From the critically acclaimed artist, designer, and author of the bestsellers The Principles of Uncertainty and My Favorite Things comes a wondrous collection of words and paintings that is a moving meditation on the beauty and complexity of women’s lives and roles, revealed in the things they hold.
“What do women hold? The home and the family. And the children and the food. The friendships. The work. The work of the world. And the work of being human. The memories. And the troubles. And the sorrows and the triumphs. And the love.”
In the spring of 2021, Maira and Alex Kalman created a small, limited-edition booklet “Women Holding Things,” which featured select recent paintings by Maira, accompanied by her insightful and deeply personal commentary. The booklet quickly sold out. Now, the Kalmans have expanded that original publication into this extraordinary visual compendium.
Women Holding Things includes the bright, bold images featured in the booklet as well as an additional sixty-seven new paintings highlighted by thoughtful and intimate anecdotes, recollections, and ruminations. Most are portraits of women, both ordinary and famous, including Virginia Woolf, Sally Hemings, Hortense Cezanne, Gertrude Stein, as well as Kalman’s family members and other real-life people. These women hold a range of objects, from the mundane—balloons, a cup, a whisk, a chicken, a hat—to the abstract—dreams and disappointments, sorrow and regret, joy and love.
Kalman considers the many things that fit physically and metaphorically between women’s hands: We see a woman hold a book, hold shears, hold children, hold a grudge, hold up, hold her own. In visually telling their stories, Kalman lays bare the essence of women’s lives—their tenacity, courage, vulnerability, hope, and pain. Ultimately, she reveals that many of the things we hold dear—as well as those that burden or haunt us—remain constant and connect us from generation to generation.
Here, too, are pictures of a few men holding things, such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Anton Chekhov, as well as objects holding other objects that invite us to ponder their intimate relationships to one another.
Women Holding Things explores the significance of the objects we carry—in our hands, hearts, and minds—and speaks to, and for, all of us. Maira Kalman’s unique work is a celebration of life, of the act and the art of living, offering an original way of examining and understanding all that is important in our world—and ultimately within ourselves.
About the Author
Maira Kalman illustrated William Strunk Jr’s classic The Elements of Style and is the author of My Favorite Things, Principles of Uncertainty, and And the Pursuit of Happiness. She is also the author/illustrator of numerous children’s books, and her artwork has graced a dozen covers of The New Yorker. Her watches, clocks, accessories, and paperweights have been featured at the Museum of Modern Art store. She lives in New York City.
Alex Kalman is a designer, curator, writer, and creative director. The founder of What Studio?, he is the founder, director, and a chief curator of Mmuseumm, a new type of museum described as "curatorial genius" by The Atlantic and "one of the top twelve hidden art gems in the world" by the New York Times T magazine. The writer Rob Walker coined his unique curatorial style “Object Journalism.” Alex also published the very first ever Op-Object column published in the New York Times. His artwork, films, installations, and exhibitions have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Venice Architecture Biennale, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His most recent project, Future Aleppo, was exhibited at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. He lives in New York City.
“In Women Holding Things, artist Kalman—an uncommon philosopher of the quietly magnificent in the mundane—celebrates all the things we hold. […] The tender, infinitely expressive paintings are captioned with spare words that lend each vignette an extra air of human fragility and resilience.” — Maria Popova, The Marginalian
“The prospect of reading and looking at Kalman’s work gets my heart moving like a squirmy animal. This is not a hyperbole. The excitement, I think, is in how she is able to locate the elusive sweet spot of poignant and funny, along with the often-dark complexities behind these emotions. I feel like I will learn something new about people, myself.” — Literary Hub
“When [Maira] Kalman looked at her archives, she noticed that she had a large collection of photographs of women holding things. […] The project that germinated […] “Women Holding Things,” gathers dozens of new images and some previously unpublished ones.” — New Yorker
"Kalman’s images encompass both everyday pleasures and incomprehensible loss, always affirming art’s sustaining grace." — Roberta Smith, co-chief art critic of the New York Times
“I love Maira Kalman. I love her painting, I love her perspective, I love her handwriting, and I love her books, which somehow contain all of those things and so much more. Maira is a gift to the world, and her gifts should also be your gifts. They will certainly be my gifts.” — Emma Straub, Bookstore Owner and Author
“The mega-talented writer and artist Maira Kalman presents, in radiant color, Women Holding Things. Kalman’s brief texts are thoughtful, autobiographical, powerful. This life-affirming book shines a light on women’s lives and how we all hold our humanity.” — Sandee Brawarsky, Hadassah Magazine