Anna Held Audette, a distinguished teacher and artist whose paintings of industrial ruins and obsolete machinery chronicled the decline of American industry, died on June 9th after a long illness. She was 74 years old. Born in New York City in 1938, Anna was the daughter of Julius Held, an eminent art historian, and Ingrid Marta Held, the Conservator for the New York Historical Society. After attending the Brearley, she graduated from Smith College where she studied drawing and printmaking with Leonard Baskin. After Smith, she spent a year exploring art conservation at the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU, but after realizing that she preferred making art to preserving it, she came to New Haven and the Yale School of Art in 1962. While at Yale she studied printmaking with Gabor Peterdi. After graduating from Yale with an MFA she started what would be her life’s career at Southern Connecticut State University, teaching drawing and printmaking. Her own work evolved from printmaking to painting around 1980, and her works are at The Fitzwilliam Museum, The Rijksmuseum, The National Gallery of Science, NASA, The National Gallery of Art, The Yale University Art Gallery, Smith College Museum of Art, The Currier Museum of Art and The New Britain Museum of American Art, among many others, as well as in numerous private collections. In 1991 she was inducted into the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2000 she was invited to become a Fellow of Morse College at Yale. Early work shows her formative interest in structure- a signature element that would define her style and imagery throughout her career. From an appreciation of morphology in her drawings of human anatomy she moved to its analogies in military body armor. As her personal style developed, first as a graphic artist and then as a painter, she found an interest in discarded and obsolete machinery. She began her lifelong exploration of junkyards and old industrial settings. She traveled widely, seeking troves of neglected vehicles, buildings and industrial machinery. When she was invited by the Air Force to visit the Davis Monthan Aircraft Storage Facility in Arizona in 1983, she essentially ignored the facility’s ordered rows of struck-off military and civil aircraft. Instead, she was drawn to the breaker yards just outside the base, where the formerly elegant machines were stripped and then destroyed for recycling. She produced a striking series of studies of mothballed freighters in the US Naval Reserve Fleet anchored in Suisun Bay, north of San Francisco. One of her most productive sources, in terms of inspiration and access, was a large metals recycling yard in North Haven, Connecticut, where she was able to achieve the ideal expressed by the modern painter she most admired, Charles Sheeler, who wrote, “a picture should have incorporated in it the structural design implied in abstraction and be presented in a wholly realistic manner”. Many of the paintings are examples of Audette’s preference for examining segments of objects or settings in order to emphasize their inherent qualities of shape, color and complex associations. She wrote, “The literal and evocative meanings of these subjects strike a responsive chord in me and provide variations on a theme that has been central to my paintings for a long time. The relics remind us that, in our rapidly changing world, the triumphs of technology are just a moment away from obsolescence. Yet these remains of collapsed power have a strength, grace and sadness that is both eloquent and impenetrable. Transfigured by time and light, which render the ordinary extraordinary, they form a visual requiem for the industrial age.” Anna Held Audette contributed photographs and illustrations to a number of childrens’ and poetry books and was the author of The Blank Canvas, 100 Creative Drawing Ideas and, most recently, RUINS, Poems and Paintings of a Vanishing America, with Suzanne Nothnagle. She is survived by her husband, Louis, of 49 years, her brother, two daughters and three grandchildren. Contributions in Anna’s memory may be made to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration.
Published in The New Haven Register on June 16, 2013
Our piece on Anna from May 2012:https://theartspaper.com/2012/05/17/an-artist-appreciated/