Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This modern Madonna and Child painting was created in gold leaf (an extremely thin sheet of gold). Artist Stacy Lynn Waddell used gesso to create the design on linen and then covered it with gold leaf.
- This painting was inspired by photographs taken by Primrose McPherson Paschal in 1948. The identities of the woman and the young girl were unknown until 2023.
- The reflective quality of the gold leaf slows down the viewing process. Different parts of the image are visible when the painting is viewed from different angles. Waddell’s work invites viewers to explore multiple perspectives in order to see the whole image.
- Gold has been used to show importance in art throughout history, especially in paintings of religious subjects. Waddell uses gold in her work to honor her subjects.
Stacy Lynn Waddell is a mixed media artist. She is best known for her monochromatic gold leaf paintings. First she uses gesso to create an image on stretched linen. Then she covers the image with extremely thin sheets of gold (known as gold leaf). The gold leaf reflects light, making it difficult to see the design when viewing it head on. The viewer has to look at the work from different angles in order to see the full image.
Waddell’s use of reflective gold leaf creates a unique viewing experience. She compares the experience to the difficulty of seeing historically erased Black identities and stories. Her use of gold is also symbolic. Gold is associated with value, trade, and wealth. It has also been used in religious art throughout history, to honor and praise the subject.
What these gold-leaf works do is they disrupt the observational process. These works require you to look deeper. They ask you to spend more time. What’s embedded in the work isn’t on the surface—it is but it isn’t—and so light and atmospheric conditions play into what you’re going to see.
Stacy Lynn Waddell
Untitled (for Beulah and her Baby) was inspired by another painting in the NCMA collection. Beulah’s Baby was painted in 1948 by a white artist named Primrose McPherson Paschal. Waddell based her painting on a photograph of the African American woman and girl who modeled for Paschal. Waddell chose to reinterpret Paschal’s photograph as a modern “Madonna and Child” image (an image of Mary with the baby Jesus). The identities of the woman and the girl in Paschal’s photograph were unknown until 2023. The woman was identified as Evelyn Mae Leaverson Davis, the sister of a woman who worked in Paschal’s household. The young girl was the daughter of a woman named Beulah, who was dating Evelyn’s brother.
Resources for Teachers
- Watch a video about the use of gold leaf in painting.
- Read an article about Byzantine iconography, one of Waddell’s artistic inspirations.
- Read an article about Waddell and her contributions to the Gardner Museum.
Resources for Students