Although Dehner's artistic recognition came undeservedly late in her career, her early artistic training proved extremely formative in developing her future aesthetic. Beginning at the Art Student's League in 1925 and continuing private studies with Jan Matulka in 1929, Dehner was introduced to some of the great modernists including John Graham, Milton Avery, Stuart Davis and Arshile Gorky.
Trained first as a painter and draftswoman, Dehner's delicate drawings and watercolors are a prelude to her work as a sculptor beginning in 1955. They represent the possibilities available to an artist and suggest an "affinity with the understated aesthetic of Paul Klee with each line, color and form emphasizing both a visual and a symbolic isolation". [Grove] These works draw upon the primitive, calligraphic nature of oriental art.
Creating only original works using welding and the lost-wax process, Dehner’s sculptures are monumental in concept and delicate in their deliverance. They reference elements of Constructivism, nature and architecture, and each work remains a testament to the personal and universal symbolic message of art, a mentality implicit of the New York School.
Unfortunately Dehner’s artistic career was overshadowed by the career of her husband, David Smith; it would not be until after she left Smith in 1950 that Dehner would begin to gain recognition for her drawings and sculpture. Major peer recognition from greats like Louise Nevelson came about just as the Abstract Expressionist movement would wane.
Throughout her career, Dehner had over 50 solo exhibitions and her works are included in the permanent collections of numerous major institutions including the Whitney, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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