Caroline Durieux (1896–1989), a New Orleans native, discovered her artistic vocation when she was only four years old. As a young girl, she sat in on art classes taught by a family friend and professor at Tulane University’s Newcomb College. She would later attend Newcomb College as a student, where she studied under Ellsworth Woodward. She credited Woodward’s critiques of her work for spurring her interest in satire, a subject synonymous with her work today. After graduating with a Bachelor of Design and a Bachelor of Art Education, Durieux enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Durieux married her husband Pierre in 1920. The couple soon relocated to Cuba for Pierre’s work where they remained for fifteen years. From Cuba the family again followed Pierre’s career, this time to Mexico. While there, she befriended artist and political activist, Diego Rivera. Rivera encouraged Durieux’s art practice and critics agree that her work matured during this period. The family then returned to New Orleans, where Durieux worked with the Federal Art Project (FAP), which was part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), eventually becoming state supervisor, and taught art at Newcomb College. In 1943, she accepted a teaching position at Louisiana State University (LSU) in the recently established art school. There, she not only developed the printmaking department but also entered a prolific period of creativity in her own artistic career.
In 1951, Durieux developed a new method of printmaking in collaboration with Dr. Harry Wheeler, an LSU professor of plant pathology, and Naomi Wheeler, a printmaking student at LSU and Dr. Wheeler’s wife. The technique, electron printing, involves the mixing of radioisotopes with pigment. The resulting mixture of radioactive ink is used to create images that are then placed on photosensitive paper to create a print. The trio experimented with their new technique for six years before patenting electron printing in 1957.
Caroline Durieux, Medusa Afraid, 1956. Electron print, 19 1/4 x 15 1/2 inches. Gift of the artist. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 1968.005.007
Diego Rivera, famed painter, muralist, and husband to Frida Kahlo, painted Durieux’s portrait in 1929. Today, the portrait is part of the LSU Museum of Art’s permanent collection