Martha Graham 1894–1991
Born Allegheny City, Pennsylvania

Edward Steichen (1879–1973)
Gelatin silver print, 1931

Enlarged image

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution:
Acquired in memory of Agnes and Eugene Meyer through the generosity of Katharine Graham and the New York Community Trust, The Island Fund
© The Estate of Edward Steichen/Joanna T. Steichen
Steichen / Condé Nast ©


Martha Graham 1894–1991
Born Allegheny City, Pennsylvania
Edward Steichen (1879–1973)
Gelatin silver print, 1931

A pioneer of modern dance in America, Martha Graham brought dance into the vortex of the Machine Age. The idea of motion and dynamism were fundamental tenets of modernism, as was the quest to “make it new.” In this spirit, Graham saw herself as both “a dancer and an inventor.”

She studied at Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn’s Denishawn School from 1916 to 1923 and then worked as a solo dancer at the Greenwich Village Follies. She also taught at the Eastman School and, with some of her students, established the Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance in 1926.

In her 1944 signature piece, Appalachian Spring, she presented a “quintessentially American” scenario that conveyed “a dance of hope.” It was a perfect vehicle for Graham, who once described dancing as “an affirmation of life through movement.”



Enlarged image

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution;
Acquired in memory of Agnes and Eugene Meyer through the generosity of Katharine Graham and the New York Community Trust, The Island Fund
© The Estate of Edward Steichen/Joanna T. Steichen
Steichen / Condé Nast ©