is by no means a still life. The Flowering is an autobiography about growth, in spite of, and inspired by the elements that, in turn, nurture and challenge all living things.

judy chicago the flowering

In Chicago’s case, there’s been a lot of living, teaching, traveling and art making, much or most of it, not confined to an easel; pyrotechnics and stained glass, just to start. Of the 90 color illustrations accompanying the memoir, my favorite image shows the sweat-browed artist in tank top and cut-offs, utilizing skills she learned from auto-body shop classes. As a young girl, on Saturdays attending her church of choice, the Chicago Institute of Art, she describes taking her vows to make art as a way to navigate life, death and injustice. Recounting The Dinner Party, she passionately describes how a collective of craftswomen made china plates almost come to life through her vision. At 416 pages, this is not an artist uncomfortable with words. As Chicago told NPR about being a Jew, “We were slaves in Egypt, and we became free, which leaves us with the mandate to work for everyone’s freedom.” In the book’s foreword, Gloria Steinem, a dynamo in her own right, describes Chicago as “a miracle.” This year, at age 82, she sees her work visiting Japan and cities across the US, notably a retrospective at the de Young in San Francisco. The Flowering recounts a life still glowing and blowing in the wind. —Gwynned Vitello 

Read our interview with the de Young museum on Judy Chicago's retrospective, on view now. 

Thames & Hudson,